On my way home to Cleveland from Washington, D.C. last October, a drive I have made more times than I can recall, I decided to take a rare detour. Ordinarily, I would have continued at speed on westbound I-70 but instead took the exit for the Sharpsburg Pike and made the short drive to Antietam National Battlefield.
It was a beautiful autumn day to visit this particular national park for the first time in 30 years, when my family had stopped on a road trip to the Nation’s Capital in the summer of 1988. There was cloudless blue sky filled with bright sunshine and just the touch of a chill in the mountain air of western Maryland. I took my time, driving the perimeter of the entire battlefield and stopping to walk certain parts of it in the sequence the events unfolded on that same land some 156 years earlier – Dunker Church, the West and North Woods, and the Cornfield.
When I came to the location known now as The Bloody Lane, I was reminded afresh of the price of freedom. Along that sunken clay road on September 17, 1862, Union and Confederate troops clashed in what remains the bloodiest day in American history. Some 23,000 men were killed or wounded, 5,600 of them along the 800-yard road in less than four hours of midday fighting.
Looking across the broad sweep of history that is too often forgotten nowadays, we observe that the United States of America remains a young nation. Yet in the dozen generations since the Founding Fathers and their contemporaries pledged their “lives, fortunes, and sacred honor” and fought for our independence, more than one million Americans have offered their lives on the altar of liberty. Their sacrifice and God’s grace allows us to be here this very day – a free people engaged still in the challenging exercise of self-rule, no matter how messy it may sometimes be.
This week, as we commemorate Memorial Day – observed and traditional – let us honor and remember those who have paid the price for our freedom.