Monday is Memorial Day, that day set aside to honor those who have given their tomorrows for our todays. Throughout the nation, families and friends will gather for cookouts, parties, and celebrations of all types. It is important that we do these things, because those who sacrificed on our behalf would also want that. They died so that we might continue on with our lives.
However, it is important that we remember those who made our own today possible. Those men and women who left their homes, families, and friends, and never returned. Our remembrance of them, and what they have given us, is the least we can do. It reminds us of the true costs of our liberty, and should leave us in awe that there are those who are willing to pay that price. Young men and women who look around, and understand that there is something here worth risking their lives to defend, to preserve.
Maine has born her own share of sacrifice, especially so in that great civil war which, in it’s aftermath, provided us with this holiday. In many ways, Maine was just as torn apart as any southern state, though no armies marched here, nor great battles fought within our borders.
In 1860, according to the Census data, Maine had 1 million people. Statistically, that gives us 500,000 men. When the call for volunteers went out, Maine stepped forward, honoring her ancient motto DIRIGO, which means, “I Lead“. Over the course of the war, Maine sent more than 72,000 men and boys into the service of the nation, some 14% of the State’s population. This was a larger per capita amount than any other state. Of these, 50,000 never returned.
Now, when I say they never returned, physically many did, but they were of no use to the state due to injuries and disabilities. What happened to Maine was that those men who went off to war got what would be known as “Ohio Fever”. They found the rich fertile grounds south and west of Maine, where, instead of the 18″ of topsoil Maine has, there was 18 feet. These men wrote to their families and said “Come West”, and they followed. So many families migrated that Maine and New Hampshire became the ONLY states in the Union to show a population decrease between 1860 ans 1870.
Think about that. 50,000 men means, on average, 100,000 children, 200,000 grandchildren, 400,000 great grandchildren, etc. Between the end of the civil war and the start of the 1st World War, Maine suffered the loss of nearly 1 million new citizens. Maine was economically decimated. In fact, it was not until the 1990 census that Maine’s population again reached 1 million people. It took 135 years to recover from the losses of that war, and in some ways, we still have not fully recovered.
Maine soldiers, though few in number compared to other states, were still highly respected. In every major battle of the war, in every campaign, regiments from Maine bore some conspicuous part. Commanders wanted Maine units, because they knew how reliable and tenacious they were. For example, the 3rd Maine infantry left the state with just over 1,000 men in her ranks. By Gettysburg, barely two years later, she had been reduced to 210. Despite new recruits, when the regiment was mustered out just a year later, there were just over 100 men left. That was typical of every Maine unit during that terrible conflict.
Memorial Day was enacted as a means of recognizing the sacrifice born by our soldiers, sailors, and marines during the civil war, and was expanded to encompass all those lost in the service of these United States. Maine played an important role in all of our nation’s conflicts, and the sacrifices of our veterans should never be forgotten. It is incumbent upon each of us to not only remember those who gave their lives on our behalf, but to live our lives each day in a manner worthy of that sacrifice. Mainers have always led by example, and on Memorial Day, we should renew that commitment to our honored dead, and to ourselves.
God Bless all our veterans, and these, our United States.