Never comfortable talking about death and ambivalent about war, I spent a few hours of my Memorial Day holiday walking through my Fallston neighborhood and visiting two local cemeteries, perhaps trying to make some sense of it all.
As I walked by Little Falls Friends Meeting near my home, I saw the driveway gate was open and thought, "Sure, probably for Memorial Day. Or, is it?"
The cemetery to the rear of the meetinghouse is surrounded by an ancient iron fence that has fallen down in places. I went through the rusted gate, not knowing exactly why. I hadn't been back there to walk in years.
Would I find the graves of Quakers who have served in the military? Actually, yes, because as I learned from attending one of the Little Falls Sunday meetings eons ago during the Vietnam War period, not all Quakers practice pacifism.
Little Falls was established in 1738, according to the sign in front of the meetinghouse along Old Fallston Road, and the burial ground must be among the oldest in Harford County. Many of the headstones are so old, the names and inscriptions have been eroded by time and the elements, but the place holds generations of Watsons, Harlans, Hollingsworths, McComases and Sewells, all familiar names in the Fallston community.
There were a few noticeable headstones or, more likely, monuments to men who had served proudly in war, mostly World War II, although the Memorial Day custom of marking the graves of veterans with flags, a tradition which began with Confederate Decoration Day, the forerunner of Memorial Day, had not yet come to this place, at least not prior to or during my visit Monday morning.
I kept looking for a sign, or rather the grave of someone who might have made the supreme sacrifice in defense of the country, perhaps the union, maybe even the confederacy (doubtful here, perhaps, as Quakers were strongly against slavery), but I didn't see it. Many of those whose headstones or memorials bore information of their service to their country had lived to ripe old ages.
Leaving Little Falls, I headed out of Old Fallston proper and down Connolly Road for what I knew would be my next stop at the small cemetery by the Tabernacle United Methodist Church on Connolly Road where my late friend Louis Branch is buried, along with many other African American people who came from the Fallston and Bel Air areas. It's an inviting place to walk through, although generally, the only time I see people there are during burials or when the church volunteers are mowing the grass.
I've spent enough time walking through the Tabernacle United Methodist Cemetery, which is by Smith Lane at the turnoff to Annie's Playground, that I probably can remember the names of everyone resting there. Like Little Falls, some of the graves go way back, before emancipation in a few cases, though not back to the 1700s that I could see.
There are more than 20 graves of veterans in this cemetery, a couple from Vietnam, many from World War II, a few from World War I, or graves that are marked as such. Of course, anyone of color who served prior to 1946 was most likely part of racially segregated unit, probably one commanded by whites.
Two graves in particular caught by my eye this day, the first belonging to Private First Class Hardy Brown of the 24th Infantry. Born in February 1921, the same year as my father who is a World War II Pacific combat veteran, PFC Brown died on May 10, 1945, which if he was stationed in Europe, would have been three days after the Germany signed the articles of surrender. If was stationed in the Pacific, he might have still been fighting on the day he died.
I know not the circumstances of PFC Brown's death, although I took note that the initials P.H. are carved at the bottom of his headstone, probably meaning Purple Heart.
The other grave that caught my attention belongs to Benjamin Moore of Company B of the 23 U.S.C.I. There are no dates, but the initials most certainly stand for U.S. Colored Infantry. There were more than a dozen black regiments formed by the Union Army in 1863, and many saw among the bloodiest action of the final 18 months of the Civil War, or so say some of the histories I have read.
According to the website http://usctchronicle.blogspot.com/2011/11/november-reflections-of-us-colored.html, the 23 U.S. Colored Infantry regiment was formed in Virginia in November 1863.
Like many of the cars and SUVs whizzing by the cemetery this Memorial Day morning, I too walked down Smith Lane to Annie's Playground, took a brief rest, and then started back home. When I got to the Tabernacle United Methodist Cemetery, I immediately noticed a difference: In the past hour or so, someone had carefully placed fresh, small American flags at every grave marked as belonging to a veteran, including those of PFC Brown and Mr. Moore.
I think I've heard it said on more than one occasion that the living should never forget the sacrifices of the dead in time of war. Truthfully, how could we?