Memorial Day

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(Above photo by Todd Heisler / Rocky Mountain News)

Monday, May 30, 2016, is this year’s Memorial Day – a federal holiday set aside to honor Americans who died while serving in our nation’s military.

Officially, the day has been noted in some manner since 1868, when it was called Decoration Day. It is not to be confused with Veterans Day – Nov. 11 – which honors all of our nation’s veterans.

Monday – Memorial Day – is a time to honor the more than 1.3 million Americans who have perished during their service over the 241 years of our wars and conflicts and operations, from the beginning of the Revolution that brought us our independence, through Operation Inherent Resolve.

Lily Burana’s extraordinary post from the May 2012 New York Times, along with Todd Heisler’s image of love, heartbreak, dedication, tell a story that echoes across all those years.

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In my own family, we will be honoring my Great-Great-Great-Uncle August Heller …

August was born in 1840 in Bensheim, Hessen, in what is now Germany. Son of Christian Georg Heller, a printer and publisher, and Elizabeth Katharine Boll, August was trained as a lithographer. In December 1852, following the instability after the 1848 European revolutions, August fled first to Philadelphia and then to New York, where he worked in his trade until the outbreak of the Civil War. In April 1861, he enlisted in Company K of the 8th New York Infantry, for a 2-year tour.

In late spring 1862, the Confederate forces under General Thomas Jonathan “Stonewall” Jackson had forced Union General Nathaniel Banks out of the Shenadoah and were threatening Washington., D.C. Federal troops advanced to repel the threat to the capital and Jackson started to retreat, leaving Confederate General Richard Stoddert Ewell in place at Cross Keys, Virginia, in Rockingham County.

On Sunday, June 7, 1862, Union forces attacked Ewell’s troops. In one charge,  August Heller – by then a corporal – was hit in the arm. Family legend has it that he told a friend he was not badly hurt, and was then hit again and killed – one of 750,000 Americans to perish in the four-year war. He was first buried at Cross Keys, and may have later been moved to the National Cemetery at Fredericksburg, Virginia, but his body was never returned to his family.

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