Monday, May 27, 2013

To the living

President Lincoln's "Letter to Fanny McCullough," a teenage girl, whose father, a friend of the President's, had been killed in battle:
Executive Mansion, Washington, December 23, 1862.

Dear Fanny

It is with deep grief that I learn of the death of your kind and brave Father; and, especially, that it is affecting your young heart beyond what is common in such cases. In this sad world of ours, sorrow comes to all; and, to the young, it comes with bitterest agony, because it takes them unawares. The older have learned to ever expect it. I am anxious to afford some alleviation of your present distress. Perfect relief is not possible, except with time. You can not now realize that you will ever feel better. Is not this so? And yet it is a mistake. You are sure to be happy again. To know this, which is certainly true, will make you some less miserable now. I have had experience enough to know what I say; and you need only to believe it, to feel better at once. The memory of your dear Father, instead of an agony, will yet be a sad sweet feeling in your heart, of a purer and holier sort than you have known before.

Please present my kind regards to your afflicted mother.

Your sincere friend

A. Lincoln
This letter is one of many entries collected by Leon and Amy Kass for "The Meaning of Memorial Day" which can also be downloaded as a pdf.

Adam Keiper at NRO on the collection:
.... The little book is a treasure, including such gems as Major Sullivan Ballou’s deeply touching letter to his wife just days before he died at the First Battle of Bull Run; war correspondent Ernie Pyle’s recollections of the ways that young soldiers in the Second World War were transformed by the experience of killing; and President Reagan’s 1986 Memorial Day remarks at Arlington National Cemetery, which include a stirring tribute to the service of veterans of the Vietnam War. John McCrae’s classic poem “In Flanders Fields” is also in the book, as are poems and stories from Longfellow, Melville, Alcott, and Henry James. Rutherford B. Hayes’s impromptu remarks upon the unveiling of a soldier’s monument in Dayton, Ohio are a deeply moving, underappreciated piece of American oratory.

Each of the readings in the book is preceded by questions that seek to illuminate its important points, making the e-book especially suitable for classroom use, or for inquiring minds of any age. This is a worthy addition to the other volumes in the Kasses’ series and their larger project to give expression to our civic sentiments and patriotic feelings — and on this special day of the year, to help “us the living” find ways of expressing our gratitude to those who died serving our country.
What So Proudly We Hail's purpose:
What does it mean to be an American? What do we have in common, and what unites us? What do we look up to and revere? For what are we willing to fight and to sacrifice? And finally, how can we produce good citizens?

...[U]nlike other efforts to improve civic knowledge and virtue, it assumes that developing robust American citizens is a matter of the heart as well as the mind, and requires more than approving our lofty principles or knowing our history and institutions. Making citizens requires educating the moral imagination and sentiments, and developing fitting habits of the heart—matters both displayed in and nurtured by our great works of imaginative literature and rhetoric. For these reasons, What So Proudly We Hail takes a literary approach to making citizens, centering on classic American short stories. ....
Memorial Day Lesson Plans -- What So Proudly We Hail