Sons of Confederates help honor war dead

May 25, 2009|By RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. -- "When you go home ... think of us and say, for your tomorrows we gave our today."

So says an epitaph on a memorial commemorating the 6,800 Americans who died fighting for the Pacific island of Iwo Jima in World War II.

The words came up in a speech by Navy captain and Charles Town native and resident Stewart Wharton during a brief, but poignant Memorial Day ceremony at Edge Hill Cemetery. 

Edge Hill was built and dedicated for the hundreds of Confederates buried there during the Civil War. Some local histories claim Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee was on hand for the dedication.


Gary Kisner, who has organized the ceremony for the last 20 years, said he ironed more than 200 Confederate flags that decorated the rows of graves Monday.

The ceremony lasted less than a half-hour, but it made its point to the 200 or so people who stood in Monday's late-morning heat on the quiet burial ground.

Adding to the moment was the small squadron of Confederate honor guard re-enactors who fired their ancient guns into the sky in honor of Americans who died in all wars. It was a scene copied in parks, town greens and cemeteries across the nation over the weekend.

In the crowd was Douglas Fargo, 83, a veteran of the fighting in France and Germany during World War II and later in the Korean War.

He was just 18 when his outfit, I Company, 14th Infantry Regiment, joined the 71st Infantry Division in Gen. George Patton's Third Army.

"Gen. Patton gave me a battlefield commission to second lieutenant," Fargo said.

He survived nine battles as the Allied armies moved east across France and Germany on its way to Berlin.

"I lost seven guys," he said.

"Memorial Day is not about division, it is about reconciliation; it is about coming together to honor those, like those buried in this cemetery, who gave their all," Wharton said.

He spoke of the battleship USS West Virginia, one of the ships destroyed or heavily damaged in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941.

"Most thought she would never sail again, but the surviving crew was determined otherwise," Wharton said. 

The USS West Virginia was put back into service and got its chance to get even in October 1944 during the Battle of Leyte Gulf in the Philippines.

"She fired more rounds from her large guns, inflicting more damage on Japanese ships than any other battleship in the group," Wharton said.

Taking a page from Abraham Lincoln, Wharton said, "it is from these honored dead, and those in Arlington Cemetery and Omaha Beach Cemetery and hundreds of other cemeteries around the world, that we, the living, should take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave their all."

The Confederate honor guard was made up of members of the 24th Georgia and 2nd Virginia, Sons of Confederate Veterans Stonewall Jackson Camp. The group's members hail from places like Charles Town and Clarksburg, W.Va., where Confederate Gen. Stonewall Jackson was born, said member Robert Pratt.

The group has provided the honor guard for the Charles Town ceremony for more than 30 years.

Music was provided by the Charles Town Middle School Band. Local high school members of the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps played taps.

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