Monuments don’t just glorify South

Published 3:45 pm Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Editor, The Smithfield Times

I carefully read Mr. Edwards’ Short Rows commentary on the monument task force (“Statue task force was doomed from the start,” Nov. 4).

I understand that many of the monuments were not erected until the 1900s (maybe critics should consider that economic conditions in the South could have played a role in this) and that they are hurtful to some, particularly African Ameraicans, But I also believe that there is something else involved here that is frequently overlooked.

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In the 1980s, when my son and daughter were just entering their teens, we embarked on a journey to “shake the family tree” one summer. I took them to see my great-grandfather’s home in Cornwall, New York, to the places where I had gone to prep school and college in Connecticut, to the site where I went to summer camp in New Hampshire and to the area in Massachusetts where my father’s people lived.

After visiting Plymouth we drove to East Weymouth, Massachusetts, where the family farm had been located. I asked a local resident where the town’s older two cemeteries were located. We chose one that I soon realized was full to capacity and which had no directory to guide us.

I did have a photo showing a granite obelisk about 12 inches high with the name “Healey” inscribed at its base. We fanned out looking for it, and were about to give up after searching for 20 minutes or so. Finally, we spotted it lying on its side. Frost leaves had caused it to topple over.

I did not realize it, but I was about to embark on a profound emotional experience. For there, among the graves of my ancestors, were three white grave markers. I recognized them immediately, having seen similar markers at Gettysburg and Antietam. I realized that not only had my great-grandfather chosen to be buried there but that he had had his brothers, also Civil War vets, disinterred and moved there. One brother had been killed at Cold Harbor.

I approached my great-grandfather’s grave to read what was inscribed there. Keep in mind, this was a man who had been a successful carriage manufacturer in New York City, a general in the New York State National Guard, a Mayflower descendant, a member of the Society of the Cincinnati, a 33d degree Mason, a director of several banks, a member of the NYC Chamber of Commerce, the Grant’s Tomb Commission and a man who had been awarded the Legion of Honor by the French Government.

On the third tombstone, I read “Warren M. Healy 1838 – 1931 Private, First Massachusetts Infantry.” In spite of all his accomplishments, his service in the Civil War was the pivotal event in his life. This is a northern story but is a Southern one too. These monuments are not just about glorifying the South; they are about some men who risked/gave their lives for a cause they believe in. I know there are many who won’t get it, but I offer no apologies.

Roger Healey, Jr