Don’t leave me, Joe!

“Don’t leave me, Joe!”

These are the words that John Brooks Rowell spoke to his brother, my great-great-grandfather Andrew Joseph Rowell, as he drew his last breath on the Civil War battlefield at Resaca, Ga. At least that’s how Granny told the story, and that’s how I imagined it. One last plea. A promise to fulfill.

And Joe did fulfill that promise, only to be captured by Union soldiers. He was taken to a military prison at Camp Chase, Ohio where he waited out the rest of the war. When it was over, he and over 9000 other prisoners were released. It was from the gates of Camp Chase that he began his long walk home to Alabama, haunted by his brother’s dying plea.

Joe had been a simple man, a south Alabama farmer, until he and his brother were enlisted as privates under Captain John Lott. After the war and his incredible journey home, his young bride-to-be Harriet nursed him back to health, and he became a blacksmith and father to 5 children. Life went on. Life went on without his brother.

“Don’t leave me, Joe!”

How many other men and women have heard this same cry? How many fathers, sons, brothers, mothers, and daughters have made this same plea? How many lives have gone on haunted by what they have seen, done, lost?

On this Veterans Day, no matter your feelings about the wars and conflicts our soldiers engaged in, let’s remember their heroism in the face of sometimes insurmountable odds. Let’s recognize them for answering the call of duty with courage.  Let’s thank them for defending us, our families, and our country with valor.

Let’s sleep in our comfortable beds tonight knowing that when the time comes, they will never leave us.