This picture was taken by Frank Glick at Fort Snelling, Minneapolis, home of Minnesota’s national cemetery. Last week I helped chaperone my granddaughter’s 5th grade field trip to Ft. Snelling, where some of the original (1820) stone construction still stands. At one time this was the U.S.’s westernmost outpost. For a time it was home to Dred Scott, a fact which was key to his Supreme Court case. It was used as an induction station for some of the first Union recruits during the Civil War. It served as a concentration camp for Dakota men, women and children following the in 1862. During World War II it was the site for a military language school, where thousands of American soldiers were taught Japanese. In addition to the military cemetery—every state has one—there is a large VA hospital at Fort Snelling.
Our 5th graders enjoyed their tour, even though it was drizzling most of the time we were there. We all learned a lot about early military life. We learned that a laundress worked hard, but her earnings generally exceeded her husband’s, even if he was an army sergeant. Her children probably didn’t get to attend school.
The school was for officers’ children, and the laundress’s children had to help their mother, who did her job outdoors, drizzle snow or shine, down by the river.
We learned that the Indian Agency was located about 20 miles from the fort, and that the agent’s job was to oversee trade between tribes in the area and white traders. The treaties the U.S. government signed with the Dakota and other tribes were nation-to-nation treaties that set boundaries between areas where white settlement would be permitted and Indian Territory. Between the Indian agent and the Army, the terms of the treaties were supposed to be enforced.
The history of Fort Snelling is a microcosm of the history of the United States. There are stories of heroism, stories of perseverance, stories of triumph and tragedy. And through it all, there’s the everyday life of everyday people.
My grandfather was a 19th-early 20th century career Army officer. My father was a WWII veteran and a career Air Force pilot. My brother served in Vietnam at the same time my husband, the lucky cowboy, was stationed in Korea. Some of my husband’s cousins’ (Clyde is Lakota, or “Western Sioux”) ancestors might well have interned at Fort Snelling, where many died of starvation and disease. Through it all, soldiers and warriors, laundresses and teachers, mothers and fathers—people like you and me.
Memorial Day is about remembering. It’s about honoring the dead and cherishing the living.
What a picture, huh?