Memorial Day at Midewin

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There are so many ties that bind Midewin to Memorial Day.

The most obvious, of course, is that Midewin was born of the same legislation that established the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery. Upon the closing of the former Joliet Arsenal, a citizen advisory committee – assembled by Representative George Sangmeister – recommended allocating about 19,000 acres for the establishment of the largest tallgrass prairie east of the Mississippi River and 910 acres for the largest national cemetery in the country. (Since then, another national cemetery had its acreage expanded in order to retain claim to being #1.)

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It is fitting that the largest national cemetery in the Land of Lincoln, anyway, be named for the president who, in 1862, signed into law the establishment of national cemeteries “for the soldiers who die in the service of the country.”

It seems fitting, too, that a national cemetery honoring our soldiers should rise up on land that once boasted the largest and most sophisticated arms manufacturing facility in the world. Once a place that made bombs and bullets now forever harbors the soldiers who used such instruments of war to defend our country.

Would that this transformation of the land meant that there was no more need for munitions. Sadly, of course, this remains far from true. A neighbor’s son lays here, a casualty of the Iraq War.

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Like all national cemeteries, the Abraham Lincoln National Cemetery is a sacred place. But something about this particular one seems to me to accentuate its hallowedness. Perhaps it’s because the many headstones – in spite of their arrangement in straight, soldierly rows – almost seem to have grown up out of the prairie; a word not too far removed from the word prayer.

There are many people visiting the cemetery this weekend, me among them. And I can’t help but think that each of us shares a similar prayer: for some kind of healing, for ourselves, for the souls of the departed, for the nations still stubbornly at war, our own included.

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And after paying my respects at the cemetery, I feel compelled to head down the road to Midewin. To surround myself with prairie – each native wildflower, each rare and endangered grassland bird that finds safe harbor here a living prayer for a better day.

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