Via Cousin John
He stood on the campus green while the birds chirped in the trees, the same way they had that May morning when he left his books behind and marched away to war. The sunlight filtered down through the tree branches, warm Southern sun dappling the green grass with soft shadows. Through four long year, he'd marched through the snows and rains and parching summers....his boots gave out the first year, but still he marched on. Not much food. Sometimes at night he dreamed of his grandmother's chicken and dumplings set on the table, steam rising from them. And woke to gnaw on a piece of hardtack which was the only food he had left. His ribs were sticking out like those of an old mule he'd once seen that had run off from home and hid in the swamp til near starvation brought him home.
He'd been there that day in 1913, a quiet shadow, when the statue was dedicated. His Polly had been there, too.... a little birdlike woman still wearing her widow's black after 50 years. She was thin, too, painfully thin, and her black dress was carefully mended. She'd gone without a coat in winter, and skipped meals so she could send it pennies and nickles to build the statue. After all the crowd left, she moved hesitantly up to the statue and reached out her thin, wrinkled hand to touch it.... the hand that still wore the ring he'd put on her finger the week before he left for war. Her hand trembled and tears spilled from her pale blue eyes, milky with catracts now. Their reunion wouldn't be for several more years yet.
Now, he's come back to see the statue that's been torn down..... He's come in his ragged uniform, stained with the smoke of many battles. He's come barefoot as he marched and fought. He's come to see the place where this generation of North Carolinians has decided that he was evil and not worthy of a memorial.... where they tore the statue down with hate and violence and cursing and spitting. The silent ghost sheds a tear.
He looks across the campus green.....and hears the birds. And then he sees a young man, dressed as he is.... more solid than a ghost, but just as silent. He sees one lone man who has come to do him honor, dressed in a ragged uniform, barefoot.....
The silent ghost stands beside the silent man and looks at the statue that was built on love and sacrifice for men who died for love and sacrifice.
Do you see him? I do.....and I will NEVER forget.
(May God bless Casey Becknell who traveled to Chapel Hill dressed as a soldier to honor Silent Sam and whose picture inspired these words.)