Friday, July 04, 2008

4th of July 2008

It's the 4th of July, 2008. There are barbeques to prepare, friends and relatives to visit, perhaps a trip to the shore, or maybe just relaxation is on the agenda. But first, there was a duty to perform. In the shadow of the venerable old Dutch church, that icon of our liberty, townsfolk were gathering for a ceremony. It would be a brief, but ever-so-important ceremony. Our small town holds a unique place in a great nation's history. It is best if we don't forget. The old church stood as a watchtower and our citizen / soldiers stood as sentinels at a time when defending liberty was first on the agenda. We came to pay tribute to the three score and six Revolutionary War veterans buried here in the churchyard.

The solemn ceremony, performed each year, is largely the result of the tireless and considerably skillful organizing efforts of one our leading citizens. It is simple, elegant and rich in meaning to those who know their town's history. The marching band arrived as did members of the Boy Scouts. War veterans came, town officials came and ordinary folks, elder and younger, who understand the importance of their town's heritage came. It's a thing not to be missed. There are not so many towns that can do this and those who can should not fail.

A prayer for the souls of departed heroes was offered while all present stood in the ancient churchyard with bowed heads. The colors were raised while we stood at attention. The Pledge of Allegiance was given freely by everyone present. The Star Spangled Banner, played by our marching band, was sung by all who had voice enough to do it. Even those who had long lost their singing voice hummed along. It was an unmelodious but moving moment more rich in genuine feeling than good harmony. To the somber rat-tat-tat of the drum, the roll was called, a reading of the names of the Revolutionary War dead of our town. They were here, all of them, here in the ground below us where we stood in the freedom they have provided for us. We felt as though we knew them. Our streets are named for them and our town historians tell us their stories. They were brave men. Town officials, in a gesture representing us all, placed a wreath at the shrine where the names of the Revolutionary War dead of our town are permanently engraved.

We listened attentively, as if hearing it for the first time, to a reading of the Declaration of Independence, a perfect touch that served to teach the young and remind the old about why we were gathered and why this ground is sacred. "We hold these truths to be self evident . . . " The cannon in the churchyard, manned by townsmen in period uniforms, fired a 21 volley salute. The great gun boomed repeatedly, shaking the ground and filling the air with the old battle-scent of spent gun powder. It reminded me of the Battle of Second River when such cannon were fired to hold back the tide of British swarming through the streets of our town.

The echo of the last cannon shot was heard, the gun smoke cleared. It was over. We went our separate ways, each to their own way of enjoying the holiday, but content that we had taken a moment to remember who we were, the citizens of Belleville, the old Village of Second River.

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Be sure to visit Mr. Anthony Buccino's website where a tribute to our Revolutionary War heroes is maintained.
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