Memorial Day: My visit to Gettysburg, PA

Last week in middle Pennsylvania, I spent a day with my nephew Kyle, a college music student. It was an honor, since its not often I get time with my family out on the other coast. Part of our day included a drive to Gettysburg, a 30 minute jaunt from where were at the time. I am a sucker for history, so this addition on the itinerary was a no-brainer. We could have watched a movie like “Hangover Part 3” but wiser thinking ruled the day. The perfect weather also proved an outside activity a logical choice. (Yes, I did see Star Trek twice on  this very trip.).

I think the best choice Kyle and I made was to hit the museum shop first. Kyle’s sticker addiction pulled us there. His cello case is nearly covered with places of interest he visits. Shot glasses, medals, children’s books, and tank tops with the face of Lincoln dotted the store. Merchandizing a moment in history is truly an American phenomenon–albeit a tradition that perhaps reduces the weight of history to a plastic piece made in China. Stickers are, cool, however. I wish I had bought one myself.

Taking the driving tour in itself was a statement to the scale of the Gettysburg history. A large battlefield were thousands and thousands of Americans fought each other and died. A clash of ideas–both economically and philosophically–bled into the soil of Gettysburg. Walking on this soil speak to me, profoundly. The gravity of history drew me in like a grand liturgy that surprisingly transports you from the mundane into transcendence.

Statutes, memorials, and headstones from every state of the nation narrated the battlefield-turned-memorial. The greatness of America was forged right here. Very few places encapsulate such grand stories like Gettysburg. The pain of our Civil War should be remembered. Lives were spent by young men whose potential now forever lay unmet. Being at Gettysburg with a young man, my nephew, gave an eerie life to the story. All the potential of this young musician has a chance to be realized. Wars we fight today mean that many like him will give that future up–whether through loss of life or limb or soul.

The arch in the above picture speaks of hope out of the darkness of war. Beyond this dark stone memorial is a path to something better. Our nation would not be what it is today without the sacrifices of the past–and present. The idea of freedom was tested and kiln-fired. Today, we are tested once again. Sacrifice is clearly not something we understand. Entitlement is what our new ideals center around.

So, while reality TV and “Hangover Part 3” distract us, are we aware of what is slipping in our society? We rest on the sacrifice of others. Entitlement over freedom. Our wants over our needs. The “I” over the “we”. Marriage was once a responsibility. Now, its reduced to a governmental entitlement. Free speech is threatened which means free thought is next. And, we have naively turned taxation into a religious rights issue. Does God not say “Render to Caesar what is Caesars” in the scripture? Our individuality means we have no accountability or consequence to our personal choices in our modern view. Vulnerable people in our nation either are reduced to the impersonal patronage of our government or forgotten altogether.

I think all Americans should see and experience a places like Gettysburg. Memorials allow the sacredness of the past to touch us today. Also, when you eat that hot dog and gorge yourself, do not do so with guilt! Do it with thankfulness!

Rich Kirkpatrick

Rich Kirkpatrick

Writer, Speaker, and Musician. Rich Kirkpatrick was recently rated #13 of the “Top 75 Religion Bloggers” by, having also received recognition by Worship Leader Magazine as “Editor’s Choice” for the “Best of the Best” of blogs in 2011, 2014, 2015 and 2016.

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