Today I decided to celebrate Independence Day by visiting the graves of two patriots. This wasn't really planned on my part; the idea just came to me suddenly, and I went with it.
The first grave I visited was that of Ezra Taft Benson, US Secretary of Agriculture during the Eisenhower Administration and 13th President of the LDS Church. Let me say at the outset that I certainly don't believe in everything he did. For example, he supported the John Birch Society, a group which in his day saw Communist infiltration and conspiracy in everything. They also opposed the civil rights movement. I'm not on board with that. But I do admire Benson's passion for freedom and liberty, and it was that admiration that brought me to his grave site on Independence Day.
Regarding his passion for freedom and liberty, I have two favorite stories. The first was when he was asked by President-elect Eisenhower to serve in his administration as Secretary of Agriculture. Initially, Benson was reluctant, citing other important responsibilities in his life. But then Eisenhower looked at him and said, "You cannot refuse to serve your country." Benson's patriotism was such that he conceded and served the public interest as best he could. Four years later when Eisenhower won re-election, the same scene played out. "You cannot refuse to serve your country." Benson served four more years.
It was during his service as Secretary of Agriculture that one day Eisenhower asked him to host Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev as an official state visitor. Benson found no pleasure in the assignment but complied all the same. They discussed agricultural issues, but at one point Khrushchev said to Benson, "You Americans are so gullible. One day your grandchildren will live under communism." Benson assured him that he would do all in his power to ensure that didn't happen. Khrushchev responded that, no, America would not swallow communism whole. But fed small, incremental bites of socialism, one day the people would wake up and realize that they are in fact living under communism.
Looking at all the changes that have taken place since that moment some 60-70 years ago, I have to agree with Khrushchev. We've taken incremental bites of socialism to the point where many people now believe that the government must do some things for people, that promoting the general welfare of the public means that the government must dictate what people can and cannot do. My political philosophy has evolved over the past 25 years and continues to do so, but I'm just too libertarian ever to believe that. As long as I'm not bothering anyone or violating anyone's rights, leave me alone to do as I choose. I see the role of government as ensuring not equality of outcome but only equality of opportunity through the protection of civil liberties. On that point Benson and I are agreed.
His grave is located in the rural community where he was born in 1899 --- Whitney, Idaho, located just a few miles north of Utah's Cache Valley. I got a little lost looking for the cemetery because it's on a side street located off the main road. Fortunately, I noticed something out of the corner of my eye as I passed by the local church house. When I drove back to investigate, it turned out to be the sign for the cemetery.
The cemetery itself is really small (no surprise there). Benson's grave is located on the north side. The entrance is on the south side, so I drove around the periphery a little until I found it. Then I saw it.
Here is a view looking south from the gravestone towards US Highway 89, which is not that far from the cemetery.
Here is a view looking directly at the front of the gravestone. Note the "decorations" left behind on the grave. Benson's grave is on the left in this photo, and the wife's is on the right.
Being a good aspiring family historian, I took a photo of the back side of the gravestone.
I also took closer photos of the top portions of the gravestone. What might the significance of the coins be?
The photos laying in front of the gravestone were also interesting. The tribute left on his grave I found particularly interesting. I wondered what the author meant by sharing that Benson was "abandoned by those who should have been his friends." In what way was he abandoned? Is this a reference to those who simply shared different political views? I found it curious that the tribute contains no byline.
After a brief moment of reflection, I determined to leave. It was then that I saw an old pickup truck enter the cemetery, and I distinctly felt that the driver wasn't here to visit a particular grave. My visit was concluded anyway, so away in my car I went and headed towards home.
As I made my way there, an idea for another impromptu visit came to me, and I determined to follow it. I decided to visit Uncle Darrel. Darrel Curtis was really my grandfather's uncle, the brother to his father, but I always called him Uncle Darrel because that's what my dad called him. Just before he died he lived just around the corner from where my folks lived, so I knew him personally through visits I occasionally made in his home. He served in the Coast Guard during WWII, but he rarely spoke his experiences then, especially the ones related to the battle scenes he witnessed.
His grave is located at the Idaho State Veteran's Cemetery. Whoever takes care of this place does a really good job of it.
Not that it matters all that much, but I really like that Uncle Darrel's grave is at the end of a row --- the end of the fourth row from the front actually. It just makes his marker that much easier to find. And yes, I took front and back photos of the marker.
After a moment of reflection at his grave site and whispering aloud that he was still remembered, I decided to spend a moment by some of the other markers pictured earlier. There I read the words of the Gettysburg Address imprinted on a plaque there and could not help but feel how appropriate those words are, not just for the day itself but for the time in history in which we find ourselves now.
I left with a renewed sense of appreciation for the freedoms I enjoy today and for those who went before me to preserve those freedoms. Lincoln's words are so fitting --- "that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion." May we always be grateful for the freedom we enjoy.
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