Korean War Veteran Lester Sipe’s right hand visibly shook as he maintained his salute during Taps at the Veterans’ Memorial near the Newville Fountain on Memorial Day 2021. Meanwhile, the toddler son of another Newville veteran played nearby in his wagon. Sipe risked his life alongside fellow soldiers who sacrificed theirs so that this toddler could play, free and blissfully unaware of that cost.
Vietnam Veteran and Pittsburgh Steeler great Rocky Bleier spoke at Carlisle’s Memorial Day Ceremony at the Army Heritage and Education Center. He explained how his combat injuries could have ended his life, but “out of the darkness, two black hands reached down and picked me up,” carrying him to the MEDEVAC helicopter. Bleier said, “I didn’t know his name or where he came from. There was no difference between him being Black and me being White for we were brothers in war.” Bleier also related how a fellow soldier cheered everyone in the field hospital, despite the amputation of three of his limbs. He reminded everyone that they were still alive and would rejoin their families.
Minister Sonya Browne and many other community leaders honored the lives and sacrifices of 650 Black Carlislians, including 50 U.S. Colored Troop members and Civil War veterans interred at Memorial Park at Lincoln Cemetery in Carlisle. Minister Browne, who led the final part of the Litany of Rededication, said, “Amen and Ashe’ as we rededicate this space back as sacred memory, embodying the spirit of Sankofa who reminds us to look back while moving ahead.”
Ashe’ is a West African philosophical concept of the power to make things happen and produce change. Ashe is further defined as the divine force, energy, and power to make things happen, similar to the word Amen. The Sankofa, a symbol used by the Akan people of Ghana, is depicted as a bird with its head turned backward, taking an egg from its back. It expresses the importance of reaching back to knowledge gained in the past and bringing it into the present to make progress.
Minister Sonya Browne’s wisdom beseeched us to look back while moving ahead. So too did President Lincoln at the Gettysburg Dedication: “It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us … that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom, and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
Now is the time for ALL of us to commit to a rebirth of freedom for everyone in America and a re-dedication to preserving our democracy, which remains the greatest on the face of the earth, despite recent and ongoing attempts to weaken it. Historically, cataclysmic events spurred Americans to unprecedented unified action to pursue a common goal — think Pearl Harbor and 9/11.
Today, our first common goal should be to ultimately defeat COVID by getting vaccinated. Meanwhile, we should strengthen the resiliency of our collective future — and our democracy — by helping all of our school children regain whatever learning, physical fitness, and mental health they lost to COVID.
We can pull together NOW to strengthen our communities and all our children! My confidence in us is based on participation in the extraordinary efforts of Americans of all races, genders, and socio-economic backgrounds to work together in combat, peacekeeping, natural disaster responses, and our ongoing COVID response.
Many of us can teach, tutor, mentor, coach, read to, and simply encourage all our children. Many of us can share time and potentially some of our precious financial resources to support local nonprofit and volunteer efforts to help all our children. Please stay tuned for other opportunities to help all our children, and thus, all of us!
Amen and Ashe’
Rick Coplen is a professor at U.S. Army War College, a Carlisle School Board member and a North Middleton Township resident.