Last week, I had the honor to attend an event co-hosted by the National Park Service and Chesterfield County commemorating the 150th anniversary of the battle of Drewry’s Bluff. I say it was an “honor” to attend, because this was an evening focused on honor – for those who fought a century and a half ago, and for those who fight today.
The battle of Drewry’s Bluff is significant in so many ways. Chesterfield County and Richmond National Battlefield Park teamed up with the U.S. Marine Corps and its historical unit to create a weekend of special tours, reenactments and educational programs highlighting this pivotal battle.
But it is the story of Cpl. John Mackie that stands out and gives this battleground on the bluff even more historic significance. Cpl. Mackie was the first Marine ever to have been awarded the Medal of Honor. On that fateful day, May 15, 1862, he risked his life to save his fellow Marines on the USS Galena during the battle of Drewry’s Bluff. It would be the first and last time the U.S. Navy would attempt to take Richmond by water.
Fast-forward 150 years, and here I am seated under a much-appreciated tent during a downpour of historic proportions. It is May 15, 2012, and on this day, in this place, at this time some 150 years ago bravery was demonstrated by so many on both sides of the conflict. To pay tribute to Cpl. Mackie’s achievement, the National Park Service has assembled an impressive dais. We hear a rousing, almost cinematic recounting of the significance of the Drewry’s Bluff battle by Ed Sanders, Supervisory Park Ranger. We hear moving remarks by Brig. Gen. Marcela J. Monahan, who recognized the connection to every Marine, past and present. But it is the guest of honor, Col. Wesley Fox, who enabled us to connect a face, a story, a Marine in our presence, to the Medal of Honor, and its significance. Fox, who received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam, paid honor to Cpl. John Mackie, the first Marine to be so honored after his heroism right here at Drewry’s Bluff 150 years ago.
Two members of the Marine Corps Historical Company, one in Union uniform, the other in Confederate, read the 17 known names of the 21 troops who died in action on May 15, 1862. The somber sound of Taps playing in the background brought the ceremony to a close, and there wasn’t a dry eye in the tent.
Attending this ceremony gave me the opportunity to meet Col. Fox, an American hero and one of very few Medal of Honor recipients. That’s something I will never forget. But someone who is in my thoughts and prayers every single day is our own family hero – my son-in-law – a U.S. Army Captain currently deployed with the 82nd Airborne Division in Afghanistan. Sometimes it’s hard to think of Memorial Day as anything other than a three-day weekend and the unofficial kickoff to summer fun. But this time, let’s remember the real reason for the holiday, and pay tribute to those who serve so bravely.
Jennifer Carnam found her way to Richmond, where she’s Vice President of Marketing for RMCVB, by way of Graceland. A Valley Girl born and bred, she worked in the hotel and gaming industries before a decade-long stint heading up marketing for Elvis Presley Enterprises in Memphis, until love brought her to Virginia. Despite her California roots, she’s a loyal member of the Red Sox nation. Her latest craze is CrossFit, which might explain some bruises and the occasional limp. She enjoys her life as an empty-nester in Midlothian with her husband, Allyn.