As our country continues to struggle and unite, I thought about a story from Allentown that has always touched me. When I went to research it again, I found I had already written about this in a blog post from 2015. It's still a great story and I thought I would reprint here.
Monday, May 31, 2021
Still One Flag, One Country
This weekend we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice to insure our freedom and way of life. This holiday originated after the Civil War and was originally referred to as "Decoration Day."
Members of the First Defenders, The Civil War Allen Infantry under Captain Thomas Yeager gather at the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Allentown's Center Square on Decoration Day (Memorial Day), 1911.
I began reading about the monument while researching our Civil War program called Money, Myth, and Madder. I was touched when I read that the grave of a Confederate soldier buried in Allentown's Fairview Cemetary was also decorated by the G.A.R. (a fraternal society of Union soldiers called the Grand Army of the Republic or G.A.R.).
Further investigation revealed that the Confederated veteran had not died in war. He was Stephen Albion Repass (1838-1906), a Confederate soldier wounded and imprisoned as a POW during the Civil War. After the war, he became a Lutheran minister. In 1885 he was assigned to St. John's Lutheran Church here in Allentown.
At a time when our country is so divisive, we could learn a lot from Rev. Repass and our local G.A.R. forefathers. When the Reverend's death was reported in The Allentown Leader on June 2, 1906, the newspaper reported that "when he arrived here, he was somewhat sensitive about public sentiment in regard to him having been a southern soldier."
The paper went on to report that "Some years ago he delivered the Memorial Day address at Hazleton. His audience, especially the G.A.R. veterans, were immeasurably pleased with his speech. At the close of his address he said: 'Now, soldiers and patriots, I hope you will think none the less of me when I tell you I fought on the other side.' The old soldiers broke out in applause and crowded around Dr. Repass to assure him of their good will. 'We admire and respect you for your bravery. If we had been born and reared where you were, it is probable that many of us would have been in the Confederate army too. We know you are a patriot, and as such we welcome you."
When the Soldiers and Sailors monument was dedicated in 1899, it was Reverend Repass who was chosen to do the blessing at the ceremony. Our monument here in the center of Allentown includes figures of both a Union and Confederate soldier with an inscription underneath: One Flag--One Country. Excluding Gettysburg, it is the only monument north of the Mason-Dixon Line that honors soldiers from both sides of the Civil War.
Local historians have suggested that the inclusion of the Confederate soldier was in large part due to the respect that our valley had for Reverend Repass. Although I haven't found any document to support this yet, it is undeniable that the man changed people's perception about the enemy. In 1909, The Pennsylvania German magazine wrote extensively about Repass:
"The Reverend Dr. S. A. Repass did more, wherever he was known, to restore fraternal feelings between North and Southern people, and especially among the old soldiers of both sides than any other known to the writer."
On this holiday, I am always looking at my textiles I collected from the years surrounding World War 1. "Remember me" is imprinted on so many things.
Above: a World War I handkerchief that a soldier might have left with his sweetheart before embarking overseas. Below: a woman's apron with a 5 inch long border.
Remembrance on this particular holiday is in itself, an action of gratitude. When we come together to celebrate this holiday with honor and prayer, we learn that differences in opinion can be bridged, reconciled like Reverend Repass and the G.A.R.
We are bound together like the binding on this early 20th century quilt, one flag, one country.
Today please take a quiet moment to thank those who have made the ultimate sacrifice.
Have a safe and happy holiday.