Before the roar of cannons and the crack of Civil War-era muskets rang out in the warm air Monday, the story of how the community was the site of one of the first Memorial Day traditions was front and center.
Dave Felice, a Civil War re-enactor dressed as a captain with the 148th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment, told those gathered of the origins of Memorial Day in Boalsburg 151 years ago, and how members of that unit played a role in the decoration of graves there.
“I think it could be said that the 148th was the first regiment to have its graves decorated,” Felice said.
The unit was raised in August 1862 in response to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for 300,000 volunteers to put down the rebellious Southern states, Felice said. The 148th was composed of many Centre County residents. In Boalsburg, the principal of the local school, James Patterson, helped in raising an entire company, 127 men in all, to fight in the war.
The 148th would see service in some of the bloodiest engagements of the war, including the battles of Chancellorsville, Gettysburg and the Wilderness, and was present near Appomattox, where Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in April 1865. Four of its soldiers would win the Medal of Honor during the war, Felice said.
It was on July 4, 1864, that three Boalsburg women placed wreaths of flowers and laurel on the graves of the war dead interred there, including some members of the 148th. Felice said that date of decoration predates others and the official proclamation of the holiday by years.
Two of Felice’s fellow re-enactors present Monday have direct family ties to the regiment and the Civil War.
College Township Councilman Lynn Herman said his great-great-great-grandfather’s first son, Charles C. Herman, served with the regiment and eventually rose to the rank of first sergeant. He was mortally wounded at the Battle of Chancellorsville on May 3, 1863. He died of blood poisoning almost two months later.
Zachariah Truckenmiller, great-great-grandfather of Livonia resident Duane Harer, was also wounded at Chancellorsville, and later at Gettysburg, but ultimately survived the war.
Another Centre County tradition was held Monday morning in front of the courthouse in Bellefonte, as veterans groups and members of the public gathered for a ceremony as they do every Memorial Day and Veterans Day.
The special speaker at the event, Bald Eagle Area School District alumnus and retired Army Col. David Hagg, admitted that he had never thought about what Memorial Day was all about until he was asked to speak Monday. It caused him to really think about that, and he hoped his remarks would cause those in attendance to do the same.
The idea behind the day is abstract, he said, honoring millions of Americans, some of whom were killed in wars that happened long ago. Instead, he found himself thinking of people he knew personally who paid the ultimate price, or the families they left behind.
“Today, as I thought about it, Memorial Day isn’t about the many who died, it’s about the few,” Hagg said.
He went on to mention some of the people he knew during his career who were killed in action, an aunt and cousin who lost a husband and father in World War II, and Army Sgt. Andrew Jodon, another Bald Eagle Area graduate killed in action in May 2005 in Iraq.
In closing, he asked those gathered to remember people they may know personally who made the ultimate sacrifices and their families, and to remember how they feel when they think about them.
“The emotions you feel represents the true meaning of Memorial Day,” he said.