As another July 4th rolls around, this seemed like an appropriate photo to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Siege and Battle of Vicksburg. The picture was taken (undoubtedly by Sara) on what looks like a summer’s day, 1960 or 1961. Cathy, Russell and I are at Fort Hill, where the tour of the National Military Park tops out on a dizzingly high bluff overlooking the Yazoo Diversion Canal and Louisiana stretching away in the distance.(Yes, that’s the canal and not the Mississippi River. The river up and left Vicksburg a century ago.)
That expression of abject terror on my face was not faked. I remember the day and that stomach-dropping sensation as we got out of the car on the hillside. This child of the Delta wanted no part of geography where the ground was right underneath your feet one minute and fifty feet below the next. This was not natural or sane and I was reduced to tears, disgracing that brand new Confederate cap on my head. Security was to be found at my father’s side, clutching his right leg in a death grip. Cathy has her perpetual Pollyana smile but she’s not too sure about this arrangement either, as she has Daddy’s tie clutched tightly enough to choke him. You can see he’s kind of tickled about the whole situation and, as always, he’s got that cigar lit just behind Cathy’s back.
Looking back at that day in Vicksburg, I wonder if it brought memories to Russell of his own war years. I knew he’d been a medic in the 45th Infantry, but as a child World War II might as well have been the Pelopponessian Wars. Do the math: On that bluff, on that day, Russell was only back from Europe for 15 years or so. He wasn’t scared up there at Fort Hill. He had stormed the beaches at Anzio when he couldn’t even swim across the bathtub, driven jeeps carrying generals and majors and sergeants through mine-infested forests, discovered dead children in bombed-out farmhouses and witnessed the madness of mankind as the 45th liberated Dachau. Probably more than any other visitor to Vicksburg on that long-ago day, he knew in his bones what the men who fought and died there had experienced.
Russell came home from that nightmarish service and went on with life. And that life was Sara and his two girls, who, as you can see, knew him to be strong and safe and dependable.
Remember Vicksburg on this 4th of July and especially those men who never came home to their girls, in that war and wars to come. I still go to the Military Park, not as often as I’d like, but I never, never get out of the car at Fort Hill.