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Lest we forget.



Rudyard Kipling, the great British writer and poet, is credited with adding more phrases to the English language than any man since Shakespeare. His celebrated poem "Recessional," penned to honor Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, contains a phrase, which is still seared into literature. In fact, many Mississippians can quote all or part of the famous first stanza:

"God of our fathers, known of old--Lord of our far-flung battle-line--Beneath whose awful Hand we hold Dominion over palm and pine--Lord God of Hosts, be with us yet, Lest we forget--lest we forget!"

Not long after Kipling wrote these words, our nation, together with our allies, was engaged in a horrific war that many believed, at the time, was "the war to end all wars." By the spring of 1918, Americans of all classes were in one way or another actively supporting the war effort.

In Mississippi, there wasn't a town or a community that failed to respond by donating to the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, or by purchasing U.S. Bonds "to back our troops."

Mississippians stepped forward in a patriotic-oneness. This love of country was exemplified nowhere better than in Lee County with its mostly rural farming population of 35,000. Weeks before the third National War Savings Bond Drive Day (June 28, 1918) was announced, Lee countians initiated a unified effort to reach every person in their county. Volunteers spoke in local offices, lodges, churches, and stores, and at each of these locations the message was the same: "When your boy was so little that all the world was a foreign country to him, he trusted you to take care of him. You sent that boy to school and to play and on your little errands, and with implicit faith he did your bidding. Now we have sent your boy or your neighbor's boy out into a foreign land, into terrors that we cannot even know--and his faith has not faltered. He knows we will do our part, and we know he will do his ... saving to help our sons is not to be called by the ugly name of duty or sacrifice. It is love's blessed privilege."

Tupelo's Red Cross chapter and its branches sprinkled throughout the county received thousands of items. Everything from bed shirts, bed socks, surgeons' operating gowns, convalescent robes, Christmas packages, knitted woolen socks, sweaters, and mufflers were given. An estimation of the grand total of the items was $9,818.85, and with each passing month, the giving grew. During 1918, Mississippians bought more than $40,000,000 of U.S. War Savings Bonds, a large portion of which was shared with the Red Cross and the Salvation Army.

In an effort to highlight the Third National Liberty Loan Drive, Lee County officials wired Washington, D.C., requesting a nationally recognized figure to help inspire their citizens. Washington responded by sending a portion of John Phillip Sousa's band. At first it was rumored the eminent sixty-four year-old band director himself would come and lead his band, however, as commander of the U.S. Marine Corps Band, he was ordered to remain in the large cities in the northeast to stimulate giving in those areas.

Sousa, a native of Washington, D.C., was a legend in his own time, and his immense popularity was not confined solely to the United States. All of Europe adored him as well, and not just for his musical ability. Many of his followers also enjoyed his books, especially his novel entitled The Fifth String, which was first published in 1902 and remained a best seller for years.

The story, of Angelo Diotti, a renowned Tuscan violinist, centers around Diotti's appearance at a concert in New York City where he falls in love with a prominent banker's daughter. He enlists Satan's help to win her heart with a flawless performance. Failing to achieve perfection on his own, he cried to God for help, but the story unwinds with a predictable ending.

Surely some of Sousa's literary followers were among the 3,000 plus who crowded the Main and Spring Street intersection in Tupelo on Monday morning, April 22, 1918, to see and hear the twenty-four-piece detachment of Sousa's Marine Corps Band. When "The Star Spangled Banner" and "The Stars and Stripes Forever" were played, all the flags and buntings, which decorated practically every storefront along the parade route, seemed to flutter in cadence amid the enthusiastic cheers. It was a grand day that few people who witnessed it ever forget, nor should we: "Lest we forget--lest we forget!"

story by forrest lamar cooper
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Title Annotation:heritage matters: looking back
Author:Cooper, Forrest Lamar
Publication:Mississippi Magazine
Date:Mar 1, 2009
Previous Article:Family meals, family fun: meals with family and friends have never been easier.
Next Article:Mississippi matters of fact.

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