The Soldier’s Burial
By Jack Mandaville
When I was 13 years old I got my hands on an old family poem that had been sitting in a nondescript box in my parent’s basement. In it was one one of the most heart-wrenching poems I’ve ever read – a testament to sacrifice and personal loss. It bore the story of an affluent family stricken with grief. My great-great grandmother, Irene Lameroux Pratt, wife of the Mayor of Minneapolis ( which at the time and to this day was a booming Midwestern city), Robert Pratt, had penned this piece in a grief-stricken moment in her life.
Her son, Sidney Pratt, was the first Minnesotan to die in the Spanish-American War while serving in the Philippines. This young man had dropped out of the University of Minnesota during his freshman year to join the war effort – eager to follow in his father’s footsteps. Robert was a decorated veteran of the Civil War and Sidney’s namesake came from Robert’s brother who was wounded in the Battle of the Wilderness, eventually succumbing to his wounds in 1866. Our family has a day-to-day account of all these events and more.
The beauty of this poem is more sacred to me than just my family history. It’s something I’m not yet ready to put into words. In it’s simplest form, this is the story of life blossoming after death. It’s the story of the warrior fertilizing the seeds of freedom. But much more, it’s the story of a Gold Star Mother and her boy – before that term came into existence.
How tenderly they bore him
How tenderly made his grave
How tenderly placed within it
The form of their comrade brave.
Neath the palm-trees by the river,
Far from the homeland dear
The lonely lads who loved him
Dropped on his grave, a tear.
Theirs was no costly tribute,
No flowers were there to hide
The grim hardness of the casket
With their soldier friend inside.
But a little rose-bush flourished,
And its perfume gently shed
Neath the palm trees by the river
In that city of the dead.
Then tenderly they lifted
This emblem of life to come,
And tenderly they set it,
Near the foot of their comrade’s tomb.
“Our father who art in heaven
Thy will be done below,”
With voices choked and tearful
Together they murmured low.
“Lights out” was gently sounded
As they sadly marched away
From the hero who had fallen
On the eve of the battle day.
Honor to these true-hearted
Who spread with a mother’s care
The couch of their sleeping comrade
And planted the rose-bush there.
-Irene L. Pratt, Minneapolis. 1899