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U.S. Rep. Jackson gives Civil War history lesson to highlight Memorial Day
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U.S. Rep. Jackson gives Civil War history lesson to highlight Memorial Day

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CHICAGO HEIGHTS | Freed slaves paid tribute to Union soldiers who died during the Civil War in one of the first celebrations of Memorial Day, a congressman said Monday.

Memorial Day is a day all people should feel some claim to, regardless of race, U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., said at a ceremony in Chicago Heights.

Jackson cited the research of David Blight, a Yale University history professor who reported one of the first celebrations of the holiday was at the Washington Race Course in Charleston, S.C. Confederate forces used the race course as a prisoner of war camp for Union soldiers.

At war's end in 1865, the now-freed slaves went to the race track, dug up the mass graves of about 250 Union soldiers and reburied them in separate graves. Blight's research said that work took 10 days to complete. Once it was finished, a crowd of thousands gathered at the site to hear sermons, sing songs and hold picnics.

"Whether black, white or brown, if you have stripes or polka dots, all of these people deserved the highest honor," Jackson said.

Jackson said he believes the U.S. needs to do more to help veterans once they return to civilian life.

"It is too easy to love the soldier while disrespecting the veteran," he said.

Cook County Commissioner Joan Patricia Murphy echoed those remarks.

"We have the freedom to live life to its fullest because it is the members of the armed forces who pick up the check," she said.

Murphy said members of her family have served in the U.S. military in every conflict since World War II, but she has a special feeling for Korean War veterans. She said she was a student at State Teachers College in Boston in the mid-1950s when many of those men were her classmates, who were using GI Bill benefits to seek a college education.

Some speakers at the ceremony cited the words of President Ronald Reagan.

"We don't have to turn to our history books for heroes. They're all around us," quoted Paul Lukacek, commander of Marine Corps Catholic War Veterans Post 1060 in Chicago Heights.

Mayor David Gonzalez also invoked Reagan, saying, "Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn't pass it on to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same."

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