By Whitney Eversole
Distinguished Young Woman of Utah for 2015
Patriotism and America’s well being have been at the forefront of my mind for the last few weeks, as I have listened to presidential candidates battle it out on the debate stage. This election we’re in the middle of can be summed up in just one word: weird. To be completely honest, I’m pretty bummed that the first election I am eligible to vote in is a little bit of a joke, or at least the media portrays it to be that way. I imagine that other young people also feel this same sort of frustration with the campaign race, so I want to spend this post talking about an experience that put things in perspective for me.
“Four score and seven years ago…” When I was a child, these words were all I knew of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. Unfortunately, I was so caught up on what exactly “score” meant that I never really took the time to learn or care about the battle that inspired the speech.
This weekend I had the opportunity to visit the battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania that witnessed over 50,000 American casualties. To say this was a moving experience would be an understatement. The land feels consecrated, and the different battle sites sacred.
To provide some quick background, the Battle of Gettysburg was fought on the first three days of July in 1863. It was the turning point of the Civil War, and led the Union to its eventual victory two years later. The battle was the bloodiest to ever be fought on American soil.
When you visit Gettysburg, you can buy a CD that takes you on an “audio tour” of the battlefield. You get in your car and listen to the stories and details of the battle as you drive through the sites where they actually happened. It’s pretty cool.
There was one particular place we visited that really struck a chord with me. Near the end of the tour, there is a big, open field, where Pickett’s Charge took place on the last day of the battle. As we sat and listened to the CD explain how men lined up for miles on both sides and marched forward for one last fight, I could almost see the blue and grey uniforms meeting in the middle for combat. The number of men that lost their lives there is incredible, and you could feel their spirits guarding that battlefield and telling their stories.
When the tour was over we got to visit the National Cemetery where more than 3,000 Union soldiers are buried. It was here that Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address a few months after the battle. What struck me the most about the cemetery were the graves of unknown soldiers, lined up row after row, with nothing but a number inscribed on the headstone. It was a powerful symbol of the sacrifices made by these men, not for their own glory, but for a greater cause.
In a time of so much political activity and confusion, visiting a place like this was a good reminder to me of what it means to be an American. I stood in the very spot where President Lincoln delivered these words: “That this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”
What would President Lincoln say if he could see our world today? Would he be disappointed in the way our generation is still obsessed with race? Would he be critical of the way Washington is functioning, and that our political parties are so divided and turned against each other? He believed, “A house divided against itself cannot stand.” If Lincoln could see us today, would he see a house divided?
Visiting Gettysburg reminded me of a few important things. First, that America is built on incredible ideals of freedom and democracy, and we are blessed to be a part of such a nation. Second, I was reminded of the importance of great leaders, like Lincoln, during times of crisis. We could use someone like that in our White House today. Most importantly, I was reminded of the hundreds of thousands of men and women who have made the ultimate sacrifice to defend the United States because they believed in what this country stands for. I have the utmost respect for those soldiers, and along with them declare that I believe in what this country stands for. No amount of petty politics or corruption can change that. We are blessed to be Americans; now let’s get to work making that something to be proud of again.
Whitney Eversole is a college freshman at Utah State University in Logan, Utah. Whitney was a participant in the Distinguished Young Women program and was selected as the Distinguished Young Woman of Utah for 2015. Learn more about Whitney here!