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Seventy-five years ago this week, nearly 1,000 spectators turned out in Ravenna to witness a moment in history: A full military funeral to pay tribute to an old soldier who had laid down his arms more than seven decades earlier.
Gibson R. Braden, who had witnessed the surrender of Gen. Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse in 1865, was Ravenna's last surviving Civil War veteran. His death on Oct. 11, 1938, at the age of 91, marked the end of an era -- one that the community chose to commemorate with solemnity and patriotism.
"Few of the hundreds knew Mr. Braden personally. Many had gathered out of curiosity to see a military funeral. But as the solemn marchers passed, the feeling in the air was electric," the Evening Record observed, "People unconsciously stood at attention, paying tribute to a symbol. The symbol was a fine, old gentleman who years ago had offered his life on the altar of sacrifice that the nation formed by his forefathers might not be torn asunder."
Gibson R. Braden was personally acquainted with "the altar of sacrifice" of war.
Born Nov. 22, 1846, in Trumbull County, he had enlisted at Warren with the 6th Ohio Volunteer Calvary. One of a family of 12, he and four of his brothers served in the Union Army. Of the five, two never came home from the war; one brother was killed at the Battle of Chattanooga and another died from an illness contracted during his service.
Following the end of the war, he took up the printing trade. He relocated to Ravenna in 1870, becoming foreman in the newspaper printing plant of the Portage County Democrat. He later established a printing shop of his own in the 1890s, operating it until his retirement in 1909.
Although Braden left the military with the rank of private first class, he was given a military funeral with honors accorded to a major general.
Veterans from throughout Portage County were invited to participate in the rites, which included a funeral cortege passing through the streets of Ravenna from Sloan's Funeral Home on North Prospect Street, where the services were held on Oct. 14, to Maple Grove Cemetery, where Braden was interred next to his wife and their only son, who had died 40 years earlier.
The procession made its way through downtown, traveling slowly along Main Street. At its head was a troop of Boy Scouts, followed by the Ravenna City High School band, which marched to a muffled drum beat. Following the band was a mounted unit from the National Guard, which delivered a salute at the graveside.
Braden's flag-draped casket was carried by a horse-drawn caisson, followed by a riderless horse. Active pallbearers from the Odd Fellows lodge followed, along with honorary pallbearers who were veterans of the Spanish-American War.
Behind the pallbearers was 93-year-old John Grate of Atwater, one of two surviving Civil War veterans in Portage County. Grate had driven to Ravenna from his home to pay tribute to Braden.
As the cortege passed the site of the G.A.R. Hall at the corner of Chestnut and Main streets, the procession paused while the high school band played "Nearer My God to Thee," before resuming its way along North Chestnut Street to Maple Grove.
There, after three volleys of rifle fire from the National Guard, a bugler sounded "Taps" and the old soldier was laid to rest 73 years after his military service had ended.
Braden had delivered a stirring patriotic oration at Maple Grove six years earlier, on Memorial Day 1932, noting the toll mortality had taken on his Civil War comrades in arms, who were dying at a rate of nearly 1,000 a month.
"The old boys are passing away. Our locks are whitening. Our shoulders are drooping. Our steps are growing feeble. We are facing the setting sun. We are going down the western hills of time," he said.
He urged his fellow veterans to remember the sacrifices of their brothers.
"Comrades in khaki, as you march down the street to the music's martial lilt, put your ear to the ground and you will hear the rhythmic tread of phantom feet. We will be right with you in spirit, comrades, marching shoulder to shoulder, touching elbows."
The Evening Record paid a final tribute to Gibson R. Braden the day after his funeral, noting the surge of patriotism the spectacle had created in Ravenna.
"In the Civil War he served his country with great honor. But the service he performed yesterday afternoon in bringing back that spark of patriotism in the hearts of a thousand of his fellow citizens was perhaps the greatest service he could have done. You served your country well in life; you didn't forget us even in death."
If Gibson R. Braden had died today, President Obama, and the Democrats would have made him pay for his own funeral and Honor Guard.
If Braden knew how Veterans are being treated these days, he'd roll-over in his grave.
Shame on the Democrats/Administration, a National Disgrace!
Hope & Change became Blame & Shame
This must be the Transformation President Obama talked about.