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Civil War Trust

Jim Lighthizer's Letter to Congressman Connolly

In support of a Congressional Gold Medal for Ed Bearss

May 12, 2015

The Honorable Gerald E. Connolly
U.S. House of Representatives
2238 Rayburn House Office Building
Washington, DC 20515

Dear Congressman Connolly:

On behalf of the 200,000 members and supporters of the Civil War Trust, I am writing to thank you for introducing H.R. 2059, legislation to award the Congressional Gold Medal to Ed Bearss in recognition of his many contributions to this nation, including his tireless efforts to bring our history alive for countless Americans.

The Trust strongly supports H.R. 2059, and we will be happy to work with your office to ensure that this legislation is enacted by the 114th Congress. I would also like to thank the 105 fellow Members of Congress who signed on as co-sponsors of this im-portant legislation.

I’ve known Ed for more than 25 years and toured more battlefields with him than I can count. He’s a true national treasure, and I can think of no one more deserving of this high honor. He is not only one of America’s preeminent historians, but a genuine war hero as well.

Even today, just shy of his 92nd birthday, my friend continues to frequent these battle-fields, his walking stick usually braced in his war-wounded left arm, regaling his lis-teners with dramatic stories about the struggles that defined us as a nation. As you know, Ed is a walking encyclopedia of American history, particularly the Civil War, and off the top of his head can expound about every battle and every key player in that conflict.

His love of history stretches back to his boyhood on his grandfather’s Montana cattle ranch in the 1920s, when he rode a horse to attend a one-room schoolhouse six miles away. He named his family’s cattle after Civil War generals and battles; his favorite dairy cow was “Antietam.”

Ed joined the Marines and fought in the Pacific in World War II, where he was wounded by Japanese machine-gun fire on January 2, 1944, during the Battle of Sui-cide Creek on New Britain Island in Papua New Guinea. He spent 26 months recover-ing in various hospitals and was left with a permanently disabled left arm. Despite his disability, this icon of the “Greatest Generation” has led a vigorous, active life and is justly proud of his storied grit.

As park historian at Vicksburg National Military Park from 1955 – 1966, Ed discov-ered the long-lost resting place of the torpedoed Union gunboat USS Cairo, which is now a centerpiece exhibit at the park. He found the locations of two forgotten forts at Grand Gulf, Mississippi. He was also instrumental in creating National Park Service sites at the Pea Ridge and Wilson’s Creek battlefields.

From 1981 until his retirement in 1994, Ed was chief historian of the National Park Service in Washington, D.C. Both during these years and after, his voice has been strong in support of preservation of America’s endangered battlefields.

Ed has assisted us at the Civil War Trust time and time again over the years in many different ways. We have turned to him for historical information about battles and bat-tlefields. He has come to our aid many times to speak out against development plans that threatened to destroy hallowed ground. And he continues to be a willing and tire-less tour guide for the Trust and numerous other historic preservation organizations.

Ed knows from his own brutal combat experience that mere inches of ground cover on even the tiniest of slopes can mean the difference between life and death. He knows that the best way to understand a battle is to visit the field and walk the land, because, as he puts it, “everything is dictated by the lay of the land.” He knows, too, that the best way to honor the memories of the soldiers who fought and died there is to pre-serve these hallowed grounds.

I believe that there is simply no better way to honor this old warrior and his many, dis-tinguished contributions to this country than by awarding him the Congressional Gold Medal. Thank you again for sponsoring this worthy legislation, and I look forward to helping you shepherd it through the halls of Congress and to the desk of the President.

Sincerely,

O. James Lighthizer, President

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