The following memorial was prepared and delivered by William B. McAfee, Chaplain, Department of Michigan, at the 119th National Encampment held in Lansing, Michigan, August 17 - 20, 2000. Brother McAfee is also Commander of Carpenter-Welch Camp No. 180 and Past Chaplain of Austin Blair Camp No. 7.


MEMORIAL TO THE G.A.R.
119TH NATIONAL ENCAMPMENT 2000 SUVCW

I HAVE BEEN ASKED TO GIVE A MEMORIAL TO THE GRAND ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC. THIS SEEMS, AT FIRST GLANCE, TO BE IMPOSSIBLE IN THE SHORT TIME ALLOTTED. MANY WORDS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN AND SPOKEN ABOUT THE PERSONAL SACRIFICES MADE BY THE VETERANS ---AS THEY LOOKED AFTER THE WIDOWS AND ORPHANS OF THEIR BELOVED COMRADES. WE HAVE BEEN TOLD OF THE EFFORTS MADE BY THEM AND THEIR ALLIED ORDERS TO PROCESS PENSION APPLICATIONS FOR THOSE WHO DESERVED AND NEEDED WHAT THE GOVERNMENT COULD AFFORD THEM. WE KNOW THAT FUNERALS AND BURIALS WERE MADE POSSIBLE BY INDIVIDUAL CONTRIBUTIONS. WE KNOW ABOUT THE SOLDIERS AND SAILORS HOMES, LIKE THE ONE WE HAVE IN GRAND RAPIDS, THAT WERE STARTED TO TAKE CARE OF THE COMRADES WHO COULDN’T MAKE IT ON THEIR OWN.

HOWEVER, I’M REMINDED OF AN OLD TELEVISION SHOW WHICH STARTED OUT WITH THE ANNOUNCER SAYING, “THERE ARE EIGHT MILLION STORIES IN THE NAKED CITY - AND THIS IS ONE OF THEM.”

THERE PROBABLY IS A STORY FOR EACH OF THE VETERANS WHO FOUGHT IN THE ARMIES DURING THE CIVIL WAR. I’D LIKE TO TELL YOU ONE WHO MIGHT STAND AS A REPRESENTATIVE FOR THEM. MAYBE DEAN DERICK BANTA CAN BE AN EXAMPLE OF OTHER MEMBERS OF THE G.A.R.

PVT. BANTA MUSTERED INTO THE 76TH ILLINOIS VOLUNTEER INFANTRY REGIMENT IN AUGUST 1862, AGE 18. IT WAS UNFORTUNATE FOR DERICK THAT HE STARTED HAVING VISION PROBLEMS IN 1863 DUE TO INFECTION DURING A MARCH ON MEMPHIS. HE LATER SUFFERED AN ATTACK OF TYPHOID FEVER IN THE SIEGE OF VICKSBURG, WHICH WAS HIS LAST ACTIVE MILITARY CAMPAIGN. HE RECEIVED A MEDICAL DISCHARGE 7 MAR 1865 AT CHICAGO SO HE PROBABLY WASN’T AROUND WHEN THE REGIMENT WAS DISBANDED THERE ON AUGUST 4, 1865.

COMRADE BANTA SETTLED INTO A LIFE AS A CHEMIST IN CHICAGO, BUT LOST NEARLY EVERYTHING IN THE "GREAT FIRE" OF 1871. RESEARCHING THE ORIGIN OF HIS HUGUENOT SURNAME BACK INTO FRANCE & SPAIN, HE RE-ADDED THE LETTERS “LA” ABOUT 1877-79, MAKING IT, FROM THEN ON, ‘LABANTA”.

HE EVENTUALLY RELOCATED TO NEW YORK WHERE HE HELPED FORM A MILITIA, FIRST SERVING AS A COMPANY COMMANDER AND LATER IN OVERALL COMMAND AS COLONEL. OUR MAN ANSWERED THE CALL-OF-MATRIMONY IN 1896 AND MOVED HIS NEW FAMILY TO JACKSON, MI THREE YEARS LATER. THERE, HE BECAME VERY ACTIVE IN THE LOCAL G.A.R. POST (EDWARD POMEROY, NO. 48) AS WELL AS THE DEPARTMENT OF MICHIGAN, G.A.R.

HIS FOURTH CHILD, A SON, WAS BORN IN 1904 WHEN COMRADE LABANTA WAS 60 YEARS OLD. THEY NAMED HIM THAYNE CHAMBERLAIN LABANTA, BUT HIS DAD CALLED HIM “BUSTER”. THAYNE GREW TO BE A NATURAL MECHANIC, BUILDING A CAR FROM PARTS HE PURCHASED AT A GOING-OUT -OF-BUSINESS SALE A LOCAL AUTO MANUFACTURER HELD. THE DAY AFTER THE CAR WAS BUILT, THEY TOOK OFF FOR A ROUND TRIP TO NEW ENGLAND. THEY HAD TO CHANGE ONE TIRE ON THE WAY HOME, BUT THAT WAS THE ONLY PROBLEM THEY REPORTED. FROM THAT TIME ON, THAYNE DROVE HIS DAD TO ALL THE DEPARTMENT AND NATIONAL REUNIONS AND ENCAMPMENTS HE COULD POSSIBLY ATTEND. IT WAS THERE THAT HE FIRST FOUND OUT ABOUT THE PART HIS DAD HAD PLAYED IN THE GREAT CIVIL WAR -- BY LISTENING TO THE VETERANS TALK ABOUT THE CAMPAIGNS AND BATTLES THEY TOOK PART IN ALONG THE MISSISSIPPI, AT VICKSBURG, FROM PENSACOLA TO MOBILE AND AT FT. BLAKELEY.

THAYNE WAS “RAILROADED” INTO THE SONS OF UNION VETERANS BY ONE OF THE OTHER MEMBERS. THEY HAD HIS APPLICATION ALL FILLED OUT, TOLD HIM TO SIGN IT AND PROCEDED TO INITIATE HIM. FROM THERE, HE WENT ON TO HOLD EVERY OFFICE IN THE LOCAL CAMP AND MANY IN THE DEPARTMENT, INCLUDING DEPARTMENT COMMANDER. WHO WOULD THEN HAVE EXPECTED HIM TO BE A MEMBER FOR THE NEXT 72 YEARS?

DURING THE YEARS OF LOW INTEREST IN THE “SONS” ORGANIZATION, HE AND BROTHER DON HOCH KEPT CAMP NO. 7 ALIVE BY PAYING ENOUGH DUES OUT OF THEIR OWN POCKETS TO HOLD ONTO THE CHARTER. HE KEPT ACTIVE RIGHT UP INTO HIS 95TH YEAR.

WE BURIED DEAN DERICK LABANTA’S SON, THAYNE, LAST MONTH. IT WAS A SOLEMN AFFAIR, USING THE RITUAL ESTABLISHED BY THE GAR AND PASSED DOWN TO AND ADAPTED BY THE SONS. IT WAS ALSO A CELEBRATION OF HIS LIFE: 96 YEARS LIVING IN THE HOUSE IN JACKSON THAT HE WAS BORN IN, HOLDING TWO CAREERS, FIRST AS A PRINTER, THEN AS A MACHINIST SPECIALIZING IN CARBIDE BLADES, BUT ALWAYS CARRYING ON THE TRADITION OF THE GAR HANDED DOWN FROM HIS FATHER AND THE OLD VETERANS HE MET AROUND THE COUNTRY.

HE WAS DISTURBED WHEN PROPER HONOR WAS NOT GIVEN A CAMP COMMANDER OR WHEN SOMEONE DID NOT USE THE PROPER PROTOCOL ENTERING AND LEAVING A MEETING. HE WAS REALLY TUNED UP WHEN SOMEONE VIOLATED THE SPACE BETWEEN THE ALTAR AND THE COMMANDER. YET, HE NEVER EMBARRASSED ANYONE. RATHER, HE WOULD TAKE THEM ASIDE AND EXPLAIN TO THEM THAT THAT JUST WASN’T SOMETHING A PROPER SON WOULD DO! WE MISS HIM!

GEN GEORGE S. PATTON, JR., ONCE SAID “IT IS FOOLISH AND WRONG TO MOURN THE MEN WHO DIED. RATHER, WE SHOULD THANK GOD THAT SUCH MEN LIVED.”

LADIES AND GENTLEMEN - - LET US THANK GOD THAT THE MEN WHO MADE UP THE G.A.R. LIVED. I ASK YOU TO RISE AND JOIN WITH ME IN A MOMENT OF SILENCE IN THEIR MEMORY.

AMEN.

W. B. Mc Afee, Chaplain
Department of Michigan
Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War


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