William Faulkner’s oft-quoted axiom – the past is never dead. It’s not even past – is often applied to the South and its deference to history, especially its own.
But occasionally come reminders of just how close to yesteryear we remain.
Thomas N. Bruce, the son of Confederate soldier, died last Saturday in Knoxville, Tenn., at age 88. His father, Levi Newton Bruce, served in the 11th Virginia Battalion Reserves, enlisting less than a week after he turned 18.
If that weren’t enough of a link to the past, Bruce’s great-great grandfather, William, served as a sergeant in the Continental Army.
And Bruce himself had more than slight brush with history.
Serving in World War II as an Army Ranger in the 66th Infantry Division, Bruce was one of more than 2,200 American servicemen aboard the transport ship SS Leopoldville as it crossed the English Channel on Dec. 24, 1944.
Bruce, however, was saved by a table that collapsed on his leg during the blast. Though injured, he was rescued by an American ship and would recover in a French hospital.
Bruce was fortunate; more than 800 lives were lost when the Leopoldville went down.
After recuperating, Bruce served along the coast of France, securing areas infested with pockets of surrounded Germans and U-boat pens.
Not surprisingly, Bruce didn’t know much of his father. Levi Bruce was born in 1846 and had survived two wives when he married Mary Belle Long in 1923.
By the time Thomas Bruce was born 18 months later, Levi was 78 years old.
The old Confederate soldier, who had survived being wounded more than 65 years earlier, died on June 29, 1930. Thomas was just 5.
Levi Bruce apparently passed along some good genes. Thomas Bruce’s obituary describes him thusly:
“He was a simple man who grew up a country boy. He loved his wife and his children and was a very good provider. He was extremely loyal to his family. He had friends wherever he went. He was dedicated to God and devoted service to his Church.”
Oh, that those sentiments could be applied to all of us.
(Top: Photo of Confederate veterans in Henry County Virginia, circa 1900.)