TRAVERSE CITY — They call themselves the “Sons of Union Army Veterans of the Civil War,” but members nationwide today range from great-grandsons to great-great-great-great grandsons.
The SUVCW is the heir to the Grand Army of the Republic, the nation’s first veterans organization formed in 1866. Congress appointed the group to take over the reins in 1956 after the nation’s last Union Civil War veteran died. The Sons’ main purpose is to ensure that Civil War soldiers, sailors and marines always are remembered and honored for preserving the Union in the 1861-1865 national conflict, and that their graves are tended forever.
”A man lives as long as he is remembered,” Dale Aurand said, quoting the title of a poem sometimes found etched on old Civil War gravestones. Aurand is outgoing commander of the SUVCW’s Traverse City-based Robert Finch Camp No. 14 camp and now senior vice commander of the 500-member state SUVCW.
“If somebody isn’t thinking and doing something about it, it’s forgotten,” he added. “The quest to ‘Keep green the memory’ is ongoing.”
Sons in the area Robert Finch Camp No. 14 have mapped out a busy year of honoring the region’s 2,520 Civil War soldiers buried in 11 northern Michigan counties.
Among highlights on the year’s list of events are a formal graveside military re-dedication ceremony in Kalkaska this summer for two Civil War Medal of Honor recipients and an educational and fundraising campaign in Elk Rapids this spring to help raise money to restore Michigan’s aging collection of Civil War battle flags.
A total 509 Civil War soldiers — including one Confederate soldier — are buried in Grand Traverse County cemeteries, said Tom Jenkins, Finch camp grave registration officer.
The men make regular cemetery visits to record the condition of gravestones and order replacements if originals become damaged or worn out. They also order stones for veterans buried as unknown or in pauper graves. In addition they conduct official military graveside dedication and re-dedication ceremonies for new discovered Civil War veterans.