That Old Rude Bridge

Each Memorial Day, I attempt to attend the special service held at Stones River National Cemetery near my home, to honor those who have given the ultimate sacrifice for our freedoms, plus to hear the reading of the names of those veterans who have heard the final bugle this last year. I always get a deep feeling of gratitude for our service personnel as I walk among the thousands of American flags placed on the graves by volunteers on that holiday. Memorial Day is a time many of us spend with family and friends to welcome in summer, but it was given to us to use as a time to remember those who saw the need to leave the picnics, their families, the quiet hometown streets of America and the white fence farms of rural areas, to place their own lives in harm’s way. They did so to give us the freedom to maybe use this day in May to enjoy a plastic Solo cup full of tea and a hot dog with those we love. The least we can do is take the time to remember them and offer thanks for what they gave us.

Rural America has known a lot over many generations about military sacrifice and being a volunteer. It has been reported that today rural residents account for 17 percent of the U.S. population and they make up somewhere between 20 and 44 percent of those who serve in uniform. That exact figure continues to be debatable, comparing rural population to urban populations who serve in the service, but whatever the percent is, it is still agreed that there is a disproportionate amount of rural men and women who today serve in military service. In a story from the Washington Post back in 2005, they reported at that time that Pentagon figures showed 14 percent of our service people come from major cities. They said youths living in the most sparsely populated zip codes were 22 percent more likely to join the Army, with an opposite trend in cities and regionally, most enlistees come from the South (40 percent) and West (24 percent).

With today’s all volunteer forces, I’m proud of our troops who see the need to protect this country’s freedoms. I’m not surprised to see that a large number of those troops do come from our farmlands across this country. When I first heard those figures quoted a few years ago in a speech, the first thing that came to mind was the Concord Hymn written by Ralph Waldo Emerson and sung for the first time way back in 1836 when the Battle Monument honoring those who stood their ground to begin the Revolutionary War was complete. As a school child I had to learn that poem and later on in adulthood I got to see it first hand as I visited the site where it all began up in Concord Massachusetts near that “rude” bridge. I’ve always remembered that first verse because of its closeness to agriculture.

By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,

Here once the embattled farmers stood,

And fired the shot heard around the world.

It hasn’t changed all these many years from that day on that bridge. When the call goes out farmers are still coming to the aid for the very reason of the descriptive term the author uses to describe the farmers. If you come from a farming background or have been associated with a farmer you understand that the farming environment involves “embattlement” in some way or the other. Maybe not firing a shot today heard around the world, but farmers do battle the weather, insects, diseases, cost, labor, taxes, government regulations, misguided organizations and a whole lot of people who never farmed a day in their life but seem to know more about farming than the farmers themselves. It is only natural that you would find the farming community involved in protecting our freedoms. They’ve been brought up that way.

As the days slowly turn much warmer and the trees change from their spring pastels to deep summer greens, farmers across Tennessee are very involved in this year’s planting and cropping season. They have repaired hay balers parked over the winter in metal sheds, hoping for just one more year of use and a bumper crop. Growing seasons are hard to call and some growing seasons have been really rough for many of our farmers and if they were prize fighters they would be considered “on the ropes” in some parts of the state due to an over abundance of rain. This year they have been in a fight for their life and the current production season will determine for a lot of them if they will come back out of the corner after the bell rings. But, they have been embattled before.

When you see the bright morning sun coming up in the east this Memorial Day week, I’m sure there will be Tennessee’s farmers taking time out to remember those who have given us our freedoms. Let’s all join them and pray that someday we can have a generation that may not have to stand upon that rude bridge, but if they do, they will stand just as strong as those embattled farmers did those many years ago to fire the shot heard around the world. Thank you veterans and service personnel for supporting our freedoms. May God bless you.



– Pettus L. Read is Director of Communications for the Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He may be contacted by e-mail at