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There is a must read editorial in today’s Free Lance-Star entitled “Orange, arise.” It is a tremendous call for moving Walmart to an alternate location just days before the Board of Supervisors hold a public hearing on the issue.

Orange, arise

July 24, 2009 3:01 am

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Two veterans of a war that killed an estimated 623,000 Americans shake hands at a reunion at Gettysburg.

IN 1969, two Los Angeles coeds formulated the idea of distributing metal bracelets as a way to remember American prisoners and GIs missing in action during the Vietnam War. Each bracelet bore the name of a single POW/MIA, and those who donned one did so with the understanding that they would wear it until “their” serviceman came home or was confirmed dead. More than 1,700 Americans who fought in Vietnam remain unaccounted for. As time passed and hope for resolution of their fates all but died, the bracelets began to disappear. But even 20 years after the war ended, a few Americans continued to wear theirs; surely some still do.

Long before Vietnam, at the end of the American Civil War, the sides exchanged prisoners, but still the whereabouts of thousands of Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs were unknown. Some would stay that way. They had died at places such as the Wilderness, blown to bits by artillery shells or charred beyond recognition in the fires that swept that brush-thick battlefield. “And some there be”–Shelby Foote quotes Ecclesiasticus to introduce his magnificent “The Civil War: A Narrative”–“which have no memorial; who are perished, as though they had never been; and are become as though they had never been born.”

SENSE OF THE AWESOME

To remember in spirit those unrememberable in specifics is one reason governments set aside battlefields as inviolable memorials. Another is to certify beyond argument something profound happened here. Normandy. Shiloh. The Alamo. Bunker Hill. Thermopylae. Verdun. Pause and reflect, because you would live in a different kind of world without the sacrifices made on this ground.

Many things profound happened in May 1864 during the battle of the Wilderness. There, 61,000 Confederates under Robert E. Lee–ragged, almost skeletal men, some without shoes–played death for three days with 100,000 Union soldiers under Ulysses S. Grant, men who entered forbidding woods in enemy country to dislodge a deadly and determined foe. The Wilderness was the opening stanza in Grant’s Overland Campaign, which ended at Appomattox Courthouse, causing the destruction of one kind of society and the creation of another “best defined perhaps,” writes Foote, “by the change in number of a simple verb. In formal as in common speech, abroad as well as on this side of its oceans, once the nation emerged from the crucible of that war, ‘the United States are‘ became ‘the United States is.'” And that unification changed the course of human history on this planet.

Monday night the Orange Board of Supervisors is likely to vote, after a public hearing, on a special-use permit that would allow construction of a Wal-Mart Supercenter and associated big-box stores on 51.6 acres that were part of the Battle of the Wilderness and that lie near the formal battlefield park. Motley opponents–historians, preservationists, out-of-state legislators, in-state public officials (Gov. Kaine, Sen. Webb, House Speaker Bill Howell, state Sen. Creigh Deeds), actors, plain folk–want the board to deny the permit and find a less sensitive site for Wal-Mart and its retail retinue. Their voices are important. But they are not most important.

The Union and Confederate armies suffered around 29,000 casualties in the Wilderness–by coincidence, almost exactly the population of today’s Orange County. If each American who died, bled, or disappeared in the Wilderness maelstrom audibly called out from the consecrated earth for remembrance, he would find an Orange resident, all his own, to hear his message.

Wal-Mart cheaply sells much useful merchandise; the location it seeks would be convenient to most of the county. The store would generate taxes translatable to infrastructure improvements and public amenities. Of these things there can be no doubt.

COMMON DEBT

But Consumer and Taxpayer are not the totality of human roles. Many Orange countians can tell of forebears who fought honorably for Dixie or for Mr. Lincoln (or could tell if they would investigate their family lineage). Those with no ancestors in the Civil War can still appreciate the valorous example and living heritage of which they, as Americans, fortunately partake.

The debt goes on. It is not too much to say that the chains of human slavery received their first chisel bite in the Wilderness where began the steady decimation of the Army of Northern Virginia, effectively the protector of the wicked institution. And the freedom from serious want that most living Americans enjoy flows from the industrial boom that would soon make the reunified nation (“the United States is“) the world’s commercial powerhouse.

Listen, Orange. Don’t you hear?

The public hearing on the proposed Wal-Mart store will begin at 7 p.m. The result is supposedly foregone: The board will grant the special-use permit. Daniel Webster faced no greater task in persuading the devil’s cutthroat jury than defenders of the Wilderness face in turning around some of these supervisors. But the duty of the citizen is not to win; he or she fulfills it in the effort.

From Gordonsville and Locust Grove, from the town of Orange to Barboursville, let every county beneficiary of heroes’ striving turn out to oppose this location for a shopatropolis. Let county members of the NAACP join with Sons of Confederate Veterans, small businesspersons with school teachers, yellow-dog Democrats with run-mad Republicans, natives with transplants to say, “Somewhere else.” Let them leave no doubt, however their representatives vote, what an aroused Orange County thinks about this ill-conceived plan.

It is a time to kindle that spirit of the 20-year bracelet wearers, the spirit of those who don’t forget, who repay sacrifice with fidelity, the only acceptable tender for gifts of blood. Confirm Ecclesiasticus: “But these were merciful men, whose righteousness has not been forgotten. With their seed shall continually remain a good inheritance, and their children are within the covenant.”

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The bipartisan letter sent by Kaine (D) and Howell (R) to the Orange County Board of Supervisors has generated considerable news coverage over the 24 hours.  The letter, which urged the county to work with Walmart to identify another site for the superstore away from the Wilderness Battlefield, has led to stories in today’s Washington Post, Richmond Times-Dispatch and two articles in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star.  It certainly is big news when two of Virginia’s most prominent politicians cross the aisle on an important issue like this and speak out in the hopes of brokering a compromise that offers the best solution for not only Orange County, but also the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Governor Kaine and Speaker Howell are the latest in a long line of people who are urging Walmart and Orange County to find a more suitable location for the 138,000-square foot superstore that would be built on battlefield land and clog the gateway to the National Park.  So far, all voices of opposition to a Walmart at the proposed location have fallen on deaf ears with the Supervisors and Walmart, but the letter from Kaine and Howell might be the biggest statement made so far in this ongoing controversy.  Maybe it’s time for them to listen.

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gov-kaineTim Kaine (D), Governor of Virginia, and William Howell (R), Speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates, sent a bipartisan letter to the Orange County Board of Supervisors urging them to work with Walmart to find an alternate location for the supercenter that does not threaten the Wilderness Battlefield.

The letter states: “[W]e strongly encourage your Board to work closely with Wal-Mart to find an appropriate alternative site for the proposed retail center in the vicinity of the proposed site yet situated outside the boundaries of Wilderness Battlefield and out of the view of Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania National Military Park.”

The Free Lance-Star has the initial story and a copy of the letter Kaine and Howell sent here.

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Two editorials appeared today in Virginia newspapers that endorse a compromise solution for the Wilderness Walmart.  Both suggest that an alternate site for Walmart be found in Orange County in order to preserve the Wilderness Battlefield, but at the same time ensure that Orange County gets much-needed economic development.  The majority of speakers at the May 21 Planning Commission public hearing supported this idea as well.

Read the editorial in The Virginian-Pilot here.

Read the editorial in the Culpeper Star-Exponent here.

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The Richmond Times-Dispatch features an article today on the ongoing controversy regarding Walmart’s proposal to build a Supercenter on the Wilderness Battlefield.  There is strong opposition to the proposed Walmart, both locally and nationally, but so far Orange County and Walmart have not been receptive to the idea of finding a compromise location that would allow Walmart to build on a less historically sensitive site in the county.

The Orange County Board of Supervisors has scheduled a public hearing on the matter for July 27.

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The County Administrator for Orange County was fired Friday night after recently suggesting that a win-win solution could be had if Walmart moved to a different location in Orange County.

Read the Free Lance-Star article on the firing here.

Read an excellent editorial in yesterday’s Free Lance-Star.

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According to today’s Free Lance-Star, Orange County Administrator Bill Rolfe thinks the county should pursue trying to find a win-win solution that will not only satisfy Orange County’s need for economic development, but is also sensitive to the Wilderness Battlefield and National Park.  Rolfe is quoted in the article as saying:

The question that begs to be asked is, ‘Why isn’t the county trying to broker a deal that keeps Wal-Mart in the county and moves it further away from the congressionally approved boundary line of the Wilderness Battlefield?’ Both would be in our best interest

There does not seem to be a reasonable answer to this question though.  It’s not only in the county’s best interest to protect the battlefield — the county’s number one tourist destination — while still allowing economic development, but it is also in Walmart’s best interest as well.  Walmart continues to invite all of the negative publicity that comes with a controversial proposal such as this and doesn’t seem to comprehend that by moving the store up Route 3 a little bit they can not only quiet the national outcry over their proposed store, but they can turn this into a flurry of positive press for the company.  On the eve of the 150th commemoration of the Civil War, Walmart could set the standard for good corporate stewardship of historic lands.

It is nice to see the County Administrator thinking intelligently about this and considering how to reach a win-win solution, and hopefully the Board of Supervisors will realize that moving the Walmart is in the best interests of everyone, especially Orange County.

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