This week people have been looking back at 9/11, replaying the events of that day, making speeches, celebrating heroes and trying to assess...

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This week people have been looking back at 9/11, replaying the events of that day, making speeches, celebrating heroes and trying to assess where we stand five years later.

Each year the intensity of our remembering will lessen, as it does for all events as time passes.

Monday I wandered around a piece of land dedicated to heroes of another transformative period in America’s life, the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery Park in north Capitol Hill.

The cemetery holds 526 graves of veterans of the Civil War and a few of their wives. It was originally for Union soldiers only, but as wounds healed a few Confederate veterans were buried there too.

A large American flag flew at half mast on the anniversary of terrorist attacks. I only gave this cemetery a thought because a reader, Martin Paup, mentioned in an e-mail that his grandparents are interred there.

There is a story behind each person in the cemetery, and a legacy that touches the present. I asked Paup to tell me about his grandfather, who was born in Pennsylvania in 1846.

His parents were too poor to feed him so they signed him over to a farmer, Paup told me.

“He was a white indentured servant to a very cruel farmer who whipped him once too often so my grandfather whacked him back and took off running, one step ahead of the law.” That was in 1863 when he was 16.

He crossed the state line to Maryland where both the Union and the Confederacy were recruiting young men.

Having had a taste of involuntary servitude, he chose the North.

Paup was captured, but he escaped and re-joined the Union Army, this time in a cavalry unit. He was on horse patrol outside Appomattox, Va., around the time Lee surrendered.

The men in the GAR cemetery came from all over to settle in the West after the war. Twenty-five states are represented. I saw lots of headstones from Indiana, Illinois, New York, Michigan, Minnesota, states across the North.

Some of the stones are so worn they can’t be read, others have been replaced in recent years.

John S. Baisden was a private in a West Virginia infantry company. His inscription notes that he was a prisoner at Andersonville. So was Jasper N. Warren, a sergeant in the 2nd Indiana Cavalry.

I remember someone telling me when Abu Ghraib prison was in the news that Americans don’t mistreat prisoners. Nearly 13,000 Union soldiers died while being held prisoner in Andersonville, Ga. The camp’s commander was convicted of war crimes and hanged.

More than half of the soldiers who were captured with Paup died in captivity. He lived and came out West. The younger Paup says his grandfather joined the Yukon gold rush but didn’t find any gold. Instead, he made money hauling potatoes to other miners.

He came back to Puget Sound and got a job on a tug that towed lumber ships and hauled passengers. Paup worked his way up to engineer, saved his money and invested in property in Seattle.

Martin Paup and his wife, Mary Jean, live in a condo overlooking Elliott Bay, near the Belltown property his grandfather (and later he) once owned. Like his grandfather, Paup owned and managed properties around town. And he also learned some things from them about life.

He says his grandmother, Ella, used to make him memorize and recite passages from Abraham Lincoln’s writings.

Paup was 8 years old when his grandfather died in 1938. The elder Paup was one of the last GAR survivors here and would carry the flag in veterans’ parades.

For years after the last GAR members died, the cemetery was neglected. People played ball in the field and dumped garbage there. People vandalized headstones.

At one point there was a proposal for the city to turn the land into a dog run. It was around that time that a group called Friends of the GAR formed to advocate for the cemetery, do maintenance and raise money to support it.

Seems like a couple of years ago I looked at the wall of World War II veterans’ names at Memorial Stadium, and much was covered by plants.

Time and people’s interest move on. Nothing can stay at the forefront forever, but we shouldn’t forget either. Remembering might help us keep a sense of perspective about the world.

Imagine living in a country rent by savage fighting that would take more than 600,000 lives, as the Civil War did.

Our pain is not that great and our divisions are not that deep. Yet we risk pulling apart what all that blood put together by giving too full a rein to our fears of current dangers. These are dangerous times, but we’ve survived worse.

Jerry Large: 206-464-3346 or jlarge@seattletimes.com.

His column runs Thursdays and Sundays and is found at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.