Most of us drive by cemeteries on a regular basis. If we take the time to observe our burial grounds, we might note the wide range of headstones commemorating people’s lives: some are huge, demanding attention, while others are miniscule, almost stirring sympathy.
But small, plain headstones can be misleading. They are in the case of Michael Joseph Mansfield.
On a simple, white, marble slab on a green hillside at Arlington National Cemetery stands a humble headstone that simply reads:
Michael Joseph Mansfield
U.S. Marine Corps
Mar 16, 1903
Oct 5, 2001
Who was Mansfield?
Was he just another one of the millions of Americans who’ve held the rank of private? Did he even have a family?
Nothing about the memorial stone begs attention, though the life it bears testimony of, does.
Though he held the lowest rank in the United States Marine Corps, Mansfield went on to become America’s ambassador to Japan. He even held the office of United States Senator from his beloved state of Montana.
He was the longest serving majority leader in the Senate, not an easy task, given that his years in public office were muddied by multiple wars – both hot and cold, civil rights protests, terrorist attacks, and presidential impeachment hearings. For 34 years, from Harry Truman’s presidency to Jimmy Carter’s, Mansfield served in Congress.
He helped pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964. He modeled genuine fairness during Nixon’s impeachment hearings. He forbade his campaign fundraisers from accepting money from his multimillionaire friends. He never took credit for his work – even hard work – and often didn’t even hang around for the photo op…even if it was with the President of the United States.
In short, Senator Mansfield embodied what we dream our political leaders could be. He didn’t do it for the prestige or the legacy; he did it for others. In fact, before he died, he was quoted as saying, “When I’m gone, I want to be forgotten.”
Not a chance, sir.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)