Marco historian gets rare medal

B. Elaine Michaelis
  • A chance encounter with a famous genius precipitated his strong interest in history

Marco Islander Lou Stickles is very proud man.

He has just been awarded the National Defense Medal by the United Daughters of the Confederacy (UDC), which was established in 1894 and is the oldest patriotic lineage organization in the country.

Stickles received the medal because he is an honorably discharged veteran and because he can trace his lineage, by blood, back to the War Between the States. The certificate and the congratulatory letter that accompanies this medal thanks Stickles for his service during the Vietnam conflict, describing it as a reflection of “the true southern spirit of his Confederate ancestry.”

“This is a big deal. It’s basically for veterans,” says Stickles. In fact, he is one of only three people in the State of Florida who have received this medal. He is already a member of the Sons of Confederate Veterans and, in fact, can trace his lineage even farther back, on both sides of his family, to the Revolutionary war, making him eligible for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution. But he decided not to take that final step because, as he quips, “you can only be involved with so many things at once.”

Stickles grew up in Virginia immersed in history. “I grew up where the tales where told,” said Stickles.

“We could get in our car and be in Williamsburg or Jamestown in a matter of minutes.” His father was career military and often deployed unable to take his family. Stickles spent a lot of time with his grandparents and their contemporaries hearing stories of from the past.

“A lot of people would not listen to them. But I sat there and realized how fortunate I was compared to so many people elsewhere,” Stickles claims. “You read about it. You hear about it. But there’s nothing like an eyewitness to bring history to life.”

Eventually Stickles got involved with a group in Maryland who staged re-enactments of both Union and Confederate battles along the Potomac river, in Northern Virginia, and even as far away as Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. They could mount a small-scale battle, as a unit, complete with artillery, cavalry (that’s fully mounted on horses) and infantry.

Stickles played the bugle, fife and drum. His job was to produce the calls and signals that pretty much controlled a soldier’s life — when to get up, when supplies arrived, when the mail came in, when to go into battle, when to retreat etc.

After he retired and moved to Marco, Stickles was unable find a similar re-enactors’ group in the area. So, with the help of friends, he began his own called the Florida Blues. A short time later, he started the Time Line, another group of military re-enactors, whose members can perform a re-enactment or provide a living historian, in full costume, for any special event or holiday celebration.

Lou Stickles, right, and John McVey of Arcadia play fiddles during a Civil War Days reenactment in this file photo.

As if life were not busy enough, Stickles took his love of history one step farther and completed the training required by the National Park Service and Florida State Parks system to be certified as a living historian.

“I would go to different sites around the State, give tours and lectures, answer questions, stage re-enactments — anything to help out the rangers,” said Stickles. And he is often called upon to lecture in the schools or for different organizations.

Over the years, Stickles has mentored several young people of both genders, who also wanted to get involved in re-enacting.

“I am very proud of them,” explained Stickles. “Many have gone on to the Naval Academy or West Point; many have gone into the military and are still serving…I see them from time to time and follow what they are doing.”

Stickles is now a member of The Society of Civil War Surgeons, the largest organization of re-enactors, many of them physicians, devoted to the medical aspects of The Civil War. Its members, over 400-strong nationwide, study all aspects of medicine, especially surgery; research, write and publish their findings, primarily in the Society’s journal; take part in re-enactments throughout the Florida area — all to promote “a deep and abiding appreciation for the rich medical history of the War Between the States.” Stickles describes the practice of medicine during this period as “medicine before germs were invented.”

Stickles in his element, dressed in Civil War uniform.

Like other members of the Society, Stickles has his own field of study, if he “can ever find the time to get back to it.” He is researching, with the intention of publishing, methods of transporting the wounded for treatment through history. According to Stickles: “Napoleon is thought to have introduced the concept of the ambulance. But as far back as the Romans, medical personnel traveled with the legionnaires, were fully equipped with all the facilities needed to operate, to do emergency treatment and to provide first aid.”

Stickles credits a chance encounter with a perfect stranger for his strong interest in history. His family was stationed in Princeton, New Jersey; his father working at the Institute for Advanced Technology. With his mother looking from the kitchen window, Stickles, a third grader, decided to go outside and check out what was considered unusual bug activity at the time — Princeton had just been invaded by the 17-year locust.

An old man approached and asked what he was doing. After an impromptu science lesson too long to go into here, the man left him with some sage advice: always study the past in order to predict what will happen in the future.

“I have never forgotten his words,” said Stickles. “It’s a lesson that has guided the rest of my life … and sparked my interest in listening to people’s stories and studying what happened in history.”

By the way, the old man who talked to him that day — he turned out to be Albert Einstein.