It was back in the early 1980s that I had a rather humbling experience. It would be one that changed me a bit, though I didn’t fully understand its importance until many years later.
My girlfriend at the time wanted to take a day trip and suggested Antietam, the Civil War battlefield in Maryland where, in mid September of 1862, General Lee decided to move out of Virginia and north into Union territory. The 17th was to be the bloodiest day of the war and, though many thousands lost their lives, it was a battle that decided nothing.
It was a dreary, overcast day on this, my first visit to Antietam. At first we drove around the battlefield with no specific intent as I really had no idea of the significance of what I was seeing. After about 30 minutes of driving the park driveways, we crossed a highway that runs thru the battlefield – then down and to the right and up into a very large field edged with aged, rough wooden fencing that I presume was authentic for the 1862 time period. At the top of the hill was a tall stone tower with a place to park. We stopped and climbed up into the tower to look out over the battlefield in all directions.
The moment I reached the top, I felt something quite overpowering and as I began to scan out over the fields, I wanted to cry. I could feel a surging energy of sadness and sacrifice. Of unbearable pain, fear and anguish. I sensed regret and longing that life was cut short by the carnage that happened that day. No one personality emerged, just a torrent of collective consciousness that made me aware of how many were lost and how much potential was exterminated.
While this experience stayed with me, I did not revisit Antietam until a number of years later. And I did not begin to photograph the battlefield until after 2000. I now try to visit a military cemetery every Memorial Day to send prayers of thanks to those who have done the hard, sometimes thankless work of military service, especially combat in faraway lands.
I did the commemorative posters for Antietam and Gettysburg back in 2009. I wrote the poem about Gettysburg National Cemetery in mid 2008. This is the first time I have posted any of them in public.
Battlefield valor and the carnage of war
Renders ground hallowed; and burial stones mark
This sacrifice with enduring tribute to those
Who died for principles greater than themselves.
Gettysburg is such a place of honor.
Its fields and cemetery – quietly, serenely beautiful –
Assert a powerful homage to the efforts of so many
Who cried, bled and died for the betterment of others.
When I ponder the sacrifice, I consider this
Pain and suffering in a larger context of ideals
To which our inner voices persistently allude;
As though linked to an ever present source conscience.
What invisible intelligence renders our transient bodies
With a longing for justice, goodness and equality?
What hushed voice whispers such powerful ideals
That a human being willingly endures pain, even death?
©2017 by Bill Deuster. All rights reserved. For personal use only. Thanks for looking. Comments are welcome!!