Sunday, April 7, 2013

A Sobering Scene, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, May 2012

As a natural born American Citizen, a visit to the Gettysburg National Military Park (a U.S. National Park) that preserves most of the area where the battles of Gettysburg were fought in July 1 - 3, 1863, is a sobering experience. An estimated combined total of between 46,000 and 51,000 casualties resulted from the three days of the battle. Somewhere over 8,000 of these casualties were deaths.

A casual drive or walk through the park and a visit to the Visitor's Center and Museum gives the visitor a real look at the bloodiest battle of a terrible war and time in the history of the U.S. And, of course, the 268 (or 270 depending on the version) words of the famous Abraham Lincoln Gettysburg Address was delivered here at the dedication of the Soldiers Cemetery about four months after this battle.

My first visit to the Gettysburg Battlefield was during my active duty in the U.S. Air Force. I was stationed in Washington, DC at the time. One of the reserve officers, a major, as I recall, who served his two weeks of annual duty with our office where we supported the information mission of the Secretary of the Air Force, was a photo journalist for the Philadelphia Enquirer. He worked with Airman magazine, the official internal Air Force print communication instrument for Air Force personnel around the world. Airman's offices were across the hall from ours. The major needed a male airman and a WAF (Women in the Air Force) female airman as models for a photo essay he was preparing on the Gettysburg Battlefield for Airman. He asked me and I accepted the assignment for a day out of the office.

It was certainly an interesting and moving experience for a first time visit and to be doing so in uniform as an active duty military person during a war time period. The photo essay came out very well. Well, it came out very well except for one photo that created worldwide controversy within the ranks of the Air Force, but that's a story for another time. I've been to Gettysburg several times since that first visit in the early 1970's. If you have never been there, you should go . . . and take your kids. 


Linda Sand said...

We visited Gettysburg in July a couple of years ago. I just kept thinking about those poor soldiers in wool uniforms. Bad enough they had to fight in those conditions but how did they see through all the sweat?! History sure is different on site than it was in high school history books.

Ed Helvey - Professional Nomad said...

Good point, Linda.

As an interesting juxtaposition, when I was modeling for the photo shoot for Airman magazine back in the early 70's, the Major (photographer) required the young woman and me to wear our tropical (summer) uniforms since they were more attractive than the heavy, wool, winter uniforms. We did the photo shoot in mid February when it is very cold and windy in those open fields. We were both nearly as blue as our uniforms. We froze our behinds off. Plus, I spent a lot of time chasing her beret as the wind would take it off her head and roll it across the fields. I never thought about that until you raised the point.

Indeed there is much that's different when we see it first hand compared to what we were taught in those high school history books. And I wonder how different (and accurate and truthful) the current history books are compared to ours.