The Andersonville Book is now available!

My latest book A History of the Andersonville Prison Monuments is now available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, Andersonville National Historic Site bookstore and The History Press. This book chronicles the efforts made to preserve the prison site after the war … Continue reading

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Women’s love and devotion preserve Andersonville Prison Site

In my last post, I wrote about a brief history of the Woman’s Relief Corp. I left out of that post one of the most important preservation efforts of that group- the preservation and administration of the Andersonville Prison.

When the war ended, Union troops took over the prison site. Those prisoners who were still left were transported to hospitals and homeward.  They were relieved to be free and that the Union had won the long war. The former prison site contained the graves of approximately 13,000 soldiers who had died while interned there during the war. The grounds remained littered with the remnants of she-bangs, wells sat unused and the holes for escape remained opened. The stockade walls stood silently reminding everyone that this site once held almost 30,000 men captive.

In 1880, the Army marked and identified each grave and created a National Cemetery. The Quartermaster Department maintained the cemetery, but no-one really managed the site of the prison. Some former POW’s returned to the site and the feeling that the nation could not forget the tragedy that had befallen those held at Andersonville overwhelmed them. In 1881,the Georgia Department of the Grand Army of the Republic set about purchasing the prison site.  The men made a partial payment on the property and  did some cleaning up of the grounds. In 1886, Kate Sherwood, an officer of the Woman’s Relief Corp visited the site and participated in the annal Memorial Day services. By 1893, the GAR struggled to pay off the debt and to maintain the site. The men turned to the women of the Woman’s Relief Corp (WRC) for assistance. The ladies, devoted to preserving the memory of Union soldiers, gladly offered assistance in raising funds. The WRC raised $1,000 to pay off the debt and took ownership of the site. The ladies began fundraising to maintain the site and  began further clean-up and restoration of the grounds.

Using a cottage they had erected upon the grounds, the WRC hosted returning veterans and visiting dignitaries. Lizabeth Turner, the appointed caretaker, greeted each group and individual and gave them tours of the site. Turner encouraged the veterans and the state legislatures to erect monuments to honor those who perished and those who survived the prison. By 1910, monuments dotted the cemetery and the grounds of the former stockade. Almost every state that had prisoners interned there during the war had erected a monument. The WRC, no longer able to continue the care of the site after the passing of Turner, deeded the site to the United States War Department. In honor of their work in preserving the site and honoring the Union soldiers, the WRC erected a monument on the grounds of the stockade to the Woman’s Relief Corp and one to the long-time caretaker, Lizabeth Turner.

The WRC monument featured a sundial. Around the outside of the dial, women expressed their appreciation to the veterans with the simple word “grateful.” The gnome of the sundial featured an American flag.

Today, the legacy of the Woman’s Relief Corp continues at Andersonville National Historic Site and at the GAR Museum in Springfield, Illinois. The women continue to host memorial day observances around the country and to honor American soldiers.

Photo by Hugh Peacock

Sundial of the Woman’s Relief Corp Monument . Photo by Hugh Peacock



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Mississippi Monument at Shiloh

Mississippi State Monuments at Shiloh NMP. Dedicated Oct. 10, 2015

Mississippi State Monuments at Shiloh NMP. Dedicated Oct. 10, 2015

As mentioned back in September, the State of Mississippi dedicated a state monument at Shiloh National Military Park on October 10, 2015. This southern monument has been long in the works. The efforts of the Mississippi Veterans Monument Commission was not the first time that there was interest in erecting a monument to these brave soldiers.

By 1900, most of the union states had either already erected a monument or were in the process of creating one. The South still struggled to honor their soldiers on the Shiloh battlefield.  In 1903, Bates’ 2nd Tennessee erected a monument through private funding and the United Daughters of the Confederacy in Alabama were busy working to raise funds to honor the Alabama troops. In 1913,  a Mississippi state representative received a letter from Josiah Patterson requesting him to recommend a legislative bill authorizing $10,000 for a monument on the Shiloh battlefield. The Senator explained that that upcoming session was a limited 30 day special session that would see matters of the “utmost importance claim the attention of the body.” The senator reassured Patterson that some future legislature would make a suitable request. This did not happen.

In 1914, the park commission dissolved and DeLong Rice was appointed as the park’s first superintendent. Rice eagerly accepted the job and immediately began inviting states without memorials to erect one upon the battlefield.  Wishing to see men from both sides honored, he began writing to the state governors.  In a semi-form letter that Rice sent to southern state governor’s and legislatures he wrote that the “men who struggled on this field are our heroes- come her and build monuments in their glory, whether they wore the blue or the grey.” He did not receive positive responses from most of the former Confederate states. Mississippi governor, Earl Brewer, told Rice that he wished the superintendent’s letter had come sooner so that he could have forcefully called attention to the need for a monument.” Grimly, the governor informed Rice that as it was the state was faced with scant resources and growing expenditures. The prospects for a Mississippi state monument did not look promising.

Rice was determined to see all those who fought in the bloody battle be honored. He continued throughout his term as superintendent to write to the state governors and legislatures. In 1916, Rice wrote to the new Mississippi Governor Theodore Bilbo acknowledging that most southern states had not erected monuments and that he understood their economic struggle. However, the park superintendent made a plea to Bilbo stating that, “in the great composite southern heart is undying love for the soldiers of the sixties. The pinch of poverty has played its part in their delay, but your state is no longer poor, and the brave Mississippians who fought here deserve a monument at the hands of your people.”(DeLong Rice to Theodore Bilbo, Feb. 19, 1916, SNMP files) Bilbo took time to answer Rice noting that he had spoken with the women of the UDC and they had some interest, but as governor he was overrun with legislative matters and could not get behind this movement.(Bilbo to Rice, March 9, 1916 SNMP files)

The determined superintendent still did not give up hope for a Mississippi monument. He sent a circular to the members of the state legislature proposing a bill for a monument. One senator wrote back to inform Rice that efforts were made but only two members of the committee recommended his bill. Every senator but two voted for it, but it never reached the house for consideration. Efforts to erect a monument to brave men of Mississippi ended in 1929 with Rice’s early death. It would not be until the early 1990’s that a renewed effort, this time fueled by citizens of Mississippi, would be launched.



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New Monument to be dedicated at Shiloh

Although the veterans who fought the civil war battles are long dead, monuments are still being erected to remember and honor those who fought on the bloody battlefields. This fall the state of Mississippi will erect a state monument on the Shiloh battlefield. There are only a few monuments on the battlefield honoring confederate troops. During the creation of the park states funded and erected the memorials. With the battle being considered a southern loss and the site so difficult to reach, few southern states erected monuments.

Now 153 years later, the State of Mississippi will dedicate a monument honoring the men from the state on October 10, 2015 at Shiloh National Military Park.

In the early 1900s, Park historian DeLong Rice contacted the state regarding a monument on the battlefield. The governor responded that there was simply no funds for such an thing. Efforts to honor the Mississippi soldiers began again in the early 1970s, but went no where. In the early 1990s, a monument commission worked to erect three monuments honoring Mississippians- a Mississippi Memorial, Medal of Honor recipients and one at Shiloh National Park.

In 2010, the Shiloh advisory group meet with sculptor Kim Sessoms about designing a monument for the battlefield.

Sessoms designed a monument that will feature a eight-foot three person color guard holding a Hardee style battle flag. Georgia granite panels will make up the base. The base of the new monument has already been put in place in Rhea field, where the 6th Mississippi Regiment took heavy casualties. If you are at Shiloh in the new few months stop at Rhea Field and witness history in the making. If your in the area the 2nd Saturday of October be sure to witness the dedication of a new monument. It is rare for monuments to be dedicated on the great Civil War battlefields today.

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Andersonville Prison and the Woman’s Relief Corp

The Woman's Relief Corp medal on the Lizabeth Turner Monument at Andersonville National Park

The Woman’s Relief Corp medal on the Lizabeth Turner Monument at Andersonville National Park

Earlier I posted about the work of the Woman’s Relief Corp. In that writing, I left out one of their most prominent works- the preservation of the Andersonville Prison site in Andersonville, Georgia. This organization is a key element in the preservation and memorialization of the Andersonville prison site.

By the late 1880s, veterans began to visit the site of the prison. The federal government had confiscated the land and continued to hold it after the war and had established the national cemetery. Very little had been done with the actual prison grounds. Some local freedmen lived on the site and much of it was grown over or tilled under.

The time spent at Andersonville by the Union veterans and the bitterness over the conditions of the prisoners during the war still evoked emotion. Those visiting the site were dismayed to see nothing was done to memorialize the hollowed grounds. In May 1890, the Georgia Grand Army of the Republic purchased 73 1/2 acres that had been the prison stockade.  They immediately began working on restoring the grounds. By 1897, the veterans realized that the cost of paying the mortgage and maintenance of the site was more than they could fund. The men offered  the site to the GAR’s auxiliary organization the Woman’s Relief Corp.

The women voted to pay off the debt and preserve the prison site. The WRC put together a board of women to provide oversight. Lizabeth Turner, who served on the WRC Andersonville Prison Committee, received the honor of providing on0site management of the prison site.

Lizabeth Turner, a widow, was familiar with the South. Prior to the Civil War, the Conneticut woman had been married to a Georgian man and lived in the state for a short while with him. After her husbands death in the 1853, she moved to Massachusetts. Despite not having a spouse or close relative serving in the Civil War, Turner supported the war efforts. Like many women in the North, she rolled bandages, and sent care packages to the troops. In the 1880s, when a local corp of the WRC organized, she was one of the first to join.

The WRC built a large cottage just north of the prison stockade. The purpose of the 11 room cottage was to provide a place for the visiting veterans and state delegations to meet and fellowship. Each division of the WRC was responsible for providing furnishings for the cottage. Turner planted a rose garden out front and erected a flag pole to fly the American flag.

The WRC quickly began finishing and adding to the work started by the veterans. They erected a fence around the prison stockade site with a large entrance and gates. They planted shrubs around the surviving wells dug by the prisoners and placed wooden signs marking the dead line, the creek, providence springs and other prominent features. The buillt bridges over the creeks and improved the roadway around the stockade site to allow better viewing and touring of the prison.

In 1900, the women erected a pavilion over Providence springs. The spring, which arose from the ground in August 1864 during a storm, was said to be an answer to the prisoners cry for clean drinking water. Almost all the veterans who visited the prison stopped to get a sip of the spring and recall the miracle of the clear water years before. Because it was so important to the former prisoners of war, the women built a marble pavilion over the top and had an elaborate marble sculpture fount of an eagle deliver the water into an Italian marble bowl. The Ex-Union Prisoners of War and the Grand Army of the Republic helped with the creation and preservation of the pavilion.

Over the years, the WC assisted with the memorial day services in the National Cemetery. Former Union General John A. Logan, a Grand Army of the Republic leader, proposed the observance of a memorial day. Part of the Woman’s Relief Corp’s mission was to honor the Union soldiers and to observe Memorial day. Most importantly, Lizabeth Turner, as the WRC representative, hosted visiting state delegations and veterans. She attended monument dedications, often being asked to speak and unveil the monument.

In 1910, the WRC could no longer manage the site. Lizabeth Turner had died in 1907 and few women were willing to move to Andersonville to provide personal oversight. The women approached the United States Quartermaster Department about transferring the prison to them. The Quartermaster department already took care of the cemetery, it seemed only logical that they maintain and preserve the adjoining prison site.

After the transfer, the WRC erected several more monuments. They erected the Woman’s Relief Corp monument in honor of their efforts to preserve the site at the suggestion of the Army. The women also erected a monument in honor of the men from states who did not erect a monument- the Eight States Monument.The WRC also erected a monument to Clara Barton in honor of her service to the Union troops and the creation of the National Cemetery at Andersonville and a monument  detailing memorial day orders by John A. Logan.

For many years, the WRC president traveled to the Andersonville cemetery to visit and check on the cottage, which they organization continued to maintain for many years. Today, the WRC still operates a museum honoring the Union Soldiers, decorates the graves of US soldiers, and continues to promote patriotism.

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Memorial day- Created by Union Veterans

Sundial of the Woman's Relief Corp Monument at Andersonville National Historic Site

Sundial of the Woman’s Relief Corp Monument at Andersonville National Historic Site. Photo By Hugh Peacock

Hopefully this Memorial Day, you and your family have taken a moment to remember our soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice. The idea of Memorial Day was born with the Civil War soldiers. Just three short years after the surrender of Confederate forces to theUnion; the idea of a national day of remembrance formed. In 1868, the Grand Army of the Republic, a national Union veterans organization, much like the modern VFW or American Legion created memorial Day. The president of the GAR( Grand Army of the Republic), former Union General John A. Logan declared May 30 as Memorial Day. This would be a day to honor all the fallen soldiers by decorating the graves and holding memorial services.

Members of the GAR and its women’s auxiliary units such as the Woman’s Relief Corps made efforts to place American flags on the graves of the dead and invite orators to give speeches honoring the men and reminding the audience of the valor and sacrifice. At the recently created National Cemeteries across the country, such as Andersonville, Shiloh, Gettysburg and even Arlington, Americans gathered in their fine attire to pay their respects to those resting beneath the stones.

In the early twentieth century memorial day services often coincided with the dedication of state monuments on the nearby battlefields and at Andersonville Prison site. This gave the veterans a chance to reunite together to recognize their efforts in winning the war and pay tribute to those who made the ultimate sacrifice.

Many of the national cemeteries continue the tradition of memorial day services. These often include orators, flags, bands and a twenty-one gun salute.

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

While cruising the lake or grilling your stop and take a moment to remember our fallen soldiers, sailors and marines. Remove your cap, bow your head and pay respect to those who gave their lives for our nation.

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Observance of 9/11 and historical memory

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

Flag at half-mast at Andersonville National Cemetery, Anderonsville, GA

This past week, Americans observed the 13th anniversary of Sept. 11th. The day that terrorist attacked America and we entered a war with Iraq and in Afganistan. All around town, my oldest daughter and I noticed that flags at half-mast, patriotic songs on the radio and postings on facebook by friends. My daughter came home from 8th grade commenting that they discussed 9/11 in one class.

Thirteen years later, we still stop and remember the tragic day. Here in Oklahoma- April 22, 1995 is observed in Oklahoma City every year with the reading of the victims who died in the Oklahoma City bombing.  Bells ring and a moment of silence is still observed at 9:02 am each year.

The thought struck me- how long will America continue to remember and observe these tragic dates in our history? Ahh yes reader- you will say forever. But I challenge that. On December 7, 1941, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and we went to war. If you ask anyone of the World War II generation where were they when they heard about Pearl Harbor they can can answer precisely and clearly. If I ask you where were you when you heard about the world trade center; you will have a clear answer. For years, Americans observed Pearl Harbor day- or December 7th. Flags were flown at half mast, schools held observances, communities took a moment to remember and the papers ran stories.  Veterans gathered for memorial services and reunions on that date  at Pearl Harbor.   About three years ago, the survivors held their last reunion at Pearl Harbor. The few remaining veterans were too old to trave and only a  handful are left. The National Park Service still holds an observance on that day. But do other towns and communities across America? Sure the local newspapers and news stations will run a story on a local World War II veteran, but are the flags across town at half mast?

My question- when does our collective memory begin to fade? When does a tragic national event lose its importance? When do Americans begin to no longer observe such tragic events and to publicly memorialize them?

The majority of my college freshman students have vague memories of 9/11. Most were born in 1996. So they were young when the event happen and do not have a full understanding of the war that followed. Will they keep the memory alive? What about my 14 year old daughter who was born three months before the event? She has absolutely no memory of the event. A year ago, I visited the Oklahoma City bombing memorial in Oklahoma City with my 7th grade girl scouts. They had a vague understanding of bombing on April 22, 1995. How long will Oklahoma City continue to observe that day?  What about 9/11?  Some teachers take time to discuss it and my daughter and her friends know about the event and date due to media observances and the flags at half mast. When her generation becomes adults will we continue to stop for a moment of silence? Will we continue to lower our flags on 9/11 twenty years from now?

Just something to ponder- when do we stop observing tragic historical events as a nation? When do these events just become tragic historical events of the past?

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A 100 Year Old Women’s Organization that still promotes patriotism- the WRC

” Lets rededicate ourselves to service

For the dear old Boys in Blue

And when their soul has answered the roll

It’s for their memory our mark we’ll do.”

From the WRC Journal Dept. of Oklahoma, 1938-1939

In recent years, historians have written about the Southern women’s memorial organizations like the Ladies Memorial Associations and the UDC. Many have overlooked an important organization that continues to serve our nation- The Woman’s Relief Corp.

After the Civil War, as the veterans began to create organizations to perpetuate the memory of the war, the women of the North began to form organizations that would aid the veterans, their families and perpetuate the memory of the soldiers’ sacrifice in the Civil War. In 1881, at the national encampment of the Grand Army of the Republic ( a Union veteran organization) the men passed a resolution to create the Woman’s Relief Corps as an auxiliary to the GAR.It was not until 1883, that the measure was put into effect and the WRC officially existed. This unified the many local women’s groups that were already organized and working on behalf of the veterans.

Women in Massachusetts and Ohio immediately organized  corps within their states.  Many of the first members were wives, sisters, daughters and mothers of Civil War veterans, however membership was not limited to those related to veterans. Any  loyal woman of good moral character over the age of sixteen  could join the organization. By 1885, there were 22 departments, three provisional departments and 20,226 members.  The WRC’s charter called for the organization to specifically aid and assist the GAR and to perpetuate the memory of their heroic dead as well as assist the veterans, their widows and their orphans with finding employment, housing and to assure them sympathy and friends. In short the ladies sought to “. . .cherish and emulate the deeds of our army nurses, and of all loyal women who rendered loving service to their country in her hour of peril.”

After establishing themselves, the women began to working to protect the veterans and promote patriotism. One of the yearly responsibilities that the WRC took to heart was the promotion of Memorial Day as proposed by former Union General and GAR member John A. Logan. Every year the ladies decorated Union graves in the South and placed plaques with the Gettysburg Address in the national Cemeteries.  In Sandusky, Ohio, the women helped to preserve the names of the Southern dead at the former prison site at Johnson Isle and helped to persuade the federal government to erect a memorial at the site.

Throughout the North, WRC departments established and maintained Veteran’s homes and orphanages. After the war, Mrs. Anne Wittenmeyer, a future WRC member, opened an orphanage in Farmington, Iowa. This facility cared for those children left without a parent due to the war. After the creation of the WRC, the organization continued to raise funds and assist in the maintenance of the home.  The orphanage remained open with the assistance of the WRC until 1970.  By 1905, the women had expended two million dollars in relief for the veterans and their families and had worked to get laws passed that provided relief to the veteran’s widows and children.

The male veterans of the Civil War were not their only concern. Many of the founding women had aided in the war effort. Some had served as nurses and worked with the Sanitary Commission during the war. The WRC recognized these women’s sacrifice and commitment to the Union cause. In 1892, the Woman’s Relief Corp helped get legislation passed that recognized the nurses and gave them a monthly pension of $12.00 a month. By 1900, the WRC opened a veteran’s home for army nurses in Ohio. This was one of the first facilities dedicated to women nurses.

By 1900, the WRC boasted 2, 803 Corps and a membership of nearly 150,00 members. As the Civil War generation began to diminish, the women continued to their work. Now they included veterans of all wars. By the early 1900s, the WRC added the promotion of patriotism and loyalty to their mission.  This included proving that Francis Bellamy was the original author of the Pledge of Allegiance.

The National headquarters for the Women's Relief Corp and the GAR museum in Springfield, IL

The National headquarters for the Women’s Relief Corp and the GAR museum in Springfield, IL

They also worked to promote the adoption of this pledge throughout the United States. As part of this campaign, the women distributed flags to schools and encouraged the recitation of the pledge of allegiance as part of a patriotic education.  Along with promoting the pledge and ensuring that all schools had flags displayed in the classrooms, the women of the WRC continued to place flags on the graves of deceased soldiers and promote the respectful observance of memorial day.

As you wave your flag this Fourth of July weekend, I hope you will stop and remember this dedicated group of women- The Woman’s Relief Corp.  The organization is still in existence and still continues the mission they set in 1883. Down the street from Abraham Lincoln’s home in Springfield, Illinois, you will find the headquarters of the WRC where the women maintain a GAR museum.  If you would like more information please check out their website

Membership is still open to all loyal women who are of good character.

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Monument makers and art

Sculpture in Italian cemetery, Venice, Italy

Sculpture in Italian cemetery, Venice, Italy

I maybe odd, but I enjoy wondering through old cemeteries. The ones where the stones are leaning over and moss covers one side of the stones. The older cemetery monuments are often artistic and express the love and grief of the families. It is the sculptures and designs on the monuments that we most overlook and most art lovers ignore as artwork. The process of sculpting a monument in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century is quite remarkable and a dying art form.

headstone monument to a world war I aviator in Venice, Cemetery

headstone monument to a world war I aviator in Venice, Cemetery

Monument companies kept drawings of designs they could offer clients. The company also kept molds of their most popular designs. If the order was custom, a designer would draw up a design of the monument. Those with sculptures, required the company sculptor to create a model in clay.

Monument to World War Aviator in Italian Cemetery

Monument to World War Aviator in Italian Cemetery

Next, the selected granite or marble would be brought into the shop as a large block. Stone cutters cut it into shape and size.  The mold of the sculpture would be created and plaster would be poured into the mold. This created a cast of the design. The cast or model would be set next to the stone horizontally to be used by the stone cutter or carver to created the actual sculpture. Using a pointing machine, the stone cutter would cut the design in stone. This would be done several times before the piece was finished. The carver would do the small details by hand.

Eagle carved on monument in Italian headstone

Eagle carved on monument in Italian headstone

A draftsman created all the other details beyond the statue. The draftsmen would design the base, die, cap and the lay-out of the lettering.  Using a “blue print” or tracing paper attached to the stone, the letter cutter cut out the letters memorializing the deceased.

Bronze hat and carving on cemetery monument in Italian cemetery

Bronze hat and carving on cemetery monument in Italian cemetery

Today most of this work is done by computers. Statues are machine cut. In places like Westerly, Rhode Island the art of stone cutter is dying. The few who carved stones by hand are dwindling and companies now turn to finely tuned computers. The image of your loved one can be put onto the stone with computer in exact likeness. In the book, A History and Guide to the Monuments of Chickamauga National Military Park, I have a photo of the pointing machine at work. You can also look photos of the granite industry and the process on the website for the Babcock-Smith House –

While visiting Italy, my husband and I visited a cemetery  on an island near Venice. The cemetery was like visiting a sculpture museum. Most amazing, is that the elaborate sculptures were carved by talented artist. Next time you are in a cemetery, really look at the stones. Examine the hands on the angels. Linger over the faces and flowers. When you read the epitaph remember that someone spent considerable time and talent putting on those lines.  deathangelstoneitaly

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Veterans and battlefields

Veteran’s day, some current research and a visit with a friend has gotten me thinking about the significance of revisiting a battlefield. Recently, Colonel Robert W. Powell, a world war II veteran returned to Holland. In September 1944, during operation Market Garden he crashed landed in Holland as a glider pilot. He was knocked unconscious with a severe head injury and broken ankle. Four months after crashing he woke up in a hospital in Paris. For the past 70 years he has not know what happen when he crashed.

A group of paratrooper took the Colonel back to where he crashed on the anniversary of his landing. It was an amazing journey. Mayors in the little Dutch towns greeted him, and he visited the memorials erected by the Dutch to the Americans in this towns.  ( Which leads me to another thought that I won’t discuss in this post.)

Col. Powell learned that the Dutch citizens went to the fields and carried the wounded American fliers to a farm house where they had set up a hospital. At some point, the Colonel was transferred to a military hospital in Paris for further treatment.

Colonel Powell was touched by the reception he received, but was more touched by learning of the actions of the Dutch people during the war and how they saved his life. He walked the field where his glider landed and visited the farmhouse where he was treated. Talking with Powell, he said that the visit filled in the gaps in his memory and life. He now knows what happen so long ago and has an ever better picture of the operations that he took part in.

I have been reading about Civil War POW’s and their visits back to the prison camp where they suffered. The memorials on the Civil War battlefields were initiated by the veterans who returned years later to learn of the battle and see where they had fought.  It is interesting to see similiarities between the world war II veterans that I have meet with over the years and the civil war veterans. The need to revisit  battlefields, to remember and to ensure that others remember is a reaction that has been with veterans for generations. The horrors and heroism on the field of battle should never be forgotten.

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