Archive for the ‘patriotism’ category

Sacred Ground: The Flight 93 National Memorial

April 16, 2009

2007_pa_0113Mennonite women viewing the folk art angels commemorating the souls who died in the Flight 93 crash. The actual crash site is in the far distance on the right in this scene. You might be able to see the distant flag.

 

Rare shared moments in our lives are seared into our brains.  On September 11, 2001, I awoke on a warm late summer morning to the voice of Carl Kasell on NPR, saying there were reports that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York.  Almost immediately came reports of a second plane hitting the other tower, and all hell broke loose.  Our lives were never to be quite the same again. 

Six years on, I was in Washington D.C. on September 11.  Leaving town, I drove north into Pennsylvania toward Pittsburgh; somewhere along the  road, it struck me that I must be following roughly the path that the fourth plane hijacked by the terrorists would have taken toward Washington D.C., only in reverse. I stopped, looked at a map, and determined that I could stop for a day at the field where United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into the ground, ending the lives of all aboard.

I drove through the beautiful Pennsylvania countryside that day, enjoying the touches of autumn, covered bridges, pastoral farms, and small towns that have remained much the same for decades. Near Shanksville, I followed signs to the Flight 93 site.  When I arrived, there were a few scattered cars and Harleys, as well as a tour bus filled with Mennonite men and women on an outing.  The place was quiet, except for the American flags flapping in the brisk and chill wind.

2007_pa_0118Mennonite ladies pause to view a collage of heartfelt tributes to the heroic passengers and crew of Flight 93.

Every American alive on 9/11 knows the stories of that day, but it was with a sense of awe, wonder, and sorrow that I relived the tragedy and heroism of that day in this sacred place.  Flight 93 was heading for San Francisco from Newark.  It got a late start, but the flight looked smooth on this beautiful day for the seven members of the flight crew and 37 passengers. Over Ohio, 2007_pa_0094the four hijackers made their move in the first class cabin.  They incapacitated the pilots, took control of the plane, and turned back toward Washington D.C.  By this time the passengers, talking on cell phones to family and friends, learned that three planes had already hit their targets and their plane was to be the fourth.  They probably didn’t know it, but the target was to be the White House or the Capitol Building.

From their cell phone conversations, we know that the passengers voted to try and retake the plane.  Todd Beamer has become the most famous of a group of men who hatched a plan and launched a counterattack.  The black box recording of the cockpit provided evidence that the counterattack was effective in thwarting the plans of Al Qaeda; the terrorist pilot ended up diving the plane straight into a reclaimed strip mine field at over 500 miles per hour.  2007_pa_0067Everyone died instantly.  You can review the events of the flight at http://www.nps.gov/flni

We know there were heroes that day, and when I stood on that sacred ground I could feel that heroism in my very bones.  Spirits inhabit the place and every visitor is quiet and reverential.  Few places evoke so many quiet tears.

Visiting Americans have left thousands of remembrances: crosses, flags, notes of admiration, motorcycle club patches,firefighter memorabilia, and so many other items are collected on a memorial wall.  Volunteers from the area provide heartfelt interpretation of the events of that day.

2007_pa_0127A reverential biker views the names of the passengers and crew.

Visitors are not allowed on the actual crash site; that is reserved for family members of the crew and passengers.  The crash site is visible from the hill where the memorial is located.  As of this 2009 writing, there is a temporary memorial; soon there will be a permanent memorial building and exhibits run by the National Park Service.  The website I linked to above has extensive information and graphics concerning the design of the permanent memorial, which will be a reverential reminder of the events of the fateful day.  In addition, there is a website where you can learn about donating to the memorial, and get another narrative of the events of the day.  Go to: http://www.honorflight93.org/

2007_pa_0107Items donated by visitors decorate the 40′ tribute wall.

I came away with a sense of pride that Americans had the courage to take the course of events into their own hands that day.  It is among our proudest moments as a nation.

 

To see my web site, which includes photographic prints for sale, please go to LeeRentz.com

To see thousands of my photographs in large file sizes for use in magazines or other printed materials or electronic media, go to my PhotoShelter Website

Click on the photographs below to see them in a larger size, with captions.

 

August 15, 2008 Reading a Photograph

August 16, 2008

Most of my photographs are straightforward views of landscapes, wildlife, small towns, or whatever else catches my eye.  I love taking these pictures; they are part of a long tradition of photographers seeking out the best light and working with finely tuned technical skills.  Sometimes, however, my work takes a step beyond, to where the subject and intent can be “read” by the eye in several ways.  Here are a few examples, using the names I gave each picture.

 

AMERICAN ICON 1: Log Cabin

While photographing an old cemetery in central Pennsylvania, I was first interested in the 200-year-old shale gravestones and took several pictures portraying the fascinating hand-carved shapes of these memorials.  Then I photographed several gravestones with the log cabin as a background. Then the cabin’s windows caught my eye and I took a few detail photographs showing the combination of logs, chinking, and windows.  Then it struck me like a thunderclap:  the flag icon was right there in front of me.  At that point the adrenalin started pumping and I took one of the best pictures of my life.  Your eyes can read it either as a log cabin or as an American flag:  either way, it is a strong and iconic symbol of American life.

 

We Are As Spirits

While visiting the Monterey Bay Aquarium, I carried only a pocket film camera, hoping perhaps to get a few snapshots.  I didn’t use it much, but when I entered the chamber where these people were standing, mesmerized, in front of a giant tank with tuna and sharks and other huge creatures, it cried out for a photograph.  I loved the blue light and the human forms, so I stood back and took a dozen or so pictures, with exposures ranging from about 1/4 second to 1/2 second, hand-held.  For the first picture, I had left the flash on by accident, and it turned out that this picture was the best because of the ambiguous shapes the flash reflection added to the dark human forms.*  Most people realize that this is an aquarium picture, but when I view it–even knowing exactly what it is–I see spirits living among us.  Others see it as humans lined up during a UFO appearance.  Whatever the interpretation, it is ambiguous enough that it invites repeated viewings.

*So often, mistakes in photography are useful, because they can lead to a whole new interpretation of an image.  Perhaps it says something about my photographic skills, but I make plenty of mistakes–and end up liking some of them.  

 

LAYERS 3: A Parallel World

While photographing the interior of a ghost town building in Bannack State Park, Montana, I found some of the small details fascinating–such as these crackled paint layers on a wall.  It wasn’t until I looked at the slide on the light table that I realized that this photograph looked like a map, but not a map of any world that we know.  It could well be a parallel world, and it reminds me for all the world of the colored maps on the classroom walls of my youth.

 

When Rocks Dream

While visiting Joshua Tree National Park, I took lots of beautiful pictures of the Biblical-looking Joshua Trees, lizards, desert tortoises, and granite cliffs dangling climbers.  But when I came upon this formation, I actually laughed out loud at the Mojave Desert’s dry humor.  The rock was about life-sized and the lighting was “just right” for my formal portrait.

At a recent art show I found myself seriously explaining to a nine-year-old boy about how some pictures could be understood in several different ways at the same time.  I pointed out the log cabin and aquarium pictures and how they could simultaneously mean different things.  I’m not a teacher, and I wasn’t sure if I was getting through to him.  But then he smiled and pointed at my rock photograph and said “like that picture.”  Yes, he indeed got it!

 

For more examples of my work, visit my web site at LeeRentz.com

May 13, 2008 My Memorial Day

May 26, 2008

My father, Robert (Bob) Lewis Rentz, died in early January of 2007.  A World War II veteran, his life was disrupted by service in the South Pacific.  Actually, “disrupted” is too strong a word, because I think he enjoyed his experience in the Signal Corps based on all those dinner table war stories when I was young.  He returned home in 1945, and resumed normal life in the Detroit area, soon marrying, raising a family, and having a long career as a draftsman and engineer at General Motors.  A normal, wonderful life, filled with vacations, friends, family outings, and all the other parts of post-war America.

My Dad’s uncle wasn’t so fortunate.  Although technically he was an uncle, Philip (Dude) Taliaferro was almost the same age as my father and was raised essentially as his brother in the same household by my Dad’s mother.  In early 1945, near the end of the war, Dude’s plane went down in the jungles of New Guinea or in the vast Pacific Ocean and was never found.  So he never got to experience the rest of life through the booming ’50s and 60’s and subsequent turbulent decades.  My mother knew Dude too (she grew up next door to her eventual husband (Bob Rentz) and Dude).  She described him as a handsome young man who had that quality of looking into a girl’s eyes and making her feel like she was the only person in the world.

When my parents were thinking about where they wanted to be buried, they agreed that Fort Custer National Cemetery, near Battle Creek, Michigan, would be a fine place.  My mother also looked into having a memorial for Philip Taliaferro placed in the missing-in-action section of the Fort Custer Cemetery, because she felt that his name might otherwise be forgotten.  Independently, and at nearly the same time, the army contacted my mother, and through her, found Dude’s closest living relatives and obtained DNA samples from them in case the missing plane should ever be found.

So, my Dad and Dude ended up with memorials in the same cemetery, which you can see in the accompanying pictures.  They are among graves of (mostly) men who served in WWII, Korea, Vietnam, and the Mideast wars.  This was my first time back to Fort Custer since the year-earlier ceremony when Dad’s ashes were placed in the sacred ground, and it was a beautiful day in a beautiful place.  Tears flowed freely in memory of my wonderful Dad and in memory of all the others who gave so much..

Photography is my passion, and even on this sad day of memories I wanted to take some technically proficient pictures of the gravestones and the setting.  I hope you get a sense of the reverence I feel for all these old soldiers and their sacrifices.

This is part of a weblog documenting my travels and photography. I am primarily a nature photographer, and you can see more of my work at http://www.leerentz.com

Click on the photographs below to see a larger version with captions.