Archive for the ‘war’ 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.

 

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.

 

May 1, 2008 North on the National Defense Highway System

May 6, 2008

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

Today I am driving north from Tennessee through Virginia in the beautiful Shenandoah Valley.  Everywhere, spring is upon the land on this sunny, perfect day.  Pastures are intense green with new spring grass; black cattle grazing on the hillsides look like silhouettes punched out of the green.  Along the road, the striking pink blossoms of Redbud—the most beautiful of spring-flowering trees—are at or just past their peak of bloom.  Awoke to the dawn chorus of cardinals and robins and the panoply of other breeding birds singing so loudly it would rival the roar of the truck traffic going by as I now sit at a rest area picnic table (and, yes, I much prefer the birds to the trucks!).

The night before last I took a series of night flights from Seattle to Minneapolis to Atlanta to Chattanooga, catching several hours of sleep sitting up in my cramped window seat, flying coach (of course).  Upon reaching Chattanooga I stowed my luggage in the van, then proceeded to drive 210 miles.  At which point I was nearly catatonic from lack of good sleep, so I stopped to camp for the night on a ridgetop in a Tennessee state park.  I lay down in my tent at 6:30 pm and proceeded to sleep 11.5 hours.  So I caught up enough to drive today’s 600 miles to my next show in New Jersey.

One problem with a beautiful day and 600 miles to go is that there is really no time to take pictures, except in my mind.  My favorite mind picture today was of an abandoned two-story farmhouse in the Virginia hills surrounded by a green meadow and hedgerows of blossoming Dogwood trees.  The paint on the house was all gone, leaving a weathered gray with black window openings and a rusting metal hip roof.  Simply a beautiful slice of Americana that contrasts sharply with the roadside chain fast-food places and truck stops with acres of asphalt.  

Driving up past Dollywood and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, past Stonewall Jackson’s headquarters, past the Antietam battlefield of the Civil War, past Washington’s Revolutionary war headquarters, past Virginia Tech where so many young people were randomly slaughtered in 2007, past Harper’s Ferry where John Brown and his band of abolitionists captured a U.S. armory in 1859, past the Gettysburg battlefield.  The latter battlefield name has resonance in American history for Lincoln’s heartfelt address to the nation and as sacred ground, where the men of blue and gray fought so valiantly for the future.  

Gettysburg was later home to President Dwight D. Eisenhower, father of the National Defense Highway System, which was created by an act of Congress in 1956.  The National Defense Highways—now known as Interstate Highways—were created largely because General Eisenhower observed the efficiency of the German Autobahn during World War II, a system that enabled Germany to move tanks, soldiers, and supplies efficiently in wartime.  He envisioned a similar but necessarily vaster system for America, and the original 1956 plan called for 41,000 miles of interstate highways (we now have slightly more than that).  These highways would have limited access and acceleration lanes to make them faster for travelers.  Several defense considerations were important for design of the highways.  One mile in five (wherever possible) was to be straight so that it could be used as an airstrip in the event of a war or other national emergency.  These roads were to be the mass evacuation corridors from major cities in the event of a nuclear war (remember, war with the Soviets was considered possible—if not probable—in that Cold War era), so the design for speed was of critical importance.  I understand also that the design of separated roadways with a median was so that if the road was bombed with conventional weapons, at least one of the two corridors was likely to survive the bombing.  Similarly, large bridges combining all the lanes would have been more cost-efficient than the parallel bridges (for, say, the eastbound and westbound lanes), but would be less likely to survive an air attack.  Fascinating history; here is a place to start reading about it:  http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/facility/ndhs.htm  

The Interstates dramatically changed life in America.  The interchanges proved to be great places for gas stations and fast food to serve the ever-increasing traffic.  Huge illuminated billboards cropped up to tell us of casinos and motels and attractions ahead.  Big box stores settled in along interstate corridors, using the benefits of proximity.  Downtown businesses struggled or died.  Blue highways became local instead of national routes and homespun roadside attractions became dinosaurs.  Route 66 became mostly a nostalgic memory of an earlier time.

The interstates allow me to travel rapidly from art show to art show (and indeed enabled the whole outdoor art show phenomenon), so I’m going to pause a moment and thank President Eisenhower for his vision in creating this national highway resource that has, in his words, “changed the face of America.”

At last I have arrived in New Jersey after traveling through six states today.