Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The American Soldier - A Photographic Tribute to Soldiers and Marines from the Civil War to the War in Iraq.

Regardless of your thoughts about any of the conflicts in which the U.S. has been involved, this is a fascinating exhibit that’s been touring the country since 2007. It will be at the Gerald R. Ford Museum until June 17.
It consists of 116 photographs that cover 150 years of the American military. Some photos were taken by professional photographers, and others by soldiers or random people. (Photos at the exhibit entrance only are permitted. The images seen below were found on google images.)

The number of photos from each conflict range from nine to twenty-five. In the Civil War section, there’s an image of a surgeon embalming a soldier on the field. Also on view is an undated picture of what is called a Union Army Women’s Volunteer Unit. It may be the same as this photo, which is not labeled as Union specific and is also not dated.
“On Foreign Soil” covers the Spanish-American War and the Boxer Rebellion. In addition to a familiar image of Teddy Roosevelt with his Rough Riders atop San Juan Hill, photographs of soldiers in China’s Forbidden City are also shown. An image from Cuba showing the U.S. Army Engineers carrying out maneuvers was particularly riveting. All the soldiers are looking away from the camera but one. He was looking at the camera, and now at us, from about 150 years ago.

The World War I section includes a military dental surgeon treating a toothache in a front line dugout, a soldier writing a letter in a trench, and a traffic jam at the rear of the American Lines in the Argonne Forest in 1918. During a parade for the Harlem Hellfighters in 1919, someone captured a crowd scene that included a wounded veteran and various, arresting facial expressions of others viewing the parade. 
In the Trenches
Harlem Hellfighters
World War II images are divided between Europe and “the Pacific Side.”  D-Day and VJ-Day are of course represented. One photo from D-Day was taken from the landing craft and offers a wonderful perspective on the beach landing.

Notable for its inclusion is a shot of American soldiers lined up, one still with hands over his head, for the march to a POW Camp after the Battle of the Bulge.  There is also a moving photo of liberated prisoners in the Mauthausen Concentration Camp in Austria.

On the Pacific side, you will see the very sad images of soldiers on Corregidor and on the Bataan Death March in 1942. Also memorable are images of Navajo Indian code talkers and a shirtless doctor operating in an in-ground surgical room.  
After looking at what we call the Korean War,
I moved through Vietnam, the brief Gulf War, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The photos are all too familiar but nonetheless impressive. My favorite Iraq shot is of an American soldier patrolling a street in Tallafar in 2006, unknowingly shadowed by a young Iraqi girl in pink sandals.  

Most curious was the Iraq War text panel that lists the dates as 2003-2010. As of today, it’s far from over. The last Iraq War photo displayed was of a female sergeant being welcomed home in California after serving 15 months in Iraq. It would be wonderful if the real situation was wrapped up so neatly.

The Afghanistan War panel (2001 - ) was left open-ended and includes an image of flag-draped containers of military remains waiting for transport home. This is an image that was not previously allowed on your nightly news.   
This is a very moving and mesmerizing photo exhibit and you shouldn’t miss it. Here’s  some interesting information to ponder. Ten conflicts are represented. There have been only five U.S. declared wars, and just three of them are represented in this exhibit. View these photos until June 17.
Soldiers featured on the local news,
Their eyes stare deeply into mine,
Reflecting hopes, the plans they made,
Lives now reduced to memories.    
Just piercing eyes in determined faces,
Names and ranks on the evening news,
Their last appearance on my TV screen.



  1. Hi, for the "union army women volunteer unit" image, details of dresses clearly indicate a post war date ... regards