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Patriotic Article
By Van E. Harl

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The American Soldier – A Photographic Tribute
(March 14, 2010)

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June 23, 2009 -- There are 116 photos on display in Colorado Springs that follow the American soldier from the Civil War to the current Gulf War. The display is “The American Soldier – A Photographic Tribute”. The Colonel (my wife) and I went to see it together.

Some of the photos are classics and some you have never seen. The Civil War photo of a dead Union soldier being embalmed out in the open was in fact not a common sight in that war. Embalming was a new technology and expensive and in most cases only officers received these death-care services. They pre-arranged it and paid the undertaker themselves.

The Civil War photo of California Joe was of an ordinary soldier lying on the ground with his


Van E. Harl
Van E. Harl

Sharps breach loading rifle, but Joe was credited with being one of the most successful sharp shooter/snipers in the Union Army.

I am a retired Air Force police officer but I attended Army Infantry School and I have a strong affection for the ground-pounding foot soldier. As I looked at these pictures I could envision myself with whatever current rifle our military was carrying in the conflict, depicted in the photos.

The heat of Cuba in the Spanish American War photos reminded me of the swamps of Ft. Benning, GA in the middle of July. The picture of the one legged Colored Infantry troop of the WW I, 369th Harlem Hellfighters and of the black legless Vietnam veteran sitting in his wheelchair, both men with their children present in the photo, gave pause to how these men were mistreated and forgotten after their war.

As we rounded one the corners of the display the Colonel stated, “I've been there.” We were looking at a picture of 9th Infantry soldiers on the grounds of the Forbidden City in Peking during the 1898-1902 Boxer Rebellion. She explained that the entire grounds are paved with stone so attackers could not tunnel into the City. The 9th Infantry used this to their advantage over 100 years ago.

I have served in Europe and the rolling hills of eastern France and western Germany do not allow the viewer to grasp the destruction of WW I in the Argonne Forest. The photo of a machine gun crew amongst the shattered trees in the Argonne captures that war. The WW I dental surgeon working on a soldier's toothache in a sandbagged bunker that had obviously taken enemy fire recently, made you wonder what type of pain relief the patient was receiving. Also would the dentist finish his work before the next artillery barrage? The wounded Marine on a litter lying in the mud of a US trench, is classic WW I combat medicine. With all the modern material the military has to use, the wool blanket is still the soldier's best friend in the field.

The WW II Battle of the Bulge photo of Cpl Frank Johnson wrapped in multiple OD green wool blankets sitting on bales of more blankets in the sub-freezing December of 1944 reminds you that the US Army has taken wool blankets to war since the French and Indian Wars. I have seen many D-Day photos but the one on displayed of a dead soldier with crossed rifles at his feet (insignia of the Infantry) on Omaha Beach was new for me.

I once interviewed Dale Robertson the Hollywood and TV actor. He was a combat engineer in WW II and his platoon assembled the first pontoon bridges across the Sieg River in Germany. He told me the first man to walk over that bridge was killed by enemy machinegun fire. There is a photo of a pontoon bridge and a dead soldier.

Every war displayed, progressively had more women in the pictures, just as in each succeeding war more women helped carry the load. The opening picture of the display is of a Civil War soldier on the left with his muzzle loading single shot rifle and on the right a modern Gulf War soldier with his latest version of the M-16 fully automatic battle rifle. But both men have leather boots on their feet and it is boots on the ground that prosecutes and wins wars. Soldier, Marine or Air Grounds-man, rifle in hand and the enemy out front, or in recent wars all around you, this is who defends our Nation and keeps you safe at home. The pictures capture your history and honor your Soldiers.

By Van E. Harl
Copyright 2009

About Author:
Major Van E. Harl, USAF Ret., was a career police officer in the U.S. Air Force. He was the Deputy Chief of police at two Air Force Bases and the Commander of Law Enforcement Operations at another. Major Harl is a graduate of the U.S. Army Infantry School, the Air Force Squadron Officer School and the Air Command and Staff College. After retiring from the Air Force he was a state police officer in Nevada.

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