Battlefields | Teen Ink


August 14, 2020
By PoeticMan GOLD, Fort Worth, Texas
PoeticMan GOLD, Fort Worth, Texas
16 articles 3 photos 1 comment

Favorite Quote:
"It is a shame for a man to grow old without seeing the beauty and strength of which his body is capable."

- Socrates

It seemed like hours before we arrived, and when we did, I was eager to get out of the car and stretch my snoozing legs. I gripped down on the car door handle and pushed backwards, and when it opened, unbeknownst to me, so did a new door in my life. For the first half-mile or so at the battlefield, our surroundings were taken up by dense, wild shrubbery constricting our view. However, once my dad and I rounded a few corners, we were dumped out onto a grassy field, and I stood in awe. I was simply astonished by the delicate meadow extending out to the quaint wooden bridge beyond; the towering, vibrant oaks surrounding the green with their orange, red, and yellow hues reaching into the crisp autumn air; the sea of hay bales and corn stalks, with Revolutionary War cannon scattered in their midst in the fields beyond. At once, my eyes were opened to the beauty of the history surrounding me, and I desperately needed to take it all in. Getting a nod from my smiling father, my ninth-grade self took off down the vast, open greenway to experience the history with my own eyes. 

With every step I trod upon that hallowed ground, I imagined the many feet of the Continental regiments that trod there before. I looked up to the top of the ancient forest canopies and imagined what the trees looked like when George Washington rode beneath them more than 200 years earlier. I stood behind the row of British cannon and imagined what it felt like to feel the earth rattle beneath my feet when they fired. And, honestly, I was taken aback. All these new discoveries, all the historical plaques I read, all the miles of trails I walked with my delighted father — they let me relive the past in my mind. It was the perfect supplement to what I received in my many history books or what I had picked up from my dad’s stories: I had discovered all the treasures for myself. I had experienced the sights, sounds, and smells in real life. And I had found a sense of place.

    My trip to Monmouth Battlefield was one of the most memorable days of my life, because on that greenway I had been given something that would change me forever: a love and appreciation of our past. This discovery altered the way I viewed my family’s future educational trips for good; rather than looking at Vicksburg’s Old Courthouse as merely an example of stunning architecture, I now saw General Grant walking up the row of worn brick steps after the Union’s successful siege. Instead of looking out over Baltimore Harbor from my positioning at Fort McHenry to view the small leisure yachts, I now saw the mighty British Armada, merciless and determined, shelling the desperate American stronghold. And when I gripped the handles of a 20mm machine gun on board the USS Alabama, I imagined how many American sailors must have gripped those very handles while firing on the Imperial Japanese forces in World War II. 

    During one such historical trip to the picturesque Fort Pickens of Pensacola, Florida, after I and my brother had finished exploring the many tunnels and secret passageways, I decided to take a break and sat down with my dad on a bench atop the stronghold. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath and tried to fathom what the past events were like: how the Union troops, controlling one of the final federal outposts in the Confederacy, held off the intense barrages from nearby Fort Barrancas; how the fort was expanded in World War I to hold off any amphibious landing attempt of the Central Powers; and how the many American soldiers and 6-Inch M1905 turrets were deployed in World War II to protect the barrier island from German U-Boat fire. Yet, I opened my eyes again only to find a garrison of worn, old bricks, the intermittent clusters of sand pine beneath the occasional cotton-like cloud, and the gently-swaying marsh grass extending to the emerald waters beyond. “How can this be?”, I wondered aloud. “The history that seemed all too real a minute ago, on this very ground, is now merely a distant dream to this location.” “You’re right, Ethan, the events may be long past,” said my father as he gazed out at the gently-lapping Gulf waters, “but the recollection of the past is just as alive as ever. Just look at all the tourists.” I glanced around at the myriad of different explorers reading the plaques and covering the grounds. “Each one of these people comes from a different background and a different outlook on life, but they all unite for just a few, fleeting moments as they remember and revere the past greatness of this hallowed ground. The history and common culture of our nation is possibly the most important uniting factor Americans have: just look at how far we have come.” And as I glanced around at all the tourists for a second time, the reality clicked.

As I look back on all these experiences, what I appreciate the most is having my parents beside me to help foster my interest in learning and my love for our nation. Without their support, I might have never discovered my deep passion for history, and therefore would have never gained a deeper appreciation for the unique position which the United States of America holds within the history of the entire world, and which I see that others often take for granted. So many have given their lives at these sacred spots, and the least we can do is reverently remember their sacrifices when we visit such sites--it is this type of reflection which engenders true respect for the United States and the realization that no other nation in the history of world civilization has done more for the advancement and protection of the freedom of all peoples. Now I can continue to forge influential experiences like the one I had at Monmouth Battlefield, ones that can possibly be life-changing. And, one day, I look forward to revisiting all these grounds with children of my own, where they will learn true reverence for the one nation, under God, which has been a beacon of freedom for those around the world who understand the true nature of oppression.

The author's comments:

A coming-of-age childhood memoir

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