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Update from Nashville: At the 30th Infantry Veterans of WW2 70th anniversary reunion.

Today’s events began with the posting of the colors and a moving memorial service for the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division and 743rd Tank Battalion who have moved on. Missing many, especially for me Buster Simmons, who would offer up a prayer at this gathering in his capacity as chaplain. Rest on,old soldier.

94 year old veteran Marion Sanford comes up to me and grips my hand. I have not seen him in 2 years, but he is the same to me as he always was. As a reconnaissance man for the 30th Infantry Division, he tells me how much he saw and how much now in retrospect meeting the survivors and their families has meant to him. He saw many terrible things overseas, which he felt he had to leave out of his 2012 book, ‘Old Hickory Recon’. Don’t think for a minute that a soldier understood why a friend might be killed and the fickle hand of fate spared another. In what way can this be justified? Survivors’ guilt was not just for the Holocaust survivors to experience. But this ‘small’ incident, the liberation of the train near Magdeburg, seems to have altered his perspective and the perspective of many of the soldiers I have met at these reunions. It seems to have enhanced and  added to ‘man’s search for meaning’, in a sense, as far as the soldiers go.

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Posting the colors. MC Frank Towers in the background. Frank will be 98 in June.

 ***

After lunch, moving talks today by survivors George Somjen (Hungary), Elisabeth Seaman (Netherlands), Micha Tomkeiwitz (Poland) . To their liberators they recounted the events that they remembered and  more importantly, the impact that the liberation and the meeting of their liberators meant not only for them and their families, but also  the world.

Later, the amazing reflections of the 2nd generation ‘Train near Magdeburg’ survivors who are with us for the first time: Evelyn Marcus, formerly of the Netherlands, Orly Beigel of Mexico, and Marc Boyman of Canada. April 13th, the liberation date, for their families was a date always remembered and celebrated; a time to remember how the American soldiers loved life, and loved people, and treated the survivors with such tenderness, empathy, and respect, in marked contrast to the soldiers from another Allied nation who moved in to replace the Americans as the terms of the peace settlement were adjusted.

 

L-R: Peggy Wonder, 2nd G; Evelyn Markus, 2nd G; Frank Towers, liberator; Orly Beigel, 2nd G; Micha Tomkeiwicz, Elisabeth Seaman. Missing: Marc Boyman, 2nd G; George Somjen.

L-R: Marc Boyman, 2nd G; Peggy Wonder, 2nd G; Evelyn Markus, 2nd G; Frank Towers, liberator; Orly Beigel, 2nd G; Micha Tomkeiwicz, Elisabeth Seaman, Matthew Rozell Missing: George Somjen. Photo credit: Patti Jordan. 4-17-15.

I heard today so many vignettes of hope and promise for the future of mankind. And this, I witnessed with my own eyes. This gathering, this whole trip is an affirmation of the goodness of mankind, a meditation on the profound difference  that  one’s actions can make, and the confirmation that teaching history really does matter.

Orly Beigel’s mother, far left, 1945. Commonly mislabeled as ‘Buchenwald Survivors Entering Israel, 1945’. No. These girls ( L-Jetty (Jetta) Halpern and R-Magda Werber, together with Jetty’s older sister Golda Katz-Halpern, not pictured) pulled into the station at Guard d’Lion, Paris in France with much fanfare several weeks after liberation; there was a celebration as they arrived, so they thought that a celebrity must be on board. The war was over. In a rare instance, the survivors were the ones being celebrated.

 

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Yom HaShoah ceremony and service, Jewish Federation of greater Rochester, New York, April 15, 2015. 700 folks come out on a midweek night. From an audience member: ‘The most beautiful, inspirational Yom HaShoah service I have ever been to.’

It was indeed a moving service and I was honored to have a part in it.

We stop and we pause, to reflect and remember.

Key take-aways from my presentation:

 

  1. The American Army was involved in a shooting war. More soldiers would die in the days to come. But they stopped. They helped these people. And some carried the trauma with them for the rest of their lives.
  2. People need heroes. But few of the liberators would like to be remembered this way. Maybe we should all take a moment to think about our own obligation to humanity.
  3. For every one person who was liberated on this ‘Train Near Magdeburg, nearly 2500 persons, keep close the reality that another 2500 perished in the Holocaust.
  4. Finally, the voices of the eyewitnesses need to always be with us. We need to keep them close. Or forget at our peril.

***

Carrol Walsh, liberator: Our lives were joined at that moment on April 13, 1945, and now we meet face to face and recall together that moment when my tank reached the train.

Steve Barry, survivor:There is no other army in this world that would stop and help 2500 lice-ridden, emaciated Jews, to save them. What army would stop, except the American army?

Steve Barry: Mounted SS troops came around, rode by the train, and started to yell ‘Raus, Raus, get out of the train!  Get out of the cars!’  And we saw them putting up machine gun nests. So obviously, even at that last moment, they were still trying to murder us.

Carrol Walsh: I had no idea who they were, where they had come from, where they were going – nothing. No idea. All I knew: here’s a train with these boxcars and people jammed in those boxcars. No idea. No, I had no idea.

Steve Barry: Very shortly after that we saw the first American GIs.  Well, actually there were two tanks.  I still get tears in my eyes. Right now I have tears in my eyes and I always will when I think about it.  That’s when we knew we were safe.

Letter  from Carrol Walsh to Steve Barry, 2008: ‘You are always expressing gratitude to me, the 743rd Tank Battalion and the 30th Infantry Division. But I do not believe gratitude is deserved because we were doing what we, and the whole world, should have been doing- rescuing and protecting innocent people from being killed, murdered by vicious criminals. You do not owe us. We owe you.  We can never repay you and the Jewish people of Europe for what was stolen from you: your homes, your possessions, your businesses, your money, your art, your family life, your families, your childhood, your dreams, and all your lives.’

Steve Barry:  Is this a beautiful person?

Carrol Walsh:  I think, I cannot believe today, as I look back on those, on those years and on what was happening, I cannot believe that the… world almost ignored those people and what was happening. I cannot believe it. How could we have all stood by and have let that happen? We owe those people a great deal. We owe those people everything. They do not owe us anything. We owe them for what we allowed to happen to them. That is how I feel.

 

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April 17th. (1945)

Dear Chaplain;-

Haven’t written you in many months now, its funny how a few moments are so hard to find in which to write a letter way past due; it’s much easier to keep putting it off the way I’ve done. I’ll try to make up for it in this letter.

Today I saw a sight that’s impossible to describe, however I’ll try. Between 2400 and 3000 German refugees were overran by my division during our last operation; most of them were, or had been, inmates of concentration camps, their crimes the usual ones, – Jewish parentage, political differences with der Fuhrer, lack of sympathy for the SS, or just plain bad luck. Not one of these hundreds could walk one mile and survive; they had been packed on a train whose normal capacity was perhaps four or five hundred, and had been left there days without food.

Our division military government unit took charge of them, and immediately saw what a huge job it was going to be, so they sent out a call for help. Several of our officers went out to help them organize the camp they were setting up for them. The situation was extremely ticklish we soon learned; no one could smoke as it started a riot when the refugees saw the cigarette, and we couldn’t give the kiddies anything or they would have been trampled to death in the rush that would result when anything resembling food was displayed. The only nourishment they were capable of eating was soup; now the army doesn’t issue any of the Heinz’s 57 varieties, so we watered down C-ration[s] and it served quite well.  It was necessary to use force to make the people stay in line in order to serve them. They had no will power left, only the characteristics of beasts.

A few weeks of decent food will change them into a semblance of normal human beings; with God willing the plague of disease that was already underway, will be diverted; but I’m wondering what the affect of their ordeal they have been through, will be on their minds; most will carry scars for the rest of their days for the beatings that they were given. No other single thing had convinced me as this experience has that Germany isn’t fit to survive as a nation. I’ll never forget today.

I was going to write mother tonight but thought better of it. I’ll be in a better frame of mind tomorrow. I’m only a few dozen miles from Berlin right now, and its hard to realize the end is in sight. I’m always glad to receive your scandal sheet. You perhaps missed your calling, as your editorial abilities are quite plain.

As ever,

Charles.

March 11th, 2009

Dear Mr. Rozell:

My father-in-law was 1st. Lt. Charles M. Kincaid. He was a Liason Officer with the 30th. Division Artillery.  He was honored with an Air Medal in the battle of Mortain and a Bronze Medal in the battle of St. Lo.  In the battle of Mortain he won his Air Medal by calling in artillery adjustments while flying in a Piper L-4 over 4 panzer divisions on August 9, 1944.

first-lt-chuck-kincaid-sept-1944He rarely wrote home. He did write home to his minister about one event that evidently really caused him to stop and think. Attached is a copy of that letter that his sister transcribed – making copies for others to read.  The letter describes the Farsleben train and his experience there.

I need to thank you for your website and work. You and your students work enabled me to connect the letter with the actual historical event. It further enabled me to show my children the pictures and to make their Grandfather’s experience real, not just an old letter – that this event so affected him that he needed to tell his minister before he told his mother.

Thank you,
Mark A.

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Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

Matthew Rozell, 30th Infantry Veterans of WWII, Holocaust survivors at Mighty Eighth Air Force Museum, March 2, 2012.

Have you ever been to a reunion of folks who have been annually meeting one another, every year, for nearly 70 years?

Where the main participants had their youths forged in the steel of battle, and come together annually to remind themselves of what it was all about?

I have been honored and privileged to attend six such reunions with the veterans of the 30th Infantry Division of World War II.

To sit with these men, and their wives and family members and hear their stories, and chuckle as they josh with each other, or to shed a tear at the memorial service for the ones who were lost, is an incredible experience.

What has made it even more profound, over the last few years, has been the inclusion of the Holocaust survivors that they saved, and their extended families who would not be here today, if not for their efforts, at these gatherings. And add a Medal of Honor recipient, one of the few surviving from World War II, for good measure.

Worthwhile? I had a 94 year old veteran grab me by the arm a couple years back, and he said to me, after listening to me and the survivors of the Holocaust speak, “Now I know what I fought for.”

This year, the reunion is unfolding as I write this in Savannah, Georgia, with the gracious hosts Carol Thompson and Jack Sullivan and his wife Stella, the children of one of the soldiers who served in the 118th Artillery.  Unfortunately I am snowed in up north, digging out under 18 inches. I’ve included my greetings to the gathering below as they meet on the 69th anniversary of the end of World War II. Next year is the 70th and I really hope that they meet again and that I can be there. As the letter indicates, they helped to send me to Europe this summer as well. Here is a PDF of what I saw.

Matthew Rozell

February 14, 2014

AND HERE IS MY REUNION GREETINGS MESSAGE AND PICS

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Great article and congrats to the lovely ladies, the promise of the future…. And regardless about how some may feel about teachers, or why they enter the field, I’ll stand by my words, below. My school, the State University of New York at Geneseo, contacted me for the closing comments. An honor.

And a calling.

Author James Patterson Creates Scholarship Program at SUNY Geneseo to Promote Literacy

Patterson Scholarship

Author James Patterson sent autographed copies of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” to the eight SUNY Geneseo students awarded James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships this year, pictured here with the dean of the Ella Cline Shear School of Education. Front row (l to r): Marissa Liberati; Jessica Stoneham; Melissa Bellonte; and Kelsey Horan. Back row (l to r): Hannah Pettengill; Kristen Bondi; Dean Anjoo Sikka; Haley Hilgenberg; and Ashley Hark.

GENESEO, N.Y. – Best-selling author James Patterson has created a scholarship program at SUNY Geneseo’s Ella Cline Shear School of Education to support aspiring teachers in promoting the importance of literacy in education.

This year, eight graduate students earning a master’s degree in literacy received a $6,000 James Patterson Teacher Education Scholarship. Next year, the Patterson Family Foundation will award the scholarships to full-time incoming freshmen intending to seek teacher certification, with the possibility of renewal through graduation.

“I’ve been looking to bring these scholarships to more schools, and after studying a number of institutions and programs, I found Geneseo to be a great addition,” said Patterson, a highly popular mystery writer who also has written books for young readers. “My passion is to get more and more kids excited about reading, and training the next generation of great teachers is essential to that mission.”

All of the Geneseo scholarship recipients this year are from New York: Melissa Bellonte (Avon); Kristen Bondi (Dansville); Ashley Hark (Dalton); Hayley Hilgenberg (Falconer); Kelsey Horan (Endicott); Marissa Liberati (Manchester); Hannah Pettengill (Bloomfield); and Jessica Stoneham (Corfu). Hark, Hilgenberg, Horan, Liberati and Stoneham received their undergraduate degrees at Geneseo.

Patterson sent each scholarship recipient an autographed copy of his latest children’s novel, “Treasure Hunters,” and included a personalized note, stating that he was “thrilled that future teachers like you will help instill a lifelong love of reading in children.”

“We are very honored that James Patterson has included Geneseo in his literacy initiative,” said Anjoo Sikka, dean of the School of Education. “Exciting kids about books and reading is crucial to their success as readers, thinkers and keen observers and, ultimately, to become self-actualized and effective participants in our society. The scholarships will help us attract talented students with the kind of passion that drives Mr. Patterson. I sincerely commend him for his vision and am grateful for his contribution to the preparation of literacy teachers at SUNY Geneseo.”

Geneseo’s Patterson Scholarship recipients were selected on the basis of academic performance and an essay describing how they would apply what they have learned to help children develop a lifelong passion for reading. Applications were reviewed by a committee of faculty led by Susan Salmon, assistant professor and coordinator of graduate programs in the School of Education.

“Reading comes first,” said Liberati, who excelled both in and out of the classroom during her undergraduate years as a Geneseo student-athlete. “It is the compass by which we explore and map all other literacies – digital or not – and only by reading can we and our students become and continue to be lifelong learners.”

Liberati earned All-American honors in cross country and track and field. She also was on the NCAA Division III All-Academic Team in cross country in both 2009 and 2010.

“This scholarship is so much more than money to help me pay for my education,” said Hilgenberg, who completed her student teaching in Ghana, West Africa. “It shows that someone is rewarding my hard work and believing in my potential. It’s one of the greatest acts of kindness.”

Other recipients expressed similar sentiments about the power such scholarships have as a catalyst for success.

“As a future educator, I believe that it is not only my job to teach students how to read and write; it is my responsibility to teach them to love to read and write,” said Pettengill. “By opening a book, you can go on an adventure. Those small letters on the page take you to places you’ve never been and give you experiences you’ve never had.”

Patterson is among the most successful authors in history. He is the first to achieve 10 million ebook sales and has had more books ranked first on The New York Times best-seller list than any other author. He also is the current best-selling author in the young-adult and middle-grade categories and promotes reading through his website ReadKiddoRead.com.

SUNY Geneseo is firmly rooted in education, opening in 1871 as the Geneseo Normal and Training School. In 1948, the Geneseo Normal and Training School became a part of the State University of New York. The teachers colleges of SUNY became Colleges of Arts and Sciences in 1962, and two years later, Geneseo’s four-year degree programs in arts and sciences were implemented. SUNY Geneseo’s Department of Education was reorganized as a School of Education in 1992.

The School of Education today has 25 full-time and five part-time faculty members, who are preparing more than 700 students to be teachers. The school offers undergraduate programs leading to initial teacher certification in Early Childhood and Childhood, Childhood, Childhood with Special Education, and Adolescence Education. Graduate programs that could lead to professional certification are offered in Early Childhood and Childhood, Multicultural Childhood Education, Literacy (B-12) and Adolescence Education.

Among the school’s numerous success stories are the accomplishments of Geneseo alumnus Matthew A. Rozell, who teaches history at Hudson Falls (N.Y.) High School. He earned his master’s degree in education from Geneseo in 1988 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in history from the college. The Geneseo Alumni Association named Rozell Educator of the Year for 2013.

Rozell’s alumni educator award from Geneseo is among several honors he has earned during his career, including the prestigious National Society of the Daughters of the American Revolution Mary S. Lockwood Medal for Education. The medal honors outstanding achievement through service and leadership in promoting education outside the formal educational process. He also has been recognized as a leader in World War II and Holocaust history through several projects he initiated that have received national attention.

“Entering the teaching profession in many ways is to answer a higher calling,” said Rozell. “The Patterson Teacher Education Scholarships increase the options for our best and brightest to enter the field of teaching and represent a commitment to continuing to produce the caliber of teachers that Geneseo is renowned for. There is no higher mission.”

http://www.geneseo.edu/news_events/patterson-scholarship

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My son, brother, and I were up at our camp retreat in the Adirondacks, begun by our dad 36 years ago.  Just six miles away is one of the most famous forts in colonial America. After breakfast, for fun, we thought we might see if it was possible to re-visit the fort, having heard that a few things had changed since our last time there.

the books.

the books.

Sure enough, there was now a new entryway, complete with an admission booth. I pulled the truck up to it, and inquired whether we might proceed to the bookstore, which had always stocked a fair amount of titles, where one could peruse the stock, before deciding whether today would be the day to pay the full admission to check on any updates in the exhibits inside.

Not today. Not anymore. No  money up front, no visit to the bookstore.

Having served on an authentic historical site as a board member, I understand the desperate need to raise funds, but I did not have the $52.50 in my pocket that morning. We had not planned to spend the entire day there.

As the nice woman shrugged and turned us away, my brother said, “you should have told them who you are”.

Ha. He was having fun with me, and joking, of course. But it kind of brought forth  a sense of wonderment about my experiences this summer the authentic historical sites I visited all over the world.

I thought some about it. The bookstore that I had wanted to visit this morning stocked titles that featured my work as a history teacher and avocational archaeologist. I’m actually written about in some of the books.

I remembered I had a similar experience at our first major stop on the Holocaust Resistance  tour in Europe a few weeks back. As twenty five educators toured the site, all of my colleagues chose to give up part of their lunch hour for a private introduction by a key staff member who took the time to explain my role in helping that museum/memorial site create a special exhibition on the evacuation transports that left that concentration camp in April 1945.  As we boarded the bus at the end of the day, someone opened the Bergen Belsen official guidebook they had purchased in the bookstore (which in my excitement I had overlooked)- and there was the Benjamin photo, and summary of my work.

Later in the tour at another authentic site, concentration camp Ravensbruck in Germany, after an intense day I spied a different title and pulled it off the shelf, and showed it to another colleague. It’s the story of a survivor that I know, and this book probably would not have been written had it not been for the efforts that I had made in my teaching career.

The following week in Poland, the same thing happened to me with another title. I was able to open the book and point to my name in the credits and acknowledgments, and show where my work made a significant impact for the author and his thesis.
Pretentious bragging? I really, really hope not.   In fact I wrote this post weeks ago, not at all anxious to share, but as I process what has happened this summer, I figure stunned realization is more like it .

To visit authentic historical sites, some halfway around the world where I have never been before, and see the impact of this passion on others, is something both profound and humbling. I feel it has been transformative at some base level, yet I have not even completed my own book yet (it just keeps changing in my head- and believe me, it is up there). So it goes up to be added to the archive of happenings that occasionally knock me on the head.

In the end, getting turned away from the bookstore didn’t matter at all, except maybe to kindle a flame… though it is always a thrill to hold the book in your hands, and thumb to the page with your name on it.

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Matthew Rozell rediscovers and rekindles interest in sutler site, 1996.

Matthew Rozell rediscovers and rekindles interest in sutler site, 1996.

Today I am going to get a special phone call from an archaeologist whom I have known and worked for for thirty years. David wants me to be present for the removal of three intact 18th century olive green glass spirits bottles from a French and Indian War sutling house, or trading post, just outside of the British fort on the banks of the Hudson River near Rogers Island. Two intact bayonets were discovered here earlier in the week, but more exciting for us is the fact that we now think that we have found the elusive 4th wall of this building, which burned to the ground a few years into its existence. We have been searching for it for twelve summers.

Excavations began here in 2001, with me and digger Johnny Kosek and Mark Van Valkenburg. I had stumbled upon it during a pensive walk in the woods near our fort excavations in the summer of 1996. I had found a looters’ hole in the ground, spadefuls of earth littered with fragments of the very same bottle glass fragments from the period. On the ground I spied what looked like a shiny silver dime partially covered by the sand. A heavy rain had uncovered what the looters had wanted- a Spanish silver coin from 1748. Remember Hawkeye of the Last of the Mohicans? He would have drawn a dram or two here.

Period map showing location of sutler's complex. Island just to west of river.

Period map showing location of sutler’s complex. Island just to west of river.

My association with this important ground, so fundamental to the formation of our nation, began in 7th or 8th grade. Four of us would ride our banana seat bikes down to Rogers Island one summer in the early 1970s, sneaking smokes, getting away from our parents and siblings, and just dig holes in the ground with our moms’ gardening tools. I recall digging a hole as deep as my arm would allow, a tunnel straight down, a criminal activity in the eyes of any competent archeologist. Thankfully, we never found anything.

A dozen years later, in 1986, I would return as a volunteer crew member on an archaeological dig searching for General Gates’ American headquarters at the Saratoga National Battlefield Park. Here I would encounter David for the first time. I remember him asking me, after my first two weeks as a newbie, if I would ever consider going into anthropology/archaeology as a career. I think I was flattered, but I had just wrapped up my undergraduate work and was sending resumes out for teaching.

I followed him though, in 1991, to return to this Island. I had gotten hired at my high school alma mater 3 miles up the river and now had the opportunity to professionally learn what secrets the Island held. In 1992, David felt confident enough in my abilities to give me the reigns of the search for the elusive smallpox hospital at the southern end of the Island. We found it after three years of digging in the summer of 1994. 800 people died here. It was the only smallpox hospital from this era ever discovered in North America. I began to write.

hero discovers ft edIn 1995 and 1996 we professionally dug at the site of Fort Edward, no easy feat considering that today twelve houses are built upon it. At one point we were excavating a bastion (corner) in the basement of a house! We opened up a pit in a front lawn, properly protected and barricaded, but the paper boy still managed to stumble into it. I found the West Curtain wall with Johns F and K, Mark, Brad and Susan and Hans. And one hot summer day took a stroll down the riverbank to stumble upon the sutlers house.

From 1997 to 2000 I worked at the parade ground of Fort William Henry, the one where the final siege takes place in Coopers Last of the Mohicans. We found the charred remains of the East and West barracks, the exact footprint of the original fort.

In 2001 we returned to the sutlers’ complex just south of Fort Edward. I directed the digs here for many many summers,

Our high school kids learning how to think, placing the artifacts at hand in the context of a major world war that was partially fought in their own backyard.

Our high school kids learning how to think, placing the artifacts at hand in the context of a major world war that was partially fought in their own backyard.

and later returned with high school students to teach them how to professionally draft a research question, study primary source maps, diaries and other documents, and begin to look for clues, and only then to dig properly, mapping all  the artifacts and features as they emerge. They learned how to dig, yes, but more, they learned how to think.

Egyptian Archaeologists visit the sutlers site, 2009. My baby. They were impressed. Proud daddy.

Egyptian Archaeologists visit the sutlers site, 2009. My baby. They were impressed.

Lots of times when everyone would leave I would just sit at the sit alone  for an hour or so. Just sit in the stillness and wonderment of this place. Just something I have always felt a need to do. It’s like the place has some kind of power over me. It’s my baby. When we are digging, we are touching objects that have been lost for over two hundred sixty years. I am the first to touch this bayonet, this coin, this tobacco pipe, this bottle since it was last handled. Thus the anticipation of touching these three intact, upright bottles.

My house building activities have kept the project at arm’s length, but the excitement is still there and rekindled. If you want to learn more, there are several books out by David Starbuck. I’m in this one quite a bit. After today, I joked to him yesterday, he may have to update it.

POSTSCRIPT: I was given the honor of extracting the three bottles. We also found three additional ones behind them. The Egyptian archaeologists would have been proud- my personal King Tut’s tomb moment. The bottles were all complete, two thirds of them totally intact.

The Bottles. Unbroken. Filled? King Tut's tomb moment. "The tension mounts..."

The Bottles. Unbroken. Filled? King Tut’s tomb moment. “The tension mounts…”

My son Ned and I, 2002, the sutler's site, Fort Edward.

My son Ned and I, 2002, the sutler’s site, Fort Edward.

Son Ned and I at the sutler's site. Thursday morning, August 8, 2013

Son Ned and I at the sutler’s site. Thursday morning, August 8, 2013

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