We're not lost, Sergeant, We're in … France

Revisionist monuments

This summer, I learned that one of the monuments in Belgium was desecrated by someone who scratched on more unit designations, since it was a monument to only one company. Of course, since Band of Brothers brought so much fame to E/506, it has also generated some resentment, since anything for them is more easily funded and more widely known.

It’s not hard to find people who either think that Easy Company was the best unit in the war, or those in the opposite camp, that think it despicable that the rest of the 101st Division or the rest of the Army gets so much less credit than these men. The individual who comitted the desecration falls into the latter camp and used to be the co-moderator of a forum on airborne history.

This individual felt compelled to modify the monument because he didn’t agree with it (he has publicly apologized, for what that’s worth). I’ve run across this attitude before – people who feel compelled to change the monumentation on a battlefield to better suit themselves. I would say that it’s to better explain the battlefield, or commemorate the deeds of the warriors, or to somehow enhance the value of the battlefield, but my impression of these people is that it’s rarely about anything but themselves.

In Gettysburg, the only Corps commander on either side who had no monument was General Longstreet. While it was odd and perhaps unfair, no monument had been made for the General while he was alive or in the early 20th century when the last veterans of the battle attended the last reunions. As such, to me, the lack of a monument to Longstreet was a story of the battlefield itself. Mentioning that he had no monument allowed one to explore why General Lee’s right hand wouldn’t have had a monument, leading to a discussion of reconstruction politics in the south, the relationship between Longstreet and Grant, as well as, perhaps, a discussion of the ‘Lost Cause’ movement. So, to me, the very fact that Longstreet had no monument was an integral part of the battlefield.

General Longstreet's monument in Gettysburg

General Longstreet's monument in Gettysburg

However, a number of people worked very hard to get a monument built to General Longstreet. Unfortunately, they succeeded in putting up what some refer to as the ugliest monument on the battefield, taking away the interesting story about Longstreet not having a monument and replacing it with a story of how a bunch of hobbyists were able to band together and put up a monument to their hero. Longstreet had long been abused by the Lost Cause for a variety of invented reasons, but now, he has a monument on the greatest battlefield of the war. He must feel better! Except, he’s been dead a long time and the monument put him at ground level, on a diminuitive horse and his proportions look neither herioc, nor completely human. The artist also ensured that it would ‘violate’ the typical rules of military monumentation – often, the number of hooves off the ground on the horse is an indication of whether the rider was wounded or died in battle. (see note below on “folk wisdom”) At Gettysburg, all the equestrian monuments follow this guideline (there is no written rule) and it feels to me as though this was done because it was different and because it would stand out. So, we have a bunch of hobbyists working to make a name for themselves by putting up a monument and an artist who makes a silly-looking monument that defies convention, giving the impression he wants the monument to say something about the artist, more than something about Longstreet. So, for me, despite the fact it is nominally a monument to the man, all I can think about is the people who put it up.

In Belgium, Mark Patterson wished to make a statement by scratching unit numbers onto the Easy Company monument in Bizory. While I think we all would agree that every unit that fought there deserves a monument, it happens that because of Band of Brothers, getting money to put up an Easy Company monument is probably simpler than putting up a monument to F/501. That said, scratching the numbers on a monument and letting people know you‘ve done it, and done it more than once, is not about recognition for those other men who fought there. If you wish to honor the others who fought there, gather money, get the veterans out and put up a monument to them. Walking around pretending to be the champion of the unrecognized heroes by desecrating Easy Company’s monument is not about honoring the other units, but entirely about one’s own image. Fortunately, almost everyone I’ve seen write about this finds his actions reprehensible.

Sometimes, when listening or reading someone’s revisionist theories about a battle or a war, I also get the same impression. That it’s not about understanding, but rather about the speaker or author wanting you to notice that they have figured out something noone else has. They wish you to be dazzled by their brilliance, rather than being concerned with whether the theory actually matches with the evidence. Some of these theories are concocted by starting with a theory and then hunting down bits and pieces of evidence, sometimes out of context that support the theory. The worst cases require that you first ignore anything you know about tactics or strategy.

If you want to see the opposite of these actions, check out the work of the Stoy’s (CPT Monika Stoy and COL Tim Stoy). This August, they again took money out of their own pockets to fund the commemoration of Operation Dragoon. This year, the conference ran for 3 days, with several authors giving talks and about 20 veterans attending. The Stoy’s also travel around Europe, working to get monuments to these warriors installed or repaired in small towns throughout France and Germany. Often, their work brings remembrance of a debt owed to these men, and the towns celebrate them. It doesn’t tear someone down to build someone else up, or attempt to draw attention to themselves. It’s about the veterans and about what they did.

Note on “folk wisdom”: Check the comments for a discussion about the hooves on the Longstreet statue. Neither the Gettysburg Battlefield Monument Association nor any other organization has ever wrote any guidelines on the hooves in equestrian monuments. At Gettysburg, the hooves on the monuments do seem to represent the riders fate, but outside of Gettysburg, it is merely coincidental that sometimes this is the case. Check the Snopes article by Barbara Mikkelson for a good explanation of the failure of this “folk wisdom”. Thanks to Craig Swann for prompting the clarification.

7 Comments so far
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I just finished ready your article on revisionist monuments. I am not going to defend what Mr. Patterson has done to the E Company monument, but I feel that I should let your readers know (if you have any) about the things he has done in the past. He has been involved in quietly taking care of MANY WWII veterans in his local area as well as in other areas of the country. He has taken them food, he has paid their rent, paid for glasses. He has taken several WWII veterans down to the VA and got them signed up for the first time in their life so they can receive the care they deserve. He has been visiting veterans since he was a kid when their own family NEVER visited. He has donated funds over the years to many veteran initiatives both privately and publically. He has taken care of the widows and attended the funerals of veterans often assisting the families.

In 2006 he gathered donations for a stained glass window that he personally built and funded with 80% of is own money. This window was installed in a church in Angoville au Plein, Normandy France. This window was dedicated to ALL the men who jumped on D-Day as he didn’t want to leave anyone off the window and included them all in doing this. He does not seek recognition or fame. He had refused to sign the window as he did not want to take away from the men who were so worthy of recognition. He only relented and signed it when he was told it was the law to sign the window as it is considered art and needs to be registered. I also know that he has paid for a handful of veterans to return to Europe and visit the places they and there friends fought at, many for the final time.

Was what he did in Bizory a bad thing? Sure it was. He has appologized and offered assistance in any repairs needed. He has offered Herb Suerth to pay for any damages to be repaired. Mr. Suerth informed him not to do anything. One should remember all the good things this person has done for years now, in helping our veterans and championing their causes.

Some would say, “Oh, you just a buddy of his, sticking up for him.” That’s right. That’s what good friends do. Too much good has been done by this person to let this action destroy one of our greatest people who quietly goes out and takes care of our veterans.

Comment by Ken

Thanks for providing some balance. Like most of us, Mark is a complicated person and it is all the more puzzling that someone so dedicated to veterans would feel the need to damage the monument not just once, but twice.

Comment by Dave Navarre

“The artist also ensured that it would ‘violate’ the typical rules of military monumentation – often, the number of hooves off the ground on the horse is an indication of whether the rider was wounded or died in battle. ”

Actually this is one of those falsehoods that won’t die. There are plenty of examples that run contradictory to the “rule” just at Gettysburg alone.

Comment by Craig Swain

I thought it was “often” the case that the numbers of hooves was meaningful. So, it’s not even usually the case?

When I first saw your comment come through on email, I was all ready to argue. Then, I remembered that it’s what you know better than anyone else (especially me). If “often” isn’t right either, I’ll have to post an in-line edit rectifying my inaccuracy….

Comment by Dave Navarre

I go back to the original memorial committee at Gettysburg. The committee offered (read specified) rules for all aspects one can imagine with regard to the monuments. However there is not a single sentence from the committee that regulated the hooves of horse statues.

Comment by Craig Swain

If I had done a little more research, I would have gone to snopes, or found the straight dope, or even an equestrian lover’s site for better information. The other statues generally fit the coincidental hooves-and-fate reading (well, Reynolds has two hooves raised, but not the front two), but Longstreet’s does not. My impression at the time is that the Longstreet sculptor made a deliberate choice to sculpt Longstreet in a way that was different from the others. That is, the hoof placement and the ground-level mounting of the statue were chosen in order to be different – to call attention to the artists and the supporters of the project, rather than to commemorate Longstreet. So, while it wasn’t violating a written rule or a standard convention, it is rather out of character for Gettysburg, which I think removes the emphasis from the subject, and puts it on the wrong people – the sculptor and his supporters.

Comment by Dave Navarre

I’ve added a clarifying note. Thanks again, Craig!

Comment by Dave Navarre

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