artist statement:

Built as part of the Harbor Defense Project by the Army Corp of Engineers during the early months of the Second World War, Battery 223 served as a gun emplacement strategically located to protect the Delaware Bay from possible invasion. Completed in 1942 and located in Cape May NJ, the bunker was once 900 feet inland, surrounded by earth and sod so that it would appear to look merely like a hill from the sea or air. Built of reinforced concrete, with roof walls 6 foot thick, it was intended to be a bulwark against tyranny, containing 4-155mm heavy artillery guns and manned by naval gunnery crews who spent hours on end scanning the horizon for enemy surface ships and submarines.

This place connects me in a very tangible way to the conflict that engulfed my grandfather who fought in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) as part of the 3rd Battalion 358 Infantry---known as the Tough ‘Ombres. Since his passing in January 2014, I have been confronted with a history of a seldom discussed aspect of his life through a series of letters written during the war to his brother who he no doubt felt more comfortable disclosing his ordeal to than to his beloved wife.

The images of Battery 223 were created five months before his death and have become an ideal canvas for his hand-written sentiments that I have superimposed on the crumbling bunker walls like haunting graffiti. Here etched into the surfaces of a fortified structure designed to defend against the same enemy forces he was fighting overseas, his thoughts echo a forgotten past hinting at deeds of valor and sacrifice in an unromanticized tone, epitomizing the feelings of many combat soldiers whose dreadful memories remain despite the erosion of the passing of time. For example, he writes from a “foxhole somewhere in France,” under constant shelling and often remarks that he “shan’t ever be able to erase from [his] mind” what he had witnessed.

Perhaps this is why upon returning home, he never spoke of the heroic deeds that won him a Bronze Star. At the same time, in these letters he repeatedly expresses a longing for the war to end and the peaceful comforts of home. Throughout his letters, he is always curious to learn what people back home think of the war. And rather than dwelling on what he has experienced, he is eager to learn of his loved ones’ daily affairs, with his commentary focusing on the hope of being reunited with his family where he might someday be able to take his son (my father) to a carnival. Here too can be discerned the depravation of the march by his repeated reference and request of comfort food. But his sentiments transcend the individual and remind us that although freedom is often forged from conflict, the sacrifice is anything but abstract; rather it is very personal because the marks, scars and PTSD always remain. Moreover, what is revealed here is difficult for me to reconcile with the peace-loving, kind and generous man who was my hero through life.

Finally, as this concrete bunker quite literally is being swallowed up by the sands of time, these images serve as a monument to the futility of the fact that history only repeats itself. While human tragedy is often self-inflicted, no one should ever have to endure such unspeakable horrors.

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