photo of the week

A Fiery Salute
To Fallen Comrades-in-Arms.

Members of the 2nd Arkansas Infantry, a Civil War re-enactment group, fire two field pieces to salute fallen fellow soldiers, sailors, and marines during a Memorial Day program at Bellwood Cemetery in Pine Bluff, Arkansas.  These were the third of three shots.

Memorial Day

Sunday, June 1, 2014
Pine Buff, Arkansas

You Don't Have to Practice to be Miserable.

My deployed son, who serves his country as a thrice-deployed soldier in the United States Army Reserve, upon sensing a plethora of Memorial Day activities which were somewhat divergent from the original Memorial Day intent, correctly observed that, “Memorial Day is the day for the ones who came back in a box.”  Taking paternal liberties, I am adding one further category which is:  those who came home sans box, but succumbed to that condition due to grievous bodily harm incurred in the service of their county.

Those thoughts re-circulated in my gray matter as I observed and photographed a Memorial Day program at Bellwood Cemetery on May 25, 2014, here in Pine Bluff.  I stayed longer than I had planned.  I went to the program to photograph a strategically timed formation flyover by members of the Black Pilots Association of America, who were in town for their annual “Operation Skyhook” meeting.  What I saw when I arrived precipitated lingering longer than my original intentions.


Black Pilots Association of America

Volunteer flyers of the Black Pilots Association of America fly their airplanes in formation as the colors are raised.  They flew two passes.  The first was with three airplanes.  The second pass, symbolically appropriate for the day, was with only two aircraft.


A Salute to Old Glory

Program attendees salute as the colors are raised.

When I arrived, members of the 2nd Arkansas Infantry, a Civil War reenactment group, were setting up as the honor guard for the event.  They brought two Civil War artillery pieces with them.  I suspected that the soldiers would fire these cannons, a shooting which deserved my shooting.  I photographed the flag raising, the National Anthem, and the flyover.  Then I selected what I thought would be a good spot to photograph the big, fire-belching bangs.


At Ease, Soldier.

Members of the 2nd Arkansas Infantry, honor guards for the event, stand at-ease waiting for the program to start.


Guns at the Ready

At the other end of the formation, the artillery crews stand by their guns, already loaded for the first of three shots.

Then the program started.  As the speaker talked about the Revolutionary War, a volunteer strolled to a long line of wreaths on stands, selected the first one, walked a few yards, and placed same in front of the cemetery’s granite memorial.  I’m standing there in 90-degree sun, exacerbated by humidity in approximately the same range, when the speaker starts a discourse about the War of 1812, while another volunteer grabs a wreath and heads for the granite.

It did not take a rocket scientist to figure out that there would be a monologue and wreath placement for each succeeding war.  I gave myself to about the Spanish-American War before the heat and humidity would do me in and my knees would give out.  Fortuitously, about that time I spotted an old wooden folding chair in the shade of an oak tree.  It stood only a stone’s throw away.  I went there and occupied the seat of shady honor.

The chair was adjacent to the cemetey's military grave plot, so I figured I was the guest of fallen brethren who were currently being honored.  I thanked them for their service and current hospitality.  I also begged their tolerance of my abandoning the post of standing around in the sun as program participants honored their service.


Thrice Around the Flag

Motorcyclists make three trips around the flag island to salute those fallen in the service of our nation.


Guest of the Fallen

After I stood in the sun for what I considered the outer limits, I repaired to an old wooden folding chair under a strategically placed oak tree.  I became the guest of adjacent fallen brethren.  I thanked them for their service and current hospitality.


My Viewpoint

My view for the biggest part of the program.  I felt like an honored guest.


Widows of the Fallen

There were women re-enactors as well.  Three of those were dressed in period widow garb.  All were garbed in the multi-layered style of the era.  My hat is off to them as well as the soldiers.  Their "uncomfort" level had to be off the chart.  They are offering some sort of gesture with their hands for which I have no explanation.

Since I was in the company of soldiers, I figured they’d understand, since most soldiers do not miss a chance to avoid any discomfort that is not mission critical.  In fact, in a former unit with which I served, we had a saying:  “You don’t have to practice to be miserable.”  I credit that epithet to one John Hamilton Jackson, aka the “Grey Ghost, a comrade-in-arms.  Having paid my dues since late teen years until well into mid-life, standing around and at attention in broiling sun, I felt little if any guilt.


The Little Bang before the Big Bang.

The firing sequence was on the captain's command.  It started with the ground-pounders firing their rifles, followed by the cannon cockers with their fire belchers.

At the conclusion of the program, the infantrymen fired their rifles and the cannon cockers followed suit with their big guns.  It was the third time I managed to capture the tongue of flame after I figured out the captain’s sequence of firing commands.  It was a good day.

You can see more pictures from this event at our 2014 Memorial Day Gallery.

Photo Notes

Nikon D-7100, hand held, ISO 100, AF-S VR Nikkor 18-200 G ED on all exposures.  The cannon belchfire shot was 1/160@f10 for those curious souls who want to know.


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