“The dead of the battlefield come to us very rarely, even in dreams. We see the list in the morning paper at breakfast, but dismiss its recollection with coffee. It is like a funeral next door; it attracts your attention but does not enlist your sympathy. But it is very different when the hearse stops at your own door, and the corpse is carried out over your own threshold.”
Those words might describe America’s longest wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but they come from an 1862 New York Times review of Civil War photographer Alexander Gardner’s exhibition “The Dead of Antietam.”
When the studio owner, Mathew Brady, showed Gardner’s brutal battlefield images, he did not anticipate their effect. The review continues: “Mr. Brady has done something to bring home to us the terrible reality and earnestness of war. If he has not brought bodies and laid them in our door-yards and along streets, he has done something very like it.”
“Something very like it” is what the art and humanities exhibition Always Lost: A Meditation on War does — it reminds us that we are a nation at war, a nation that sometimes forgets that the costs of war still are accruing, including costs that cannot be measured in dollars. At The Legislative Building through May 3, the exhibition does not lay the bodies of the fallen at our door, but it does something very like it: the Wall of the Dead displays the faces and names of the more than 6,500 U.S. service members who perished in Iraq and Afghanistan since Sept. 11, 2001.
The exhibition originated in my creative writing class at Western Nevada College in 2009, inspired by sociology professor Don Carlson who saw the Iraq war as “perhaps the most impersonal war America has ever fought.”
Along with the Wall of the Dead, Always Lost: A Meditation on War includes the 2004 Pulitzer Prize-winning collection of Iraq War combat photographs (courtesy of The Dallas Morning News); literary work by Nevada writers who humanize the pathos of war; provocative reflections on the nature of war, such as the quote from the 1862 Times review; profiles of Iraq and Afghanistan veterans who made it home; and the poetry of SPC Noah Pierce who took his own life after serving two combat tours in Iraq.
We never anticipated the effect of the initial show at WNC. Requests for the exhibition came from across the country, so we created a traveling exhibition which has been on tour since 2010. It is currently at its 14th national venue, the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point. The installation at our Legislative Building is newly replicated, thanks to a donation from Carson Nugget/Community First.
In his remarks at the exhibition’s opening last week, Mayor Robert Crowell said, “It is particularly fitting that this exhibit is displayed in the hallowed halls of this Legislative Building — a hallmark of democracy where our duly elected leaders can exercise the rights enabled by a free and open society that those on the Wall of the Dead gave their lives to ensure.”
The beautiful installation at the Legislature was accomplished by the following administrative staff: Jim Feser, facilities manager; Randy Bird, facilities supervisor; Pam Anderson, electrician; Kevin Jackson and Terry Zimmerman, HVAC specialists; Tony Mariskanish, painter; and Brad Wallace, maintenance repair worker.
For helping with the exhibition and opening ceremony, thanks to the Legislative Police, Broadcast and Production Services, Information Technology Services, and General Services.
Special thanks to Richard S. Combs, Legislative Counsel Bureau director, and Roger Wilkerson, chief of the Administrative Division.
This “gift to the nation,” in the words of Mayor Crowell, could not have come to our Legislature without the approval of the Leadership: Senate Majority Leader Mo Denis, Assembly Speaker Marilyn Kirkpatrick, Senate Minority Leader Michael Roberson, and Assembly Minority Leader Pat Hickey.
SGT Helena Schroeder, Nevada Army National Guard, arranged for the Presentation of the Colors and the Sounding of “Taps” at last Wednesday’s ceremony.
Caleb Cage, an Iraq War veteran and executive director of the Nevada Office of Veterans Services, concluded the opening ceremony with his observation that Always Lost: A Meditation on War is a “perfect memorial for our generation’s war” that offers the “gift of awareness of what these wars have cost at a time when there is the largest divide between the civilian community and the fighting force in the history of our nation.”
The hearse has stopped at our own door. Please visit the exhibition, look into the eyes of our fallen, and pay your respects.
Marilee Swirczek, Professor Emeritus, Western Nevada College, lives in Carson City. To see “The Story of Always Lost” with an introduction by Mayor Robert Crowell, go to: http://youtu.be/iJBAQhn2hGU