Posts Tagged ‘Gettysburg National Military Park’

Gettysburg Film Provides Teachable Moment

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

Gettysburg Documentary Provides Teachable Moment

Written by: Craig J. Blakeley, J.D.
Alliance Law Group
Tysons Corner, Virginia
Photographs by: Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2013, Face of America, Mussari-Loftus Associates, LTD

I had the pleasure of attending the recent screeningGroup_1150_njmon 300 of the documentary “Walking into the Light at Gettysburg,” produced by Dr. Tony Mussari and his wife Kitch.

The film chronicles the experience of a group of 10 high school students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey as they visited the Civil War battlefield in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania for the first time.

I have known Tony for several years but this is the first time that I have seen him in his native environment – as both a filmmaker and a teacher – and it is a potent combination.

The film clearly is a labor of love. It succeeds not only in educating the audience about the battle of Gettysburg but also translates that historical event into one that is relevant to the present day – as the audience see it and experiences it through the eyes and the voices of those 10 students.

Enrie Simms_250As I watched the film in the theater at the Gettysburg National Military Park, I realized that Tony and Kitch had succeeded in creating a “teachable moment” not only for the students but for those lucky enough to watch the film.

I listened to one young woman tell us that through her experience at the battlefield memorial that she had learned that it was OK to fail – that what mattered was to try.

I listened as one African-American student expressedChelsea Blue C3_250 her thanks to those who had fought and died at Gettysburg, in recognition of their role in securing for her the freedom that we all cherish.

I heard one proud parent in the audience, an immigrant from South America, describe the joyous embrace of her daughter – one of the 10 students – as she told her mother how deeply she had been affected by her visit to Gettysburg.


As I saw the brown, black, and white faces of those 10 students, I saw the realization of the future that those untold sacrifices at Gettysburg and throughout the Civil War had made possible. And just as our nation overcame the tremendous forces that acted to divide it then, those same students, with their impressive intelligence and insight, gave me confidence that we will once again overcome what divides us now.

It seems to me that is the true message of the film – and it is one well worth hearing – and remembering.

Heroes without Headlines: The Bivouac of the Dead

Monday, May 28th, 2012

Heroes without Headlines: The Bivouac of the Dead, Memorial Day 2012

Written by Tony Mussari
Photographs by Kitch Loftus-Mussari
Copyright 2012
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

On fame’s eternal camping ground
Their silent tents to spread,
And glory guards, with solemn round
The bivouac of the dead.  Theodore O’Hara

Gratitude, Honor, Respect

On this day we remember the men and women who gave their lives in service to our country. This day of national gratitude, honor and respect was first observed after our tragic Civil War. In 1868 it was called Decoration Day. Today we know it as Memorial Day.

At dawn we lowered our flags to half-staff to memorialize the 1,317,764-plus men and women who have died in military conflicts in American history.  At noon, we will lift the flags to full-staff to symbolize that their sacrifice was not in vain.

Recently, Kitch and I visited Gettysburg, the site of the greatest and most defining battle of the Civil War. We went there with ten students from North Plainfield High School in New Jersey and six of the adults who helped to make the trip possible.

For two days we immersed ourselves in the history and significance of the most visited battlefield in the United States.  We wanted to make history come alive for the students. In so doing, we believed they would learn some important things about life.

One of the most poignant moments of the visit happened on Little Round Top. We were standing on the rocks overlooking the beautiful and vast expanse below.  You could almost hear the sights and sounds of the battle as Bruce Rice, our licensed battlefield tour guide, was explaining the unfathomable loss of life and suffering that produced 51,000 casualties in three days. Something he said evoked the words William C. Oates used to document what happened here:

“The blood stood in puddles in some places on the rocks.”

That haunting word picture gave new meaning to words like bravery, courage, honor, love of country, loss, and sacrifice.  Words that are frequently used in situations like this, but are seldom, if ever, fully understood.

Most of the soldiers, who fought, died and were injured at Gettysburg sanctified places like Devil’s Den, the Wheat Field, the Peach Orchard, Little Round Top, Cemetery Ridge, Cemetery Hill and Culp’s Hill.  For the most part, they were young, and they believed in their cause. The story of this battle and the soldiers who fought it is preserved in memorable ways in this 6,000 acre national treasure. There are almost 2,000 monuments in the Gettysburg National Military Park. It is so alluring, so beautiful, so big, so intriguing and so sad; it makes an indelible impression on one’s subconscious that keeps calling you back to the holy ground so artfully described by Barbara Platt in her book appropriately titled, This is Holy Ground.

Far Out and Beyond

You will find the names of Civil War veterans inscribed on monuments in lesser known cities and towns across our commonwealth and our country.  In fact, three women from Boalsburg, a small town in central Pennsylvania, are given credit for starting the national observance of Decoration Day.

In Danville, PA, 110 miles north of Gettysburg, a three-acre Memorial Park features an impressive 73 foot stone obelisk called Soldiers Monument.  It was dedicated on Memorial Day in 1908. It features four statues that celebrate the soldiers who fought in the civil war.

One of the most compelling figures of a Civil War soldier stands on a platform above a bronze marker engraved with these words in Latin:

O Fortunata Mors
Naturae Debita
Patria Est Potissimun

Dr. Richard Loomis tells me the accurate translation of this historic tribute is: “O fortunate death which, due to nature, is most preferably paid for one’s native country.”

On another side of the obelisk, a statue of a goddess stands on a platform above the tribute: In memory of the soldiers and sailors of Montour County who fought for the preservation of the Union.

The marker on the third side of the obelisk records two dates: 1861 and 1865.

The title of the marker on the fourth side of the base of the obelisk reads: Lincoln at Gettysburg. The Gettysburg Address is engraved below this title.

Monuments to those who served in the Spanish American War, World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam are prominently displayed in other parts of the memorial park.

Who is Thomas Moore?

Wilkes-Barre, PA, is nestled between the Appalachian Mountains along the Susquehanna River, 145 miles north of Gettysburg. One section of the city is dedicated to Civil War generals.  The centerpiece of this neighborhood is the GAR Memorial High School located between Grant and Sherman Streets.  

The Hollenback Cemetery in Wilkes-Barre has a picturesque Civil War memorial.  Located on the top of the highest hill in the cemetery, the memorial was financed by the local chapter of The Grand Army of the Republic and erected in 1918 by “General Hancock’s Circle No. 9, L of the GAR”.

While visiting this site, I discovered a tombstone. It had a GAR marker supporting an American flag.  The inscription on the marker read:
“Thomas Moore SCT 3RD PA HA 152 ND PENN. VOLS.”  

My eyes were drawn to this headstone, and my mind was filled with questions. Who was this man?  When did he enter the Union Army?  Did he fight at Gettysburg?  Was he a Gettysburg casualty or survivor? These are questions without answers. They are similar to questions I had when Kitch and I visited a cemetery in western Pennsylvania.

There we found bronze flag supports for Confederate and GAR soldiers.

When noon approaches, we will follow protocol and raise the flags flying over Windsor Park to full-staff. When we do that, we will think about the private moments of honor and remembrance we experienced during our Face of America journey in Lafayette, California, at The Middle East Conflicts Wall Memorial in Marseilles, Illinois, the Vietnam Memorial in Emmet Park Savannah, Georgia, The Citadel in Charleston, South Carolina, the College of the Ozarks in Point Lookout, Missouri, Mount Rushmore, South Dakota and the unforgettable evening ceremony honoring veterans of all wars,the Gettysburg National Military Park and the cemetery at the United States Military Academy at West Point.

We will honor the 3 P.M. moment of silence, and we will give thanks for the service of every veteran we know, every veteran who has served our country and every veteran who has passed on to receive their eternal reward.

We will end this Memorial Day with a visit to the hand crafted memorial for our inspiration 2d LT. Emily Perez.  There we will recite the final two stanzas of Theodore O’Hara’s poem The Bivouac of the Deadin:

Rest on embalmed and sainted dead!
Dear as the blood ye gave;
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave;
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While Fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.

Yon marble minstrel’s voiceless stone
In deathless song shall tell,
When many a vanquished ago has flown,
The story how ye fell;
Nor wreck, nor change, nor winter’s blight,
Nor time’s remorseless doom,
Can dim one ray of glory’s light
That gilds your deathless tomb.

Thank you for your service to America. God bless you, and God bless America.

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Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

Thursday, November 24th, 2011

Rekindling the Flame: Thanksgiving 2011

By Tony Mussari
Copyright 2011
Mussari-Loftus Associates
The Face of America Project

Nothing is more honorable than a grateful heart. Seneca

Stories from the Heart

These are stories about people we met by circumstance or design during the past week.

The women in these stories personify what someone once said so accurately about Thanksgiving, “Don’t only give thanks for what you have. Give thanks for what you give.”

In our opinion, these stories reflect the spirit of America on its best day. They speak to the heart and soul of Americans at their best. They give truth to the words of Dr. Stephen Post, “America is the home of the free and the land of the good.”

Helping Hands

On a cold November afternoon as I was leaving a store in a strip mall, I watched a woman come out of a store and approach a Salvation Army volunteer who was ringing a Christmas bell and greeting shoppers. She was shivering.  Her hands were beet-red from the cold. 

“Give me your hands,” the woman asked the volunteer?”

Then, she opened a bag containing a new pair of woolen gloves, and she carefully placed them on the hands of the volunteer.

In astonishment, the Salvation Army volunteer asked, “Are you coming back to get the gloves, or can I keep them?”

The woman smiled and said, “They’re yours. Thanks for making our world a better place,” then she disappeared into the crowd.”

Let us remember that, as much has been given us, much will be expected from us, and that true homage comes from the heart as well as from the lips, and shows itself in deeds. Theodore Roosevelt

Bobbie’s World

Kitch and I met Barbara Platt at the Gettysburg National Military Park Visitor Center during our Face of America journey. She was singing copies of her book, This Is Holy Ground. It was a perfect opportunity to introduce our granddaughter to an author.

On that June day in 2010, we became fast friends.

Barbara Platt came to Gettysburg in 1955 with her husband who accepted a teaching position at Gettysburg College. She has been a student of the battlefield for more than 50 years. She is a woman of fierce independence and inspiring determination to learn, grow and make the most of life.

She is loyal to her friends, and she is willing to help people who ask for her help. One week after our chance meeting, Barbara did a wonderful interview for our book, America at Its Best.  Standing in the shadow of the place where President Abraham Lincoln delivered his Gettysburg Address, she shared insights about the battlefield, her work, her life, and her battle with breast cancer.

When I asked Barbara to identify someone from the battle who, in her mind, represents America on its best day, she did not name a general, or a statesman.  She told the story of a 70-year old man, John Burns. He was too old to join the union army, but when the battle began he picked up his Revolutionary War rifle and asked a commanding officer to let him join the fight.

Barbara was 83-years-old when she told that story. The breast cancer that slowed her down seven years earlier was in remission, and she was not about to let it prevent her from living a full life. To encourage Kitch, she wrote these words:

My very best to both of you. I am all too familiar with Kitch’s situation. Her treatment “ain’t fun,” but having been around now for seven years after the doctors almost gave up on me, I know it’s worth it.

This week, Kitch and I visited with Barbara at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park to do an interview with her for our documentary about cancer. Her circumstance is much different today than when we first met. Cancer has returned with a vengeance, and the signs of its return are obvious. Nevertheless, Bobby is still doing the things she loves to do, and she refuses to spend any time lamenting her fate. “I certainly have no problem with my situation.  I never have. I wake up every morning, she told me, “and I do what I can to be productive.”

We can only be said to be alive in those moments when our hearts are conscious of our treasures. Thornton Wilder

A Library for Laurie

Laurie McDonald was an extraordinary woman of dignity, class, and passion. It was our good fortune to meet Mrs. McDonald at a Bedtime Stories event at the elementary school my granddaughter attends. She was welcoming and very pleasant to be with.

Described as a perfect principal by people who worked with her, Laurie McDonald was dedicated to excellence and innovation in the classroom.

During our Face of America journey, Laurie responded to virtually every newsletter with words of encouragement and support.
One year ago, on Thanksgiving Day, we received this note from her:

Dear Tony and Kitch,

“Thank you for the lovely note and beautiful picture.  I hope you had a wonderful Thanksgiving and the upcoming holiday season is a blessed and happy one for you and your family!!”


One month later, December 2010, she responded to an article we wrote entitled “Putting the past behind us.”  

“Once again, thank you for sharing a beautiful story, your lessons of dealing with challenges in such a positive and loving way, have brightened and uplifted me on many a day, thank you and many blessings to you and Kitch.”  Laurie

In February, when Kitch was battling Cancer, this note arrived from Laurie:

“Please know my thoughts and prayers are with you both.  Fondly, Laurie”

In April, my daughter and I attended the funeral service for Laurie McDonald. The pancreatic cancer she had been battling for three months took her life.  She was the same age as Kitch.  She was diagnosed in December 2010 the same month as Kitch.

Monday, November 22, was a rainy day in Leesburg,Virginia.  Kitch and I attended the dedication of the Mrs. Laurie McDonald Library. It was a beautiful and emotional event for 800 students and many parents and guests.

Mrs. McDonald was celebrated with readings, poems and songs. It was a joyful but poignant experience. It was exactly what she deserved and something she would have enjoyed.

As I recorded scenes of children singing, laughing, talking and learning, I thought to myself how short and unpredictable life is, and how fortunate Kitch and I were to meet this incredible Face of America.

The hardest arithmetic to master is that which enables us to count
our blessings. Eric Hoffer

Donna’s Gift

On Tuesday, November 22, Kitch and I were returning from Virginia.  It was shortly after 5 p.m. It was raining heavily. The roads were treacherous. 

We stopped at the Sheetz store in Duncannon, PA.  My wife wanted to get a small cup of coffee.

When we approached the coffee maker, there were no small styrofoam cups.  We asked for help, and one of the employees at the food counter contacted someone in our behalf. The store was crowded, and it took a few minutes for the person to arrive with the replacement cups.

By that time, my wife had selected another size cup, and she was pouring coffee into the cup when Donna arrived.  Donna politely apologized for the inconvenience. My wife accepted her apology, and then she handed me the half full cup as she walked to another section of the store.
Donna restocked the empty section with cups. Before I made my way to the cashier, I thanked Donna for her willingness to help us.

I was standing in line waiting to pay for the cup of coffee, when Donna approached me. She smiled and asked, “Is the cup of coffee all that you have?”

I replied, “Yes.”

Then, Donna spoke these words. “You don’t have to pay for it. You were inconvenienced, and I apologize for that, and I appreciate your understanding.”

I don’t think I will ever forget that moment, the expression on her face, or the warm feeling of appreciation I experienced.

Donna just did her job, and she did it well. She was pleasant, helpful and cognizant of our needs.  She gave us more than we expected. She did not know anything about us. She only knew how to be kind.

Treating us with courtesy and consideration, she made a very favorable impression.

Although the road ahead would be long and challenging, Donna’s act of kindness and appreciation filled our hearts with the warm glow of gratitude.

At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person. Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us. Albert Schweitzer

Beautiful Thoughts

During this year of years, many people have lighted the flame within us. We will write about them before the year ends. For the moment, I would like to share some beautiful thoughts we received in response to a question we asked about important life lessons.

“Each human life is unique and has special value. We are social beings. As members of communities we have the opportunity to add value to the lives of others, and by so doing our own lives become more fulfilled.” Dr. Dan Kopen

“I learned that while we are people of place, we are also destined to move on from time to time… Love the people where you are, and do dig deep and meaningful roots. But realize as well that on a path of spiritual growth, there is something to be said for Rt 80!” Victor Chan is right, “Most people on a journey have to move on to grow… Wherever you are is home if you focus on the things that matter most!” Dr. Stephen Post

"Nothing trumps perseverance and hard work." Julie Marvel

“The lesson came to me through an act of kindness from a colleague. In the midst of a crisis, this colleague asked me how things were and I told her. She then ran into her office and came out to give me a red metal cuff bracelet that has this on it: ‘Be still and know that I AM.’  That remains the biggest lesson for me.” Dr. Agnes Cardoni

"Loyalty to whomever I was working with." Barbara Platt

“What lesson did I learn in life…To be thankful and not just on Thanksgiving.  I had a Sunday School teacher as a child that said, we could be thankful for something different every day.  I have never forgotten her telling the class that.  The Bible tells us that in everything give thanks because it is the will of God.  Each day is a gift from God and I must make it count.” Janie Kiehl

“I’ve learned not to be so critical of things. To be more understanding and more compassionate, to have faith.” Louie Bigiarelli

"The most important lesson I’ve ever learned is that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believe in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. I was fortunate to have been taught this a child and it has given me a foundation to build my life, values, and life principles on."  Chuck Wagner

"To receive kindness and understanding from my neighbors and friends, I have to be kind and understanding to them." Helene Bigiarelli

"Life is, indeed, short so there is no time to feel sorry for yourself. We would just be wasting our days and leaving little time to do for others.  I guess this is one of the lessons I have learned…. " Dr. Marilyn Birnbaum

You can be sure we will be thinking about these life lessons as we give thanks for the gift of life and the many opportunities afforded us during our Face of America Journey.

From our hearts to your home, Happy Thanksgiving, and may all of your stories have happy endings.

Kitch & Tony Mussari

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