Monday, May 29, 2017

In images of cemetery chaos, a search for deeper meaning

A fallen tree trunk suspended over the grave of PFC John Bensenhaver (left), who's buried 
next to a Civil War veteran in Maromas Cemetery.
A mini-hurricane of destruction: The gravestone at left did not survive a direct hit. 
Pine branches and tree limbs scattered about Maromas Cemetery, near Middletown, Conn.
 Like this blog on Facebook.

In a small, seldom-visited Connecticut cemetery, turmoil reigned. A massive tree, a victim of old age or a recent storm, had collapsed, scattering branches and limbs and wreaking havoc throughout the grounds.

Struck by a direct hit from a large limb, an ancient, slate-gray tombstone proved to be an unworthy adversary. The marker was split open near its base, exposing pearl-white stone. Nearby, another gravestone stood defiantly despite a well-aimed strike. Pine branches, a secondary victim of the grand tree's demise, littered Maromas Cemetery, the eternal home of several Civil War soldiers.

In the eye of this mini-hurricane of destruction, feet from an old stone wall, another gray marker drew my attention on a winter afternoon. A fraying American flag, barely attached to its staff, was planted next to the grave. As if stopped by some unseen force, the fallen tree trunk was suspended about two feet above the slightly tilted slab of stone. The death date on the marker was familiar: June 6, 1944, D-Day.

The marble tombstone marked the grave of PFC John Edward Bensenhaver, a 34-year-old block of a man with hazel eyes, brown hair and a ruddy complexion, who served in the 531st Engineer Shore Regiment during World War II. Bensenhaver, who stood 5-8 and weighed 240 pounds, was killed in the assault on Utah Beach during the Normandy landings to liberate Europe. He was the son of Sarah and William Bensenhaver, a farmer from Middletown who died of lockjaw in 1916.

As I examined these images Sunday, I wondered about deeper meaning. Perhaps these photographs of cemetery destruction are a metaphor for state of our country on Memorial Day 1944: chaotic, hopeful, fragile, resilient.

Perhaps those words apply today, too.

34-year-old John Bensenhaver of Middletown, Conn., was killed on June 6, 1944, D-Day.
SOURCE: WWII draft registration card, National Archives, Washington D.C. via

Have something to add (or correct) in this post? E-mail me here.

No comments:

Post a Comment