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Superintendent’s Corner

By  Superintendent Charlie Sellars

Dear Friends of Andersonville,

A mild winter at the park has given way to the hot and humid climate typical of summertime in Georgia. Heavy and frequent rains have challenged our small but dedicated mowing staff to keep up with many acres of grass that seem to regrow overnight.

The generous and steadfast support of the Friends of Andersonville has been instrumental to many projects and events completed or underway at the park this year. In March, our Living History Weekend event drew hundreds of visitors and living historians from the region. In April we presented a special program in honor of National Former POW Recognition Day that focused on the 100th anniversary of America’s entry into World War I.

Our Memorial Day events in May were a great success thanks to the support of the Friends of Andersonville and other partners. Robins Riders traveled to the park to help raise the Avenue of Flags and set a patriotic and reverent atmosphere for the coming activities. Over 260 volunteers descended on Andersonville National Cemetery to pay tribute to our fallen military and particularly those buried in the park by placing a small American flag on more than 20,000 graves. Families, scout groups, active military groups, and even two jeep enthusiast groups came to honor our military by placing flags. The Dixie Crows once again graciously provided lunch for flag volunteers in addition to assisting with flag placement.

Breezy conditions on Sunday made for a dazzling spectacle of tens of thousands of flags flying in Andersonville National Cemetery as hundreds of visitors gathered to remember those who gave their last full measure of devotion. Our Sunday Memorial Observance featured keynote speaker Brigadier General Lesperance, whose distinguished military career includes 5 deployments, 3 Legion of Merit Awards, 3 Bronze Stars, 1 Defense Meritorious Service Medal, 5 Meritorious Service Medals, and other commendations. I was honored to serve as Master of Ceremonies for the event. Jim Covington, President of the Friends of Andersonville, spoke in honor of those who have died in service to their country and recognized military veterans in attendance. Other speakers included U.S. Representative Sanford Bishop, Senator David Perdue’s Field Representative Kathy Burns, and Rabbi Beth Schwartz. The U.S. Army Maneuver Center of Excellence provided both music and an honor guard for the ceremony. Monday’s Knights of Columbus Mass featured a bagpiper who walked through each row of the national ceremony and paid musical tribute to each grave.

Spring also brought a record number of school groups to the park, with 137 groups coming to see and learn about the Civil War prison site, national cemetery, and National Prisoner of War Museum. Over 8,000 students heard stories and saw objects related to the stories of American prisoners of war. While most park-guided programs were conducted by park employees, volunteers also helped with some programs and provided critical support on days when hundreds of students filled the National Prisoner of War Museum at once.

Volunteers and interns are vital members of the staff here at Andersonville National Historic Site, and the success of those programs depends in large part on support from the Friends of Andersonville. Providing volunteers and interns with identifiable shirts, safety equipment, computer background clearance, training materials, recognition, and other support is essential for an effective program. Several volunteer couples with their own RV stayed on the RV pads in the park this past winter and spring to help with park operations. Currently, two interns are working in the National Prisoner of War Museum to provide visitor information, assist in researching prisoners of war, and learn to conduct interpretive programs. This fall we hope to have two additional interns, one that will help with cataloging items donated to the park and one to help organize the Research Library that is of such value to those researching Andersonville or American prisoners of war, including those who are awarded a National Prisoner of War research grant.

The National Prisoner of War research grant funded by the Friends of Andersonville is a wonderful grant for people to utilize in researching American Prisoners of War throughout history. This year like many before it has provided us with many wonderful researchers pursuing knowledge of POWs. One researcher used her grant to attend the May 17-21, 2017 Annual Convention of American Defenders of Bataan and Corregidor Memorial Society in Kansas City, MO in order to share research with other experts, to interview surviving POWs and POW families in order to capture their memories, to discuss POWs of Japan history, and to learn how her blog can be more effective in ensuring that their history is remembered. Another one of the grant recipients is planning to use her grant for work on a full-length book manuscript looking at the six men executed at Andersonville in July, 1864 in order to gain a fuller understanding of exactly who these six men were and the circumstances that led to their execution.  She will be doing this by examining their compiled service records and the letters and diaries of both their comrades in arms and their fellow prisoners and comparing that information to the popular history that’s been passed down for the last century and a half, particularly by men like John McElroy, John Ransom and others. The final grant recipient is using his grant to work on investigating of a number of factors affecting conditions in Union Prison Camps for Confederate prisoners.

In addition to this valuable research, the Friends of Andersonville has helped support major projects to improve park facilities and services this year. One project involved replacing or repairing 170 window units on the National Prisoner of War Museum. In the lobby and on the clerestory windows, which included 24 windows, workers removed and then reinstalled each window unit with a film that has a 99.5% UV blocking rating and new rubber glazing seals around each window opening for better weather protection. For the windows that line the main walkway between the two restroom buildings, the workers removed all 50 windows and replaced them with new windows that had a film that obscures the sight through each window pane. The final undertaking was to apply a window film to the 96 alcove windows that has a 99.5% UV blockage rating and also blocks out any LUX that would give us a reading over 50 lumens. This film was installed to provide an extra barrier of protection to decrease the illuminance from the sun’s rays on the priceless museum artifacts that are on display within the National Prisoner of War Museum.

An exciting new project underway thanks to funding from the Friends of Andersonville is the purchase of a standalone Grave finder to go outside the Cemetery office door, which visitors can utilize to locate a grave without having to go to the museum to use the database computer. This will also help visitors on the weekend and on holidays when there is a shortage of staff to assist someone. Since Andersonville is still an active National Cemetery that averages 180 burials a year, a large number of families and friends still come to find loved ones’ graves as well as visitors who come to find an ancestor’s grave from long ago. This grave finder will play a valuable role in helping visitors who are looking for graves. Along with getting the kiosk we are also planning to get some signs to go in the cemetery to direct visitors to the kiosk.

The “Victory From Within” traveling POW exhibit is currently at the National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Florida. We invite those in the area to make a trip to Pensacola to see the exhibit.

The park is working with The Ride Home in planning our September National POW/MIA Recognition Day activities. Most of the Ride Home’s activities will take place in Warner Robins this year, but the September 15 ceremony will occur at the National Prisoner of War Museum as in past years. Seymour Lichtenfeld, a former POW from World War II, is scheduled to appear and share his story at the ceremony this year. Please plan to attend this special event.

On behalf of Andersonville National Historic Site’s staff, volunteers, interns, and POW grant recipients, I would like to express my sincere appreciation to the Friends of Andersonville for their invaluable partnership. Your support is key to the continuation of our mission to preserve and share the stories of American prisoners of war, Camp Sumter, and Andersonville National Cemetery.

Charlie Sellers