From the collection, DEMOCRACY IN PENNSYLVANIA
"The Second Battle Of Irvingsberg" from the collection, _DEMOCRACY IN PENNSYLVANIA_
By Joe Petrulionis
All rights to these materials are reserved by the author.
As with most decisive battles fought on American soil, Irvingsberg’s own also erupted during the heat of mid-summertime. While the smoke cleared and the casualties were counted, few of the celebrated participants could explain exactly how it had come to such a pass, some didn’t even know it had occurred. Although much later, most eyewitnesses now claim to have predicted it all along.
Brigadier General Sidney Cullport, in command of the entrenched units south of the river, in and around Williamsburg proper, explains that both the plan and its initial execution were sound. The failures, yes he had to admit, the ultimate failure of the entire campaign, came from a flawed response by his subordinates who were, he asserts, unprepared for the uncoordinated tactics used by irregulars.
“We over-estimated them, thought we had a truce. Under the fog of war, we discovered that they didn’t even know about the agreement which had been struck. Only make deals with gentlemen and annihilate the rest whenever you get the chance.” Cullport is used to having his opinions heard and regarded.
I was, myself, a part of Cullport’s reserve, positioned well to the rear of the engagement. The reserve was apparently never committed, so most of what I know about the second battle comes from my own discussions with others. That said, I still believe I’ve been able to sort out the details, at least until more of the record gets excavated by future historians.
General Cullport had been a West Pointer from a long line of soldiers. His father, promoted to Sergeant Major on VJ day, was living in the Lutheran Home over in Hollidaysburg; "presiding over" might be a better way of describing his role there. Over the years the General, the son, had commanded small infantry units and a cavalry battalion, served in some artillery and Pentagon staff assignments and finally Cullport had attained his star in Korea as a commander of a tank regiment, the promotion given almost as an award just one day before his retirement early in October 1950. The seeds were sown, but their germination took more than two decades. During the weeks after his father’s death, Sergeant Major Cullport’s death, the seedbed exploded in Irvingsberg, sprouting the discontent that would break out in local pandemonium on the fifth of June and continue for four contentious weeks in 1973.
I was a brand new recruit, not sure of the terrain and almost altogether unaware of the brewing catastrophe. A recently hired history teacher at Tuckahoe C.C., a community college over in Altoona, I had only just moved my stuff into a small cabin in the woods near Irvingsberg and was doing my level best to learn enough about American Natives to be able to hold a lucid discussion on the topic. Classes had not yet even begun and my bosses were already farming me out to local historical societies and far flung community service tasks. Things for me were going at double time that summer. And in between all of that, I had just met a girl. Didn’t know it then but in a few years she’d become my wife. I had little time for the other dramas unfolding around me.
Fishing when the phone call came in, I was not there to answer. So they sent someone out from the school to find me. I looked up from a cast to see the Head of the Arts and Humanities Division, my boss, Professor Stark, standing on the side of the lake. He had his hands on his hips and looked a little put out at having to make the trip out here. So I reeled in my line and paddled over to the shore.
He didn’t even give me a chance to climb out of the canoe before he was already complaining, “We tried to reach you all morning, Jonathan. I think we are going to have to find some way to agree that we need to remain in touch, to be able to find you. The Dean is...”
With that, I cut him off. “Hi Ryan. Welcome to my cabin! Listen, I know my contract doesn’t really even begin until mid next month. That’s when the school starts paying me, right? But I want to let you know that I’m available whenever you need me. I have an open door policy here at Simon’s Blue Hole and I’m sure there must be something important to tell me, right? You know, I even have a phone out here. I answer it when it rings. I also have a phone in my office at the campus. I think they both work and I called in for messages a few hours ago. No messages. So tell me, what’s up?”
He’d been sent out to deliver a message, not from Dean William T. Fenton, but from Dean Fenton’s secretary. Apparently, during summer break there were no others he could task with the errand, so he came himself. She needed to inform me that Dean Fenton “had mentioned my name to a local war hero.” Turned out, the hero was General Cullport. Dean Fenton wanted me to know that “he appreciated, in advance, anything I could do for his old friend, the General, who had recently lost his father. Once” I had spoken with Cullport, could I “please get back in touch with Mrs. Marone in the Dean’s office and let her know how it went?” There was a phone number.
“Ryan, are you sure this message is for me?” I asked. I have nothing to do with military relations. I never heard of this guy General MacCullyport, and I had nothing to do with the death of his family. Remember, I’m a historian, French and Native American. With all due respect to the Dean’s private secretary, I think she must have me confused with someone in the ROTC.”
He looked at me in disbelief. Ryan Stark could never imagine standing up to anyone he would call his “superior,” or even for that matter questioning the private secretary of said superior. Would have made a wonderful second lieutenant in the East German Ministry of State Security, I thought. I had five or ten seconds to disembark from the canoe before he began talking again. “I understand completely, Jonathan. The Dean must imagine history as some kind of broader category into which he classifies things like the military. You know, wars, battlefields, stuff like that. Maybe he was so impressed with the way you handled the gravel guy that he picked you out for this assignment. In any case, we’re going to have to take care of this one.”
“Well, Ryan, let me know how it goes then.Guess I’ll be seeing you on August 18th for the new faculty welcome luncheon?”
“Jonathan, I need you to hear me. There will be no new faculty welcome luncheon if you continue in this unprofessional and insubordinate attitude. Call this guy this afternoon and see what service you can provide. Then call the Dean’s office and speak to Paulette Marone. Then leave a message for me once this has all been done.” With that, Ryan Stark spun on his heels and sauntered over to his car. By the time I got the canoe beached he was gone.
Feeling more like a draftee than a volunteer, I decided to comply exactly with the instructions I had been given, nothing more, nothing less. I called the number for General Cullport.
“Cullport residence.” A woman’s voice answered.
“Howdy do. My name is Jonathan Fost. I wonder if I might speak with Sid,” was about all I could muster at that point.
“I’m sorry Mister Fost. General Cullport is away from the phone right now. I wonder if I could take a message for him?”
“Would you just please let General Cullport know that Doctor Fost called. I will try him back in a few days.” I hoped that would suffice and was already cherishing the idea of making calls to the school to let them know that I was lost in phone tag.
But a man’s voice bursted my reverie. “General Cullport.”
“General Cullport, thank you for taking my call. My name is Doctor Fost. I will soon begin working at Tuckahoe Community College in Altoona. About a month from now, anyway. The office of the Dean there gave me a message to call you but did not tell me why. I hope you expected to hear from me?”
“Yes. Jonathan. Thanks for calling. I was at a dinner party at the Fenton’s house, Dean Fenton, and he told me that since you live here now, you might be interested in serving on the Lorraine Township Historical Commission.”
“Thank you Sid. Or is it Sydney?”
“Actually, Jonathan, I go by General.”
“I fully understand General. Sorry. I go by Doctor Fost for much the same reason.” I was intentionally not getting this conversation off to a comfortable start, having been warned by other historians against becoming too involved in local historical initiatives. They tend to be fixated on military history and old family photo albums and I had a real research agenda, several of them now, to get underway with.
“Thirty-three years in the Military. I am quite comfortable in using professional titles. Thank you Doctor Fost.”
I could rise to the occasion also. “Thank you General Cullport. I must let you know that I am only a renter out here. I have lived here for a few weeks, anyway. I appreciate your kind offer to put me on a historical commission. I am sure I am going to regret this down the road, but…”
He cut me off, “I am not sure you understand me. I asked Dean Fenton to nominate someone who would represent the school, and the field of history for that matter, on the Lorraine Township Historical Commission. That’s the local body tasked with approving historical markers, ad hoc publications, from time to time there’s an event to plan, you know. He gave me your name. Perhaps he was mistaken?”
Cornered again! “No, by all means, General. I appreciate you explaining the commission to me. See, I know absolutely nothing about military history. So I didn’t recognize the purpose of the commission and its members. I’d love to get involved, if only to add one small voice to the idea that historical preservation does not need to be about battlefields and historical markers don’t always have to be about battles. How do I find out more about the time commitment and the meetings?”
“Right. So I’m going to give you another phone number. Maude Pepperhill is the Chair of that commission. She lives in Williamsburg, also. Probably a neighbor of yours.”
“Actually, I live over in Irvingsberg, three or four miles away. But let me get a pen.” I walked slowly from the front room of the cabin into the kitchen. Walking even slower back to the phone, enjoying too much having a General on hold, I finally said, “Okay thanks. Maude Pepperhill.”
He gave me a phone number that would, from the day of its first use, blow my cover. A historian lives in Lorraine Township? Should anyone ever need the services of a historian, just call your good friend the Dean of Tuckahoe CC, and I’ll be there in a flash.
The next morning I called Maude Pepperhill. Not expecting a positive experience, given the intermediary role played by the General, “Miz Pepperhill,” would prove an invaluable resource. She was in her mid-seventies, with the manners and bearing of royalty, I have often said she mobilized politeness the way Truman used bombs. Maude Pepperhill happened to also serve as the current Chair of the Lorraine Township Historical Commission. But she had held many leadership roles in the Daughters of the American Revolution over the years, including regent of the local chapter and General Vice President of International Membership. Through her long list of acquaintances, Maude Pepperhill could put you in touch with anyone you ever needed to meet. And, as I would discover, when you met someone through her channels, they were always predisposed to assist.
“Doctor Fost, it is a true delight to hear from you! I simply insist that at your earliest convenience, you will find it in your heart to address a meeting of the Adam Holliday Chapter of the DAR on a topic of your choosing. I know you must be quite busy with your first semester looming just ahead of you. So tuck that little standing invitation away where you will remember it. Now, more important, when do you suppose you will find yourself in Altoona with enough time on your hands for a cup of tea and a tour of the chapter’s archives? You will, I hope, be quite impressed with our collections.”
I found myself drifting along in her enthusiastic currents. “Thank you for that very kind standing invitation. I would love to do that. And yes, I would be very grateful for a look at the DAR archives, although my own specialization is France, around the time of their Revolution. Still, I would be available to meet with you in Altoona at your convenience, anytime between now and the beginning of the semester.”
“Yes, I had heard about your specialization, Doctor Fost. Our collections have several manuscript letters sent to French soldiers in the American backcountry, they served alongside continental troops, you know. It would much please us if you could have a look at those. And I also have it on great authority that you may have an interest in the American Natives who lived in Central Pennsylvania?” She said just enough to let me know that she had heard of me, at least. Now I had to speculate. Was her informant the college or was it the Gannister clan? Because I could not imagine Miz Pepperhill holding a conversation with Pap Gannister, I decided to assume she had been in touch with Dean Fenton.
“I would like that very much. Please nominate a time and date, and thank you very much.”
“Would Tuesday at three work for you? We could meet here at the Adam Holliday Chapter Building, parking is free if you will just let the attendant know you are there to see me. We could walk over to Tuckahoe Community College for the meeting at five. I can hardly imagine that meeting taking more than an hour.” She said all of this in a seamless way that made the information flow through your brain without any friction. I wrote down, “Tuesday 3PM DAR Chapter Building, Altoona, 5pm Meeting at Tuckahoe CC.”
All at once, I realized she was talking about a meeting. “Meeting?”
“Oh yes, forgive me. At five on Tuesday we are holding our monthly meeting of the Lorraine Township Historical Commission. The second Tuesday of every month, usually. As our newest member, you will be asked to introduce yourself and I can give you a tutorial on the business at hand. We meet over here in Altoona because three of the five members work right here, either at the high school or here at Adam Holliday. Meetings will be very convenient for you, once Fall semester gets underway.”
“Oh. Okay. Sounds like I am on the commission? There’s no election or anything like that?”
“No, no election or anything like that. As the chair, I have been given the authority to nominate and interview new members when there is a vacancy. Your nomination will be reported to at the meeting of Township Supervisors tomorrow. You come so well credentialled that we should be delighted and proud for you to join us. It’s a rather informal affair, I am afraid. We work without budget, so anything we hope to accomplish we must find a way to pay for. Once a year we hold a raffle and dance, usually raising a few hundred dollars. So we are not talking about big expenditures. Still, in our little way, we hope to keep our fellow citizens informed about their nation’s wonderful history. And we look out for appropriate uses of public spaces. We do hope you will agree to join us in these efforts?”
There is no saying no to Miz Pepperhill. I called the overseers at Tuckahoe and let them know that I had successfully complied with the General’s wishes and reminded them of my home phone number. “Call anytime.”
On the following Tuesday, I drove into Altoona, met the archivist at the local DAR, had tea with Miz Pepperhill, and walked with her to Tuckahoe CC. On the way over she told me we would be considering an “emplacement” in commemoration of a deceased soldier to be located just north of the river near Williamsburg.
A cordial meeting opened with the announcement that I would be replacing General Cullport on the commission. I stood to accept my new responsibilities and then introduced myself to the other four members from the podium at the back of the room. Eight representatives of the community attended that evening, seven more than usual. General Cullport, in a rather bankerish blue suit, stood to relinquish his seat at the head of the room, we shook hands as we passed and that was all of the ceremony it took. I was a voting member of the Lorraine Township Historical Commission.
Miz Pepperhill got down to the business of the meeting, “presuming,” she added,” that we are all comfortable with the minutes from the meeting of May 15.”
Someone yelled, “Seconded, Motion for Approval By Acclamation.”
Someone else said, “Second.” All were in favor so the gavel banged.
“We have before us a request from the family of Command Sergeant Major Roderick Cullport, a recently deceased veteran of the Pacific Theater of World War Two. That request is made by the son of the deceased, General Sydney Cullport, a retired resident of Lorraine Township who has been an untiring member of this commission for the past two years. General Cullport’s request seems to be in good order, including the emplacement description, signed engineering prints, a survey of the new location, a deed of transfer from the United States Army to Lorraine Township, and a safety review by township engineer that will certify that the emplacement poses little risk of danger to the community. We will hold our public commentary tonight and I hope we can pass a resolution, especially given the quick turnaround needed if we are going to be ready for the 4th of July. So for the sake of good order, might we begin with a summary of the request by General Cullport?” With unforced military bearing, General Cullport marched to the podium in the rear of the room while the public turned in their seats to hear him speak.
“Good evening. My name is General Sydney Cullport, retired, a resident of Lorraine Township. Please allow me to summarize the proposal under consideration. First, let me underscore the timing requirements which have already been mentioned by the chair. If we work backwards from the 4th of July celebration, we have only three weeks from right now to have the foundation in place, the reinforced concrete base poured, hardened, and tested, the installation completed and the commemorative plaques installed. Normally a project like this would require many months. But we are fortunate in that most of the preparations are standard, things like the design prints and the removal of the engine and internal workings of the armaments, those things have already been done for us by the United States Army. The Governor and Congressman Rusher have both accepted our invitation to speak on the 4th. We are quite pleased that they are both available. And the town of Williamsburg has already agreed to incorporate the unveiling ceremony into its annual celebration. The parade will end just before sundown, the spotlights will come on, an honor guard from the Army Reserve will present arms as they remove the shroud from over the M19. Welcome and announcements are to be made by the mayor of Williamsburg. The Congressman will then speak, followed by the Governor of the Commonwealth. We are talking about a professional ceremony. You will be proud of the event.”
I was seated on the end of the row of commission members and wanted to seem engaged. But I found myself thumbing through the packet of minutes and old business that had been placed at my desk. It sounded to me like Lorraine Township was planning to hold some sort of ceremony for Williamsburg and it must have something to do with the US Army and Congress. Sounded expensive and military to me. But I was new here and still had no idea what he was really talking about. So I kept my mouth shut and, as much as possible, I tried to keep my eyes on the presentation.
He continued. “So it’s tight but we still have time. Let me proceed to the emplacement itself. The US Army has contributed one decommissioned M19 battle tank, one which may have actually seen service in my father’s unit against the Japanese. It is a single turret model with two 40 millimeter ack ack guns. Obviously, the guns will have been modified to prevent their future use as a weapon. One end is capped and welded with the bores filled with a reinforced concrete filler. Likewise, the tank itself will have no engine, just a rolling chassis The turret will be locked right after the ceremony and the key will be presented to the Mayor by the commander of the honor guard. The Governor’s Office has expressed interest in having his speech made from the commander’s position, in the open turret. These M19s are being used all over the country these days as historical markers, so the GSA is pretty good at getting them ready for years of low maintenance and safe use in public spaces. No sharp edges, permanent epoxy paint, that kind of thing. There is really nothing to do for decades. This particular tank was built right here in Pennsylvania, in the Berwick plant of American Car and Foundry Company, a rail car manufacturer. So in a way, it's coming home.”
By this point, I had caught up. They were installing a decommissioned battle tank. Okay, I thought. Not my thing but sounds like it’s too far along to avoid at this point. My job is to sit here and look interested. Okay, a battle tank. Wonderful.
I wanted to vote already and get on with my drive back to the cabin. But the summary droned on. “So the total cost estimate for the Township will be $410. The family of the Command Sergeant Major is contributing the bronze plaques which will be installed into the monument base. They should be ready within the next several days and I will pick them up and deliver them to the Township engineer, myself. One plaque will describe the history of the M19 and it’s role there in the Pacific Theater. The other plaque will be a tasteful and simple dedication to the career of Sergeant Major Cullport, who was from Williamsburg, but born north of the river so he was a Lorraine Township boy. The Army, through the Government Services Administration and by Act of Congress will be contributing the tank and bearing the cost of delivery to the site. Gannister Brothers Aggregates agreed to contribute the crushed gravel for the foundation and the concrete for the base. The $410 cost to the township includes the lumber for the concrete form and some electric wiring and spot lights. The work will be done by Township crew and hand finished with a european technique of skim coating crushed quartz followed by hand buffing by a man who lives in Irvingsberg. The family will be paying for his services. When he is done it will look like one big block of white marble.”
“Now,” he said, and took a dramatic breath to let us all know that all of that much of our consideration of his presentation was now behind us, “the important part. This is a military monument and a symbol for a community’s sacrifices on behalf of its grateful nation. I want you all to know that lots of thought has gone into the details of the symbolism. Just for a few examples: The tank itself is almost fifteen feet long. It’s a little over eight feet wide. The monument base will be constructed to the standard set forth in the GSA blueprints. So it’s footprint will have the same dimensional ratio as is found in the official United States Flag, 1 to 1.9. So we are talking about a large base, some ten feet wide by nineteen feet long. The base will be 1,776 millimeters tall, five feet, nine and a half inches tall, the height recorded on my Father’s enlistment records. Such a large volume of concrete will require six pourings, with a twenty four hour setting period between each pour. A Command Sergeant Major’s rank has six stripes, three up and three down. This monument will be situated on that hillside just north of the river overlooking memorial park in Williamsburg. It’s unused Lorraine Township property up there, geographic coordinates of 40.46-78.20, imagine if you just crossed the bridge heading north, it will be on your left across from Recreation Drive, such that the 40 millimeter guns will, when pointed directly west, begin a trajectory that will trace along the 40.46 line of longitude, precisely the longitude that will intersect with Central Japan on the very beach where my Father’s unit made its landfall, a few weeks after VJ day.”
I hoped no one noticed my forehead slap. In mid slap, I converted it to a temple rub. So there is a good chance that nobody noticed.
He went on for five more minutes before the Chair politely took advantage of another dramatic breath and thanked him for his summary. She said, “This being the meeting at which we receive public commentary, I guess I should ask if anyone has something to say before we vote?”
Hands went up all over the room. This was the moment when I first learned to truly appreciate the efficacy of a tactic once used by George Washington who was at the time knee deep in the Delaware River one morning just to the north of Trenton New Jersey. I call it the “sucker punch sneak attack.”
“Motion to limit public commentary.” It was the General, standing in the aisle by his seat, his hands still cupped around his mouth. Someone near me yelled, “Second.”
The crowd began to sound like a room full of high school students who had just been told that the prom was cancelled. The gavel knocked.
“I rise to a point of order!” A middle aged woman near the door stood as she said, “A motion to limit public comments at the meeting advertised as the opportunity for public commentary is a motion in restraint of democracy!”
Chair Pepperhill, did not actually use her gavel but she almost did, saying, “Tina, no one here has any intention of restraining democracy. What is your point of order?”
“Well,” Tina delayed. “Shouldn’t a motion to limit public comments have come from a voting member of the commission?” Tina was thinking fast.
“Point taken, Tina. Thank you. That motion is not valid as it comes from a past member.”
“So moved!” said someone on my side of the room. It was seconded and somehow passed, I guess.
I resolved myself to never participate in the discussions during my term on this historical commission. I would first need to learn something about parliamentary procedure. Soon, however, there was a line of people in line for the rear podium, each waiting for their four minutes to speak.
The first comment came from Miss Caroline Hurt. She told us she was thirteen years old and attended Williamsburg Elementary School. She said her dad always told her that anything you put up you are going to have to mow around. She shook her finger at the audience when she said, “going to have to mow around.” She sat down to warm applause.
I thought, valedictorian material.
Tina was next in line. Her objection was one that even I could maybe appreciate. “After all, it’s a battle tank! Melt it down and make something useful out of it. We could use some benches and picnic tables in the memorial park. It’s a park! Who wants to explain to their kids why we have a tank by the park? How about goal posts for the football field? Hoops for the basketball courts? Come on, a battle tank? Let’s trade it to the Japanese for a swing set and tell them to point it back towards Williamsburg.”
A young man in blue jean bib overalls and a tee shirt explained why he objected to the cost. “This money,” he pointed out, “it’s being paid by the Township. But the view’s going only to Williamsburg, which is,” he reminded us, “not even in the township. Th’ only place it‘ll be seen from’s Williamsburg.”
Someone else, a woman with some children waiting back at her seat, stood up too close to the mic and said, “So I guess we all have parents and grandparents. Mine was in the Navy. Can we get a submarine floated up the river and tied to the bridge with a plaque on it about my Pap? Or do you have to be a General?”
I could smell something burning in the front row. General Cullport stared down at his shoes so intently that the kiwi seemed to soften and run.
Another man who seemed to be with Tina came next. He was extremely nervous and read his comment from a piece of paper. “The $410 don’t include no cost of the electricity for no lights. Also, we’re going to need a gravel lane up there if we are going to get a flatbed in to unload the tank onto the base. Likely, we’ll also need a crane. And at least six loads of concrete, one for each stripe on his father’s arm, delivered by Gannisters’ triaxles I guess, and twenty ton of crushed gravel too. How do you think all of that’s going to get there unless we put a lane in? When the Williamsburg kids paint the thing pink who’s going to repaint it? Or do we just leave it pink? How’s ‘at sergeant going to feel about his big pink spotlighted tank up ‘er?”
There were several other good points, like the man with white hair and a long white beard who complained, “Now to be fair, the Township wouldn’t let me put up a cross with a light on it. I was going to pay the whole durn thing myself. Was going to put it out there on Nials Dash overlooking Williamsburg. But no, yun’ze was worried about bats and it was too close to the river for construction. Now all of a sudden you don’t care about bats and fish no more?”
A woman simply asked, “Why pink? I mean who ever heard of a pink tank?”
Finally, Reverend Watson Merit, from one of those big churches there in Altoona, stood to comment. Positioning himself at the end of the line, the last word, he waited and said something about bridges and ploughshares, opportunity costs of God’s green wilderness, and the obligation of national sacrifice. But I couldn’t tell if he was speaking in favor or against the proposal.
It didn’t seem to matter anyway. The motion passed, almost with unanimity. One member of the commission abstained, on the grounds that he had just been placed on the commission and had not yet read the full proposal. No one was pleased with his justification, but the other four positive votes were recorded and the gavel banged.
This conflagration, The First Battle of Irvingsberg, was now behind us. The ambush had been repelled and Cullport controlled the field. Logistical advantages and strategic momentum yielded the victory, as they normally do. Cullport would have explained it in terms of concentration of force, attention to detail, superior intelligence gathering, and to “knowing who he was and where he was headed.” Still, as he marched out of the room that night, the General could not muster even a nod in my direction. I learned then that in any epic battle for historical priority, abstention is just another form of betrayal. I said my polite goodbyes to everyone else and headed out over the hill toward Lorraine Township.
Thursday evening, a couple of days later, my phone rang. It was dark, I had been fishing and I don’t really know what time it was. But Paulette Marone, of the Dean’s Office of Tuckahoe Community College, had a message to relay to me.
“Doctor Fost, good evening. Dean Fenton wanted me to let you know that the school stands ready to support your contributions to the Cullport monument. Just to put your mind at ease.”
I remember thinking that I understood every single word. But when arranged in the particular order she had just used them I had no idea what it could have been that she meant. So I asked her to please clarify.
“Well, The Dean has been informed of the costs of the monument. He wanted you to know that you will be reimbursed.” She said this almost as if it was supposed to clear things up.
I tried to sound polite at least. “You are going to have to excuse me. But I am not sure I understand you. I think we are talking about the battle tank that they are putting on that hillside over Williamsburg. Right?”
“I think it’s being paid for by the Army mostly. Lorraine Township is paying to build the platform and the Gannister Brothers are contributing the gravel and concrete. Right?”
“I’m being told that that is not the way it is working.”
“How what’s working?”
“The funding. There is a legal problem with Township money being used to erect a private monument. And the scope of the project is significantly greater than its initial estimate.”
I reached for a stack of paperwork near the phone, a stack that I hoped might contain the old business package from the meeting the other night. Then I realized I must have left it in the passenger seat of my car. I would have to work from memory. “So Dean Fenton wants to pay for it?”
“Not exactly. He just wants you to be comfortable that you will be reimbursed. His office stands ready to support your engagement with local historical efforts like this one. Professor Fost, it’s just that...”
“Would you please call me Jonathan? Then I can call you Paulette. I mean, if it’s alright with you.”
“Why certainly. Jonathan. Here’s the thing. In order to make this work, the Township can’t use Township funds to benefit a private monument in Williamsburg Memorial Park, that park is not in the Township.”
I sat down and started searching around for a pen. “So this means the proposal we passed the other night is invalid? Does Miz Pepperhill plan on reconsidering it?”
“There’s no time for that. They have to get the concrete pouring underway if they are going to meet the July 4th deadline. You see?”
“Not really. What is it you need from me?”
“Well, right now The Dean only needs you to understand that the college is behind you on this.”
There was a pen marking the place in a Kafka novel I had been reading. I took the pen and lost my place. “Okay, so am I supposed to be doing anything different now that I know the school stands behind me?”
“Not right yet, Jonathan. I’m putting a few expense reimbursement forms in inter-office mail for you. But I want you to write down some budget account numbers, okay? You are going to put these account numbers on the reimbursement request. First, for the direct work on the monument itself and the concrete base and foundation, you’ll need receipts for any cash payments you make. But for that stuff use budget number 005-320-1220.”
I read back the number.
She continued, “Then for the costs of grading and tree removal for the site prep and the lane, you’ll use budget number 005-320-1235. But for the electrician and the electrical and lighting supplies, the pole, and the service extension, use 005-320-1227. ”
I heard myself saying, “Okeedokey.” But there was more.
“The Township will have to subdivide one small plot of that land on the hill there. There will be some legal costs, recording fees, that kind of thing. You are to use your travel expense budget for those costs. If you need to increase the limit on your travel expenses this year, Dean Fenton will approve the overrun. He’ll make sure Ryan Stark expects this.”
“Anything else?” I wondered.
“Well, there’s bound to be more. Engineering certifications, maybe some legal fees in the transfer of the plot to the VFW, that kind of thing.”
“Yes, the Veterans of Foreign Wars is going to actually own the plot and the monument. The Township will sell the plot to you at market value so as to avoid any appearance of inside dealings with Township property.”
“Okay, Paulette, just to make sure I am somewhat clear about this let me explain some of this back to you and you can correct me if I am wrong. The Township is going to sell a small plot of land to the VFW. Right?”
“Well, I guess they will be selling it to you for $2,000 for the real estate, with will include a right of way for the new lane. You will be gifting it over to the VFW, earmarked for this monument.”
“Why would the VFW not pay for the grading and the lane construction?”
For the tone of her voice, she might have been explaining the plot of the Goldilocks Story to a child, “The VFW won’t be paying for any of it. They will accept contributions and use those earmarked contributions to do the rest.”
“So who’s making the contributions, the college?” I wondered.
“No, Jonathan, of course the college can’t be directly involved in this. It’s a community outreach project which does not benefit our students or mission too much. We are in the business of education. But the school can’t tell its faculty what to do with their own money. So you are going to contribute to the VFW. You should check into it and see if there is a tax deduction in it for you.”
“Wait, I am going to contribute to the VFW? We’re still talking about the General’s battle tank aren’t we?”
“The memorial to Sergeant Major Cullport. Yes. Jonathan, I hope you understand that The Dean assures you that the college stands behind you on this. This won’t cost you a cent, you understand.”
By the time I finally got off the phone that evening, my head was scrambled. I sat down to find my way back into a novel I had been reading, but couldn’t pick up the thread. So I went to bed.
The damn phone was ringing. The sun was up so I couldn’t even complain too much. This time it was the General.
“Jonathan, it’s General Cullport. Good Morning.”
“Sydney. Nice to hear from you. It is a beautiful morning, isn’t it?”
“Yes it is. Doctor Fost, I am calling to let you know that we are tweaking the original proposal just a little, wanted to keep you abreast of the situation. As you must realize we are shooting at a moving target and must adjust.”
“Ahhmm, sure. Windage. Actually, very little of substance has changed. We are going to have to tweak the funding mechanisms a little, just to comply with local governmental regulations. But for the most part, we are still on track for the 4th of July.”
“That’s wonderful, General. Thank you for keeping me informed.”
“But the real purpose of my call is to ask you if you would consider performing a sort of Master of Ceremonies function on the 4th?”
“I am not very good at ceremonies. But what do you have in mind?”
“Well, Professor, you could be the first speaker, just a few minutes, to discuss the 4th of July, Williamsburg’s role in the war, you know, whatever. Then you would introduce the speakers. We have five other speakers lined up, including Maude Pepperhill, Dean Fenton, the 9th District Representative, I will say a few words, then the Governor will speak. Most of the speakers will be on stage with you. But the governor’s voice will be transmitted from a tanker’s helmet into the PA system. He will be up the hill, across the river, in the tank, you see.”
“Sounds like fun. Thank you for the kind offer, General. But I’m afraid I have plans to be out of pocket on the holiday.”
“Okay, I fully understand, Doctor Fost. You were the first person we thought of. If your plans fall through, I would hope you’d consider dropping by our 4th of July celebration in the park at Williamsburg. I appreciate your assistance and hope you have a wonderful trip.”
Ten seconds after he hung up, the phone rang again. It was Maude Pepperhill. “Good morning Professor Fost. I hope it’s not too early to call?”
“No this is perfect,” I said while looking ruefully out the window towards the lake. Near the shore, its mirror like surface exploded into a large tail walking fish, there just to torment me.
“Doctor Fost, I had a nice chat with Dean Fenton yesterday evening. He’s one of the nicest people. You all are very lucky to have him, you know.”
“Sure,” I affirmed, wondering if that was quite enough enthusiasm on my part for the question asked.
“I let him know about some of the technical problems we were having in getting this rush project underway, you know the Cullport monument? He came up with a quick solution that involves you. It’s pretty complex but I wanted you to know that you will never be out any money of your own on this.”
“As long as it’s legal and does not depend on my own rather depleted net worth, I would be happy to assist. But please know, I am a newly hired member of faculty. All of my liquid wealth has been devoted to getting me to this point in life and my salary does not actually start until the beginning of September.”
“Yes, we can certainly understand. That is quite normal. Dean Fenton devised a solution, and I think it will solve all of the problems. Several of us on the Historical Commission will front you the money, interest free, of course. You will make the payments and then submit the receipts to the college for reimbursement. Once you are reimbursed, you will repay those of us who contributed the funds in the first place. How’s that sound?”
That sounded okay to me. “So, my part is just to keep track of incoming funds and outgoing payments. The college is really paying for it all.”
She corrected me, “Well, all but the tank, its transport, the gravel, and the concrete.”
So the next few weeks seemed to be a constant blur of activity. Several times a day the phone would ring; I would confirm something with The General and then write a check from a special account that he and Maude Pepperhill kept funded for me. At the end of each week I’d submit an expense reimbursement form to the school. The Dean would see to it that those reimbursements were expedited. The funds would flow back into the special account.
On Monday, the second of July, we, Maude Pepperhill, Dean Fenton, General Cullport, and myself, we all met at that bank over by the campus in Altoona. There were some bank fees that the General paid out of pocket. But the account was closed and the funds given back to the original donors. We all shook hands, congratulating ourselves on our successes and went our separate ways.
Despite our self congratulatory demeanor, the Second Battle Of Irvingsberg was already underway and it happened mostly without us, certainly without me, anyway. By the next afternoon, we would begin blaming each other. But the truth is, we had already been outflanked.
The next morning was Tuesday, the third day of the month, my phone rang at nine-oh-three. This time it was an attorney with a title company. I recognized his name from several checks I had written. He had just been notified that the deed had been refused by the VFW. For some reason, they refused to accept my earmarked donation. Lorraine Township had already sold the property to me. The attorney had checked with them and the Township had no plans to refund the purchase price. “Until I am otherwise instructed,” the attorney explained, “Jonathan Fost remains the proud owner of a small parcel of very steep property,” approximately an eighth of an acre, having as its only attribute a twenty foot right of way. Not for the first time, I was a little confused. But I figured it would all work itself out. Just some kind of paperwork glitch.
I thought I’d call The General. But his wife, a female voice on the phone, anyway, told me he had just left home in a hurry. He was headed over to the monument site. So I called the Adam Holliday Chapter of the Daughters of The American Revolution and left a message for Miz Pepperhill. She could not be reached. My next call was to Paulette Marone. She explained that the Dean was not available at the moment but she would be sure he got the message. I decided on the best course of action I could imagine given the situation. I got out my fishing gear, packed a lunch, and then spent the rest of the day and much of the evening in a canoe out on Simon’s Blue Hole.
I didn’t have an answering machine on my phone back then. When I got back to the cabin it was dark, almost ten pm. The bass had been biting so my mind was elsewhere. I must have gone to bed early. Around eight the next morning I wandered over to the Canal Street Diner for some breakfast and some flirting with Gretchen Gannister, the cute waitress who worked in the place. We had been seeing a lot of each other, considering the hours she worked, anyway. But the diner was closed and then I remembered: it was the 4th of July.
I dodged some unusual traffic to get across Canal Street and the bridge. She lived in Irvinsberg proper back then. Gretchen answered my knock in a green silk bathrobe that was almost held together at the belt and otherwise almost slipping off one shoulder. She invited me in for coffee. That would be a long story, so let me just say that after the coffee we went over to see the parade.
The Williamsburg Independence Day Parade is a perfect example of what a small town can do on a shoestring for its own entertainment. I think it is probably why I never moved away. Or maybe it was the green kimono. The seventeen member high school marching band followed a tractor pulling the Huntingdon County Pork Queen. A flag team marched in front of her. Sitting ladylike in a prom gown on a bench straddling some hay bales in a wagon, the Pork Queen was surrounded by several dozen squealing pigs. Each time the tractor had to stop because the band went into mark time, spectating children would rush out to pet pigs through the chicken wire. The tractor couldn’t move again until all children had been herded back to the curbs and accounted for. It took a while.
Then came several cars with dignitaries whose names I didn’t know. One convertible was piloted by a proud father who kept suggesting that his daughter, the Homecoming Queen, might not want to sit up on the trunk, “Couldn’t you wave from the seat, Darlin?” Dad didn’t realize it, but Gretchen knew she sat up there because her escort, the Homecoming King and Fullback sitting politely in the seat, now seeming the paragon of appropriate behavior, had a horrific reputation among her friends for his wandering hands. Worse, his breath was terrible!
Then there were competing groups of baton twirlers, a karate school, the Williamsburg Line Dancing Cougars, (a group of mostly grown women wearing country and western attire, red checked blouses, big white cowboy hats and shiny white boots with metal taps.) Gretchen promised me that she would never EVER get the urge to join the Line Dancing Cougars.
Shriners in little cars and motor scooters went by with others in a banjo choir which rode by in an open float. They were playing, “The Girl I Left Behind Me” and hitting it pretty well.
Every old tractor, be it a Ford, Farmall, Deere, Massey, or International, if it could run strong enough to pull a wagon, it was also in this parade, as was every available fire truck in the county. We followed the Junior High Marching Band zipp-ee-dee-do-daah-ing past. I think the trombones were on different pieces of music,and the bass drummer was nowhere near the beat. But the band director had a cow bell, so they seemed to step in time anyway. We all did in fact. I was having a blast in spite of myself, singing about a “mister bluebird on my shoulder, if the truth means actual, belief must be a counterfactual.” But I guess I didn’t really know the lyrics and nobody ever gets my jokes anyway.
As we turned a bend, pulled along by the end of the parade, we moved into what Williamsburg calls its Memorial Park. I had not yet discovered what the park was there to memorialize. But we followed the crowd into the outfield of the little league baseball fields. I scanned the hillside. And there it was, unbroken hillside. Nothing else. Just trees and rocks and more trees.
Gretchen must have seen my questioning expression because she wondered if I was having some kind of a fit. Just then a military helicopter roared overhead. Candy was being dumped on the crowd from its open bay doors. Through her cupped hands, Gretchen screamed, “Next year’s a gubernatorial election! He’s the anti-establishment multi-millionaire democrat who is running to defeat the machine. Pap hates him.” She smiled.
As the helicopter landed in the football field, I scanned the ridgeline over the river bank thinking what a great job must have been done in camouflaging the veil over the monument. The Governor got out of the aircraft and jogged toward the bridge, waving to the crowd the whole way. We moved over toward the river. Finally, I saw it. Right there by the bridge, down here in Williamsburg not up on the ridgeline, sat what looked like a small white block of marble decked out with red, white, and blue bunting. The base came up to about knee height, not nearly the enlistment height of the Sergeant Major. On top of the marble block, behind several chairs and a podium, was something that looked like it may have been a battle tank hiding under an oversized blue handkerchief.
From the early speeches, you wouldn’t suspect that anything at all was amiss. The DAR was delighted, the College happy to assist, (the Dean would run unsuccessfully for the state legislature several years later, but we could not have realized that at the time), the Family was greatly honored. And Williamsburg “never imagined that it would have a treasure like this one, a relic of the war that brought peace and prosperity to the world, right here to help memorialize its Memorial Park.”
Even the US Congressman representing the 9th District and therefore a republican, --Gretchen elbowed me and called him, the carburetor of the machine--, found it in his heart to sit quietly after his own speech and even assisted the democratic Governor in pulling the cloth from over the tank.
But In the middle of that effort, our congressman returned to the mic for a moment. “I want to put you at ease about what you are hearing out of Washington these days. Our President is cooperating fully with the many investigations into this Watergate witch hunt. The whole thing will be over shortly, but as sunlight shines into any new space there will be a few moments when your eyes have to adjust. Just squint and wait. It will all be okay.” Then he returned to help remove the veil from the tank. The crowd roared.
The Governor’s speech wandered a bit. Part of the problem may have been that his helmet would have ruined his carefully sprayed comb-over, so they finally had to find him a hand held microphone. But he still gave his speech from the turret. And the crowd loved it as well.
At one point, as the Governor described the many layers of symbolism constructed into the monument, he pointed along the twin gun barrels saying, “And if you could fire a few bullets in that direction, 90 degrees or exact west, your shots would fly over the beach in Japan where this very tank may have found its beachhead, shortly after VJ day. The Command Sergeant major would have been very proud.”
The M19 Light Tank, With Its Twin 40 MM Anti-Aircraft Modification. This photo was taken during the tank's green phase.
Few noticed, I did, but few others noticed General Cullport’s face at that moment. Just as the governor said he was pointing West, but really pointed to the East, --technically speaking, the gun barrel pointed east so the barrel was off compass, explaining why the Governor might call that direction, “exact west.” The tank and its base had been permanently installed with the gun pointing in the wrong direction, but I had not realized that quite yet. All I could see was the General’s face. The General’s face turned red, then maroon, finally it settled into a bluish black reddish shade for the duration of the ceremony while a few of the more alert members of the crowd began to laugh.
Near the front some wise ass yelled, “Westward Ho!” There was more laughter. The Governor took it as a gush of patriotism or manifest destiny. He just smiled and pointed at the heckler.
Then a woman somewhere screamed, “Go West Young Man!” More laughter.
We were all standing around the taped off monument, a crowd that included at least three bands, clowns, cowboys, children, majorettes, one still twirling right behind me despite the crowded conditions. An older man in front of me held a banjo in his left hand while he rubbed the copper colored grease from his face with a handkerchief in his right hand.
Someone yelled, “Paint er pink!”
I leaned into Gretchen and began to recite poetry into her ear:
“By the rude bridge that arched the flood. A parade on July’s fourth unfurled,Here the embattled farmers stood,And sent a forty millimeter shell the wrong way around the world.”
Since I didn’t really know where I was going with the poem, I allowed myself to be drowned out by the applause.
Once the crowd started to thin out, we made our egress as well, walking the bike path back to Irvingsberg. Two men in front of us seemed to be enjoying a shared joke,
“Glad he’s not running no war!,” one said.“Bombs away. Oops!” the other replied. That trail we were on, the rails-to-trail project that replaced the tracks a few years ago, goes out along the river, around some electrical junction thing that looks like a metropolis of high voltage wires and buzzing noises. Then the trail takes you right into Irvingsberg. As we made our progress, Gretchen said something altogether odd. “Don’t feel too badly. You know, that General might have the US Army and the Historical Commission. He might have the Township and Williamsburg and the Government of the Commonwealth. He might have the DAR and the College and the Congress of the United States...”
It began to dawn on me that she was making allusion to the monument and sounding much too well informed. So I started listening closely. “But,” she said, “Pap has the gravel and the concrete. If Pap wants that tank to be in the park, it’s going to be down in the park not up on the hill.”
The next day at breakfast I would hear it from the old demon's own mouth. Pap Gannister saw me at the counter there in the diner and called out, “Young feller,”
The already silent diner became even quieter as I turned to face his table. Guess I knew by then that I was the only one who Pap Gannister meant by young feller.
“Don’t take it too durned hard,” he said. “This is central Pennsylvania. All threats come from the east these days. If you’s tuh trace those big guns’ direction, you’ll find it aims directly at the State House in Harrisburg but it might just as easily of been pointed ‘t the rotundie of the Capitol buildin’ over there in Washington D.C. I might of decided either way.”
And once again I remain flabbergasted at this notion we have of that thing called History. We do it, History that is, to explain the present. My ownership of a small and almost useless piece of Lorraine Township real estate as well as the presence of that battle tank in the park, usually drying from its most recent midnight paint job, normally pink, both have historical explanations. Yet the narrative of the First and Second Battles of Irvingsberg, if told properly, relies on willful departures from the so called written record.