The Truth About the War Memorial to Fallen Journalists

Fact & Fiction

Mr. Reese is a Burkittsville, Md.-based writer and historian. He is the author of Sealed With Their Lives: The Battle for Crampton's Gap, Burkittsville, Maryland, and the forthcoming High-Water Mark: The 1862 Maryland Campaign in Strategic Perspective.

"Senior Bush administration officials and media executives gathered here yesterday at the only national war correspondents memorial to unveil a plaque in memory of four American journalists who died covering the war in Iraq and the war on terror. It was the first time since the Civil War that US journalists who lost their lives covering military conflicts were honored here." -- Boston Globe, 10/2/03

Upon returning from vacation, I was besieged with alarmed inquires regarding the dedication of a commemorative plaque at Gathland State Park in Crampton's Gap on South Mountain, near Burkittsville, Maryland. I then learned that this plaque is just the first of several planned to enshrine newsmen of America's various wars.

This plaque memorializes four journalists who lost their lives during the "War on Terrorism," what continues as America's contentious intervention in Iraq. The project has come to speedy, unimpeded completion, without formal review by the Maryland State Forest & Park Service, Maryland Department of Natural Resources, or the U.S. National Park Service, which holds administrative responsibility over the War Correspondents Memorial Arch at Gathland. Nor was review of the site's historical sensitivity taken into account. The whole affair strikes me and many others as clandestinely ushered into the fast lane.

Having devoted nearly 20 years of my life to research and dissemination of the site's history, I've been strongly urged by colleagues and others to voice the incongruity of this act. Regardless of one's views on U.S. entanglement in Iraq, the Crampton's Gap battlefield is an ill-chosen, inappropriate, and seemingly cynical locale for such a purpose. When the Athens (Georgia) Historical Society approached Maryland's park service in 1991, for installation of two historical markers descriptive of their state's troops in the battle, a 10-month period of rigorous review was needed to finally achieve approval. Two additional markers were turned down and subsequently installed at alternate Georgia locales. I was the historical consultant for the society.

With remarkable speed, sponsors of the Iraq War plaque hastily chose the Gathland site through tenuous association with the War Correspondents Memorial Arch, erected in 1896 in Crampton's Gap by Civil War newspaper correspondent George A. Townsend, who had purchased 110 acres of the gap for his personal estate in 1885. Townsend was an eccentric, shameless self-promoter. He wrongly imagined that the old battlefield, used as grist for one of his maudlin novels, coupled to his anomalous Arch, would propel him to greatness and immortality. The War Correspondents Memorial Arch in Crampton's Gap

It did nothing of the kind. Townsend's overall contribution to journalism was judged so marginal, his name does not appear in the Biographical Dictionary of American Journalism. After his death, the estate fell to ruin, changed hands several times, and was finally deeded as a derelict site to the State of Maryland for $10 for use as a historical park. The Arch itself had been deeded to the federal government during Townsend's lifetime. Gathland State Park opened in 1958, its title hybridized from Townsend's pen name "Gath" and the estate title, "Gapland."

Since that time, the Townsend epoch has been allowed to smother the battlefield itself. Fought on Sept. 14, 1862, the battle for Crampton's Gap embodied Union Gen. George B. McClellan's direct strategic response to the finding of the legendary "Lost Order," the misplaced copy of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee's campaign plans. Thereafter Lee stated three times that the fall of Crampton's Gap was the primary cause for his retreat to Sharpsburg, where the famed battle of Antietam occurred three days later. Twenty-three years later, Townsend acquired the mountaintop land for a song, suffocating the site with his own ego. No one knows better than I how difficult it is to repair historical damage wrought by this conceited, self-indulgent novelist.

Townsend's intellectual dishonesty is perpetuated when modern motives feed on his fantasies. His Arch was erected solely to the memory of Civil War newsmen and himself, not present-day journalists. It's a highly personalized snapshot in stone, a poor platform for annexation of modern corollaries. The Arch bears 157 names, compiled with unmistakable personal bias. Thirty-three of them cannot be identified. Twenty-two have no business being there at all, they being Townsend's personal friends, large contributors to the project, or persons with whom Townsend wished to ingratiate himself. Names were compiled through an imprecise, word-of-mouth method of random collection conducted by Townsend and his network of veteran news cronies. As a result, many names are absent, incomplete, misspelled, or misstated. Several prominent Union and Confederate journalists do not appear at all, overlooked or, in the latter case, omitted altogether due to Townsend's bitter anti-Southern bias.

Townsend willfully corrupted a pivotal, nationally significant battlefield for his own ends while no one was looking. Should we now allow yet another intruder to compound this distraction, thereby building a generational pyramid of impropriety at cross-purposes to hallowed ground? Is Crampton's Gap to remain a dumping ground for ulterior motives? Do we no longer honor the combat dead of earlier wars, descendants of whom routinely visit, in deference to those very few who died while reporting (often erroneously) their exploits?

Further, some will make a convincing case that hasty installation of this Iraq War plaque, at an obscure state park with contrived motivation, amid a seemingly endless and inordinately costly conflict, is a surreptitious attempt to validate an unjust war.

Be that as it may, the Crampton's Gap battlefield has no official historian. As its unofficial chronicler and principal advocate, I'd like to suggest an obvious means to mutual ends. The four journalistic lives lost in Iraq are worthy of remembrance, more fittingly at Arlington National Cemetery with Ernie Pyle and others of the World War II- era, where a monument to fallen journalists already stands. It is far more logical to honor them there, and the visiting public would anticipate such a memorial locale.

In counterpoint, the time has long since passed when the Townsend epoch should take a back seat to the historical event which drew him here in the first place, a battlefield directly leading to Antietam and President Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation. To this end, a bill renaming the park as "Crampton's Gap State Battlefield Park" was crafted by State Delegate Richard Weldon for submission to the 2003 Session of the Maryland General Assembly. Though postponed due to restructuring within the Dept. of Natural Resources, the bill remains poised for introduction when the 2004 Session opens in January. Support for this bill should be voiced to: Delegate Richard B. Weldon, Jr., District 3B, 13 W. Potomac St., Brunswick, MD 21716, 301/834-4119, e-mail: Richard_Weldon@house.state.md.us. Without a name change this battlefield, like many before it, will ultimately disappear, victim of ignoble, competing interests.

As a long-term Crampton's Gap guide, I well know that Civil War tourism is the site's primary draw. By retitling the park with its correct, key identity (asking no additional funding), growing visitation from outside the region can more easily find a poorly marketed site, understand and appreciate it in clear historical context, and prioritize its multiple epochs in proper context. Moreover, calling a spade a spade will head off any future designs incompatible with its fundamental significance, arresting once and for all Townsend's misuse of the site.

In the 1960s, an ill-conceived plan to convert Gathland into a "Newspaper Hall of Fame" just barely avoided total rape of the Crampton's Gap battlefield through lack of funds. This project also propagated on the presence of Townsend's ill-placed Arch. There's nothing inherently wrong with the concept, only the location. Townsend's epoch is without question an inescapable adjunct to the site, but one strictly secondary to the battlefield. To emphasize journalism at Crampton's Gap would be tantamount to labeling Gettysburg as "Eisenhower National Military Park." The Eisenhower Farm enhances, but does not supplant the battlefield. First things first.

The Iraq War plaque to fallen journalists will inevitably find an appropriate locale. Crampton's Gap still struggles to claim its own, its sanctity hopefully preserved for posterity. Both are worthy of note, but mutually exclusive, each viewed and upheld in separate context. However noble the intentions of Iraq War plaque sponsors, they failed to consider those who fought and died long before war journalism had any lasting impact. Certainly, they should reconsider their judgment, preserve Crampton's Gap inviolate, and take their project elsewhere.

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Jennifer K. Cosham - 12/28/2005

Meh. Didn't work.

This will get you to our main National Regiser search page. A search on "Antietam" should get you there.


Jennifer K. Cosham - 12/28/2005

First of all, thank you so much for clearing up the Gapland/Gathland thing. That had me puzzled for ages.

Oddly enough, I was at Crampton's Gap today, photographing the historical markers on the south side of the arch for a website the Maryland Historical Trust is compiling. The site is actually for those white metal roadside markers, but we might include "non-traditional" markers like these as well. They were the four brown "C.P.1" to "C.P.4" markers, if you know what I'm referring to.

I got my photos and GPS readings on them, and then wandered around getting photos of the arch and the Lodge, etc. Just checking to make sure all the odd signs (I noticed the two Georgia ones) weren't on my list of missing markers, and I saw a little one, almost hidden behind the stone wall across the street from the arch. I went over, took a look and said, "Oh my God!" The plaque reads, "In Memory of Those Journalists Who Gave Their Lives Reporting on the War on Terrorism. Daniel Pearl--The Wall Street Journal--Afghanistan--February 2002; David Bloom--NBC News--Iraq--April 2003; Michael Kelly--The Atlantic Monthly--The Washington Post--Iraq--April 2003; Elizabeth Neuffer--The Boston Globe--Iraq--April 2003."

Now, what struck me about this was that there were four names, and that the plaque was clearly erected c. April 2003 or shortly thereafter. You ask why here and now? Well, I'm not entirely sure why at Crampton's Gap other than the publicity from tourists visiting the place looking to commemorate War Correspondents. Likely hoping to provoke the same "Oh my God!" that I voiced.

But the more relevant question is "Why now?" (or "then," rather). My guess is that it was a demonstration that Major Combat Operations were over, and we could expect these four to be the only journalists to lose their lives. Also, this particular location, being a War-related historical site, might give visitors the impression that History had considered this a true war, in the same sense that the Civil War was one.

Just my guessin', though.

I'll be in Burkittsville tomorrow, actually. Got more markers to photograph.

By the way, I don't know if one can follow links on this comments page, but here goes.

This is the url of the Maryland Historical Trust's web page for Antietam. Please do let me know if you see any glaring errors. At work I'm at jcosham@mdp.state.md.us


Timothy J. Reese - 11/2/2003

Regarding commentary recently voiced about the new plaque at Gathland S.P., as well my op-ed piece apertaining, it appears many have missed the point.

Views on the "war on terrorism" certainly deserve full airing. However, in this instance the plaque was the subject in question. Why here? Why now? What could this possibly have to do with an anomalous memorial to Civil War newsmen? The REAL question still stands. What is to be done with the state-owned Crampton's Gap battlefield at Gathland, a pivotal campaign site overshadowed by Townsend's War Correspondents Arch? It's time others weighed in on this subject besides myself, a mere voice in the wilderness.

To reiterate my op-ed piece, support for re-naming the park should be directed to Delegate Rick Weldon as above directed. Thanks for caring.

Gerry Regan - 10/13/2003

Thought-provoking point. There are a few interesting parallels. I think there was an unseemly hastiness attached to this current day ceremony. We are talking about journalists here and not the Gettysburg battlefield where thousands died, after all. It's ironic that you cite this, in light of Reese's assertion that the Arch itself distracts national attention from the battleground underneath. As to the terminology "War Against Terror," I find any hint of comparison between the Civil War and our invasion of Iraq quite absurd. That's a new thread.

Dave Livingston - 10/13/2003

John Moser is correct, Lincoln should not have given the Getrtysburg Address.

As one who family, then in Tennessee, paid dearly, with four of five boys, including my father's grandfather, being KIA whilst fighting to preserve the South from Northern aggression I yet have no love for the tyrant Abe. Nor can I appreciate the adoration he draws. After all, he outlawed slavery only in the South, not in the North as well, merely as an economic weapon of war against our own people.

Dave Livingston - 10/13/2003

In agreement with Gerry Regan there appears to be an unseemingly rush to "create this tribute," but seemingly for different reasons I oppose this monument. As with many of us who fought in Viet-Nam I came to (& yet do) despise journalists. One of several reasons why was their tendency of carelessness in creating noise & visible motion in the field in exposing their presence to the enemy & thereby drawing unwanted attention to us soldiers.

The N.V.A. & V.C. were dsimply agarian reformers & not our enemy? When someone is shooting at me with the the deliberate intentionm of killing me, he's no friend. The sissies sitting in their socialist enclaves called academia may debate the virtues of the war all they want, but when my precious hide is put at risk, the tome for debate has passed. :-)))

Dave Livingston - 10/13/2003

Of course, there's a polical agenda at play here.

The whimpering that no WMD were discovered is a red herring. Massive and therefore adequate evidence has been unearthed that Saddam's gov't was actively seeking to develop nuclear & biological (the only one that scared me) weapons in addition to the well-established chemical weapons (WMD?) it had used against its native kurds & against the Oranians during their eight-year-long war, 1980-88. The U.S. should sit back to await the first blow from WMD? Sit back passively & let them be developed & then used against us, before we act to defend ourselves? Anyone who thinks that lives in a different reality than I.

In any event, the actual geo-political purpose of the conquering of Iraq was to impose our military power upon the ground into the Middle East in order to persude governments in the region (& elsewhere) that the U.S. would not tolerate governments passively sitting by whilst al-qaeda drew recruits & finances from within their borders--that if the various governments didn't rein in al-qaeda activities within their borders, we'd do it for them. For Pete's sake, have folks already forgotten & therefore dismissed 9/11?

John Moser - 10/13/2003

Only that the speech--used to consecrate the battlefield as a national cemetery--was an explicit statement of the justice of the Civil War. Of course, there was (as now) a noisy minority who were claiming that the war was unjust, and wanted to bring it to an end. Should Lincoln have, therefore, stayed away from Gettysburg until such time as there was a national consensus in favor of the war?

Josh Greenland - 10/11/2003

"...You missed the part about where administratively, strategically, and operationally it _is_ a part of the war on terrorism. That's not a statement of opinion on my part. Rather, it's a statement of fact about how the administration and the military is treating the Afghan, Iraq (and Horn of Africa, and Philippines, etc etc) operations as all parts of the same strategy, whether the public believes that is justified or not."

How is the US treating the war against Iraq as part of any anti-terrorism campaign? There were no WDMs, and Al Qaeda wasn't there. So just what is the US military doing in Iraq that is reducing terrorism? Sounds like it's a matter of opinion on the part of you and the administration.

Herodotus - 10/9/2003

For all your excitement over whether or not the war in Iraq _ought_ to be part of the war on terrorism, you missed the part about where administratively, strategically, and operationally it _is_ a part of the war on terrorism. That's not a statement of opinion on my part. Rather, it's a statement of fact about how the administration and the military is treating the Afghan, Iraq (and Horn of Africa, and Philippines, etc etc) operations as all parts of the same strategy, whether the public believes that is justified or not. Consequently, identifying these four journalists as ones who died in the war on terrorism is not misleading, but rather a consensus description for binding their sacrifice together under a concept that the public can understand...they all died covering the military operations that resulted from the aftermath of the attacks on September 11, which opened the war on terror.

Gerry Regan - 10/8/2003

I don't follow your logic here.

John Moser - 10/7/2003

"Well, the language used in the plaque, cited above, does provide an implicit imprimatur on the Iraq incursion. Tributes such as this should represent a consensus, and not a controversy."

By this logic, Abraham Lincoln should never have given the Gettysburg Address, given that there were many so-called "Peace Democrats" who wanted to reach an accommodation with the Confederacy.

cassandra - 10/6/2003

Pray tell me, where in Arlington Cemetery is this alleged memorial to fallen journalists and Ernie Pyle?
There is a plastic and rusting one constructed by USA Today-Freedom Forum outside the now closed Newseum in Arlington, but I don't know of any in Arlington Cemetery. I doubt there is one there.
FYI, Ernie Pyle is buried at the Punchbowl in Hawaii. Given the visceral hatred of the Pentagon towards the news media (including Pyle), it's the closest they have ever gotten to acknowledging the war contributions of the media.
I think this site was chosen for the memorial because there are no others thought to be appropriate for reporters.

Gerry Regan - 10/6/2003

I have to confess misgivings about the plaque for a number of reason, most already spelled out in Mr. Reese's commentary.

First, I am appalled by the plaque's description of the U.S. invasion of Iraq as part of a "war on terrorism." There was an unseemly rush to create this plaque (start to finish within a few months), an extraordinary one in light of NPS' vaunted disinclination to move quickly on proposed changes or additions to historical landscapes within its charge. Were strings pulled by the administration and its GOP allies in Maryland and in NPS? Without doubt. Why? Well, the language used in the plaque, cited above, does provide an implicit imprimatur on the Iraq incursion. Tributes such as this should represent a consensus, and not a controversy.

Further, if what we are seeing in Iraq and Afghanistan is to be christened by historians as "The War on Terror," then what happens when a new war on terror erupts in the next generation? Will it become, War on Terror II? Unfortunately, generations looking on this plaque in years to come will be able to see it for precisely what it is -- a heart-felt (by some) tribute tained by partisan politics (as embodied by the language I cite above). I find great irony in this -- that these journalists, unable to defend their association with this verdict, have been used in this way.