Behind “battery 223”
Built as part of the Harbor Defense Project by the Army Corp of Engineers during the early months of the Second World War, Battery 223 served as a gun emplacement strategically located to protect the Delaware Bay from possible invasion.
Completed in 1942 and located in Cape May NJ, the bunker was once 900 feet inland, surrounded by earth and sod so that it would appear to look merely like a hill from the sea or air. Built of reinforced concrete, with roof walls 6 foot thick, it was intended to be a bulwark against tyranny, containing 4-155mm heavy artillery guns and manned by naval gunnery crews who spent hours on end scanning the horizon for enemy surface ships and submarines.
This place connects Wenzel in a very tangible way to the conflict that engulfed his grandfather who fought in the European Theater of Operations (ETO) as part of the 3rd Battalion 358 Infantry—known as the Tough ‘Ombres. Since his passing in January 2014, Wenzel has been confronted with a history of a seldom discussed aspect of his grandfather’s life through a series of letters written during the war to his brother who he no doubt felt more comfortable disclosing his ordeal to than to his beloved wife.
The images of Battery 223 were created five months before his death and have become an ideal canvas for his hand-written sentiments that Wenzel has superimposed on the crumbling bunker walls like haunting graffiti.
Here etched into the surfaces of a fortified structure designed to defend against the same enemy forces he was fighting overseas, his thoughts echo a forgotten past hinting at deeds of valor and sacrifice in an unromanticized tone, epitomizing the feelings of many combat soldiers whose dreadful memories remain despite the erosion of the passing of time. For example, he writes from a “foxhole somewhere in France,” under constant shelling and often remarks that he “shan’t ever be able to erase from [his] mind” what he had witnessed. Perhaps this is why upon returning home, he never spoke of the heroic deeds that won him a Bronze Star.
At the same time, in these letters he repeatedly expresses a longing for the war to end and the peaceful comforts of home. Throughout his letters, he is always curious to learn what people back home think of the war. And rather than dwelling on what he has experienced, he is eager to learn of his loved ones’ daily affairs, with his commentary focusing on the hope of being reunited with his family where he might someday be able to take his son (my father) to a carnival. Here too can be discerned the depravation of the march by his repeated reference and request of comfort food.
But his sentiments transcend the individual and remind us that although freedom is often forged from conflict, the sacrifice is anything but abstract; rather it is very personal because the marks, scars and PTSD always remain. Moreover, what is revealed here is difficult for Wenzel to reconcile with the peace-loving, kind and generous man who was his hero through life.
Finally, as this concrete bunker quite literally is being swallowed up by the sands of time, these images serve as a monument to the futility of the fact that history only repeats itself. While human tragedy is often self-inflicted, no one should ever have to endure such unspeakable horrors.
About the Artist
Photographer Gordon R. Wenzel has had his work published and exhibited throughout the United States and Canada. He currently serves as an Adjunct Professor in the Art Department of Susquehanna University teaching four credited photography courses.
Last year, Wenzel’s work was exhibited at both the Art Association of Harrisburg and the Blough Weis Library at Susquehanna University. In 2012, his series “globanomics” was featured in the Invitational Exhibition at the Art Association of Harrisburg. Wenzel was selected as the featured artist for the 2011 Lewisburg Arts Festival. And in 2009, Wenzel’s photography was exhibited in Susquehanna University’s Lore Degenstein Gallery in the show Transformations. In addition, a piece from the series Destiny Manifest was selected for the juried show Images 2009 at Penn State University’s Robeson Gallery and was awarded Honorable Mention. In June 2010, Wenzel collaborated with artists Marshall Harris and Chad Andrews to create an audio-visual installation piece in Williamsport entitled “Industriata.” Also in 2010, Wenzel’s series cArt 37 was exhibited in Williamsport’s Pajama Factory show “Photographers at Work.”
His work appeared in the book Photos that Inspire, published by Photoworkshop and found in bookstores across the country. In 2005, one of the images from the series Destiny Manifest, was featured in Direct Art magazine in connection with an exhibit at the Limnar Gallery in New York City. In 2002, Polaroid Inc. feature Wenzel’s work in the anniversary edition of P Magazine—which was the corporation’s international showcase of creative uses of their films, published in five languages and sent to 50,000 professionals, creative and art directors worldwide.
Wenzel’s work was shown at Toronto’s Gallery Arcturus in conjunction with the 2007 Contact International Photography Festival. This was his third exhibition in Toronto for the Contact Festivals. In 2002 his series gyroKinetic and in 1999 Spatial Relationships were exhibited in Toronto galleries. In 2004, Wenzel received First Place Award for Gridlock in the 76th Juried Exhibition of the Art Association of Harrisburg.
His work is included in the permanent collections of both the Lore Degenstein Gallery, Selinsgrove PA and the Sherman Hines Museum of Photography, Liverpool, Nova Scotia. His images from the series globanomics were recently purchased as a part of a permanent art installation in the new Susquehanna Health tower at the Williamsport Regional Medical Center.
Gordon R. Wenzel holds a Masters of Photography degree from the Professional Photographers of America. He is owner of Impressions Photographic Studio + Gallery in Lewisburg specializing in commercial, advertising and annual report photography for the region’s largest corporations.