Just over my left shoulder and rising above the family pictures sits a wrinkled and faded grey kepi. A quick glance at this object reveals an irregular shaped hole – a bullet hole a visitor asks? Is this some priceless artifact from the Battle of Gettysburg they wonder? Alas, a closer inspection reveals a set of tin crossed muskets which ride above a black plastic bill, a version of the Stars and Bars set squarely on top. A look inside the sweat soaked cap and you will discover the “Statue of Liberty” Made in the USA label. These tangible component pieces will lead many to the conclusion that this is no priceless artifact but a simple souvenir.
To the owner, whose youth is wrapped within its worn fabric – this is so much more than a souvenir. As dear as any object in our wonderful museum collection, it was bought by my mother while we were on a visit to Gettysburg National Military Park in 1963. Age has dimmed my memory as to which of us was the original owner – although the “large” label points to my brother Pat – he of the bucket head! Often, as I look at this kepi, I remember my brothers and how we fought many a battle in the woods and fields of our youth. In fact, it is likely that we fought over who would wear the kepi as we visited the fields of Gettysburg, where 100 years before brothers had fought and died. The irony was lost on me then but not the feeling that Gettysburg was a special place.
Amid all of the other memories wrapped around the kepi, that visit, and my youth is one that I did not witness but can see as clearly as if it were happening in front of me today. I can see my mother, finding the kepi; worn, dirty and likely left for many years crumpled in the back of some closet. I imagine her thinking back on her own memories of that visit to Gettysburg in 1963, remembering the boys who wore it that have long since moved away, started their own families, creating their own memories. I see her rescuing it and carefully wrapping it in tissue paper, finally storing it where it would one day be discovered and awaken memories of Gettysburg, family and a mother’s love. A souvenir to some – a priceless keeper of memories to me.
2013 is the 150th anniversary of the battle, I encourage you to come to Gettysburg and revisit your memories or create some new ones with your friends and loved ones.
By Brion Fitzgerald, Deputy Superintendent, Gettysburg National Military Park, December 6, 2012
Brion FitzGerald is the deputy superintendent at Gettysburg National Military Park, and also serves as the park’s chief ranger. He has worked at Gettysburg since 1995. His first job with the National Park Service was in 1978 at Great Smoky Mountains National Park as a back country ranger. After that he worked through a succession of park ranger jobs at Joshua Tree National Park, Gulf Islands National Seashore, Saguaro National Park, Everglades National Park and Assateague Island National Seashore.
He holds a bachelor’s degree in park management from East Carolina University and has served as an enlisted member and officer with the U. S. Coast Guard Reserves for 22 years. He is a Commander in the U.S. Coast Guard Reserves.