'It's pretty moving to think that each light is a life'

December 04, 2005|By ANDREW SCHOTZ

WASHINGTON COUNTY - The 4 p.m. deadline was less than an hour away, and not all of the 700 candles were lighted.

Volunteers from St. Timothy's Episcopal Church in Herndon, Va., could only talk if they worked at the same time.

They covered the field off Dunker Church Road, at Antietam National Battlefield, on Saturday in teams of two while trying to light the 700 candles they were assigned.

The first person made sure each brown paper bag on the ground contained a candle for light and sand for weight. The second person used a small igniter to light each candle's wick.


Ken Vierra didn't remember how he heard about the volunteer opportunity nine years ago, but he's been bringing the church's youth group ever since. It's a service project, one of several they do each year.

The St. Timothy's crew of about 30 people - roughly half youths and half adults - was one of many preparing and lighting luminarias.

Organizers of the battlefield's 17th Annual Memorial Illumination reported that more than 1,000 volunteers helped with the 23,110 luminarias, as the candles in bags are known.

On Sept. 17, 1862, the Civil War's Battle of Antietam resulted in 23,110 dead, wounded or missing soldiers.

Across the road on Saturday, members of Boy Scout Troop 433 from Olney, Md., and Troop 1323 from Laytonsville, Md., took care of their rows of luminarias in about 20 minutes.

Then, someone told them about a group that couldn't set up its appointed field because a volunteer broke his leg.

Could the Scouts step in and do more? They did.

After 10 years of lighting luminarias in one place, the Knights of Columbus from Jessup, Md., were switched to the area surrounding Dunker Church.

Tom Lauth, the group's lecturer, or education specialist, said it's an appropriate place for the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic men's fraternal organization.

Lauth said the group heard about the volunteer opportunity about 12 years ago from a story in The Washington Post. They came the first time with about eight helpers; this year, they had about 30.

The Knights took their work seriously, moving brown bags 3 inches that way or 4 inches that way, to make sure the luminarias were 15 feet apart.

Lauth said most of the Knights served in the military, so a Civil War remembrance is meaningful.

Rick Allison, a Scout district commissioner who accompanied the two troops, said chaperones took six Scouts to Bloody Lane, the site of a particularly grueling, deadly part of the Battle of Antietam.

The boys laid on the ground there, then got up as if they were retreating. Allison said the boys were surprised at what soldiers would have gone through.

"It's pretty moving to think that each light is a life," St. Timothy's volunteer Craig Dubishar said as he helped his crew.

Just then, one of his bags caught fire. He rushed to stamp it out with his boot, explaining that, as a Boy Scout, he's always prepared.

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