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Memorial illumination honors Antietam casualties

December 05, 2009|By BRIDGET DiCOSMO

SHARPSBURG -- For the past 20 years, the memorial illumination ceremony -- when the hills of Antietam National Battlefield glow with luminarias placed there in remembrance of the battle's casualties -- has gone smoothly.

"People would drive through and they would be in awe," Battlefield Superintendent John Howard said Saturday, when the 21st Annual National Battlefield Memorial Illumination presented a little more of a challenge, thanks to a steady snowfall that made it nearly impossible to keep candles burning.

Despite the snow, the illumination still drew a crowd, including more than 1,200 volunteers who spent the day braving the elements to set up the luminarias.

Even if only one candle kept burning throughout the night, the intent of the ceremony and the efforts of the volunteers were what counted, Howard said during a ceremony inside the visitor's center.

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"Of all the events we do on the battlefield, I think this one brings a smile to the faces of the soldiers," Howard said. "It's pure and clear, and only has one purpose, and that's honor and remembrance."

Bill Blonkowski, a volunteer participating in the illumination for the 14th year, said he frequently has friends and family ask him why he continues to attend the ceremony, since he's seen it so many times.

His answer is always the same, he said.

"As dusk descends and I gaze about the battlefield and see thousands of flickering candles, without exception I have the same reaction year in and year out, and a chill climbs my spine," Blonkowski said.

Howard said two candles were added this year to the 23,110 typically glowing to honor the battle's missing, killed or wounded.

One of them represented a man who recently died in Afghanistan.

His mother learned about the illumination and asked Howard if they would mind adding an extra candle.

The second candle is "for every other soldier who's put themselves between us and those who want to do us harm," Howard said.

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