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Posted: February 21, 2010 12:00 a.m.

Fading photographs

Baseball's spring training opened this past week. Pitchers and catchers reported to camps in Florida and Arizona, and Grapefruit and Cactus League games will begin soon.

No matter how cold the winter, spring training signals that warmer weather and better times are just around the bend.

During the current school year, I've served locally as a substitute teacher. Recently, teaching an American history class, I mentioned the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Milwaukee Braves. I was met with blank stares and more than a little disbelief when describing venues such as Brooklyn's Ebbet's Field, the Polo Grounds, and Tiger Stadium in Detroit. There were raised eyebrows at my tale of the Brooklyn Sym-phony Band which roamed Ebbet's Field, even though the son of a longtime bandsman, the late Lou Abbracciamento, occasionally e-mails me.

My experience is that not all students are history fans; nor are they all sports buffs. But, when focusing on the day's lesson, I was dismayed to find no mention in the textbook of significant battles fought in Georgia during the Revolutionary War. My dismay heightened when students, over half claiming to be native Georgians, candidly admitted to being unaware of those episodes.

So I painted with a broad brush and introduced them to Nathanael Greene, Francis Marion, and battlefields which can still be visited: Clark's Hill in Lincoln County and Kettle Creek in Wilkes County, among them.

As a former social studies teacher, once a consultant to Georgia's Department of Education and a member of multiple textbook adoption committees, I'm always irritated at how much important history is left out of textbooks and, thence, absent from classroom discussions. Much of the problem stems from the need to consolidate centuries of information into a narrow stream of data deemed vital by unseen entities attempting to mate what is taught to ubiquitous standardized tests; the results are used by bureaucratic windbags attempting to prove that schools work.

Whether a kid learns anything relevant is unimportant. What matters is for test scores to make things look good.

Be that as it may, the same kids who were suspicious that the Dodgers played in Brooklyn were startled that I'd attended the 1968 World Series in Detroit's Tiger Stadium. My younger brother, Rhee, and I were hosted by our uncle, Ernie Harwell, the Tigers' legendary radio announcer. We had no idea it would be our last trip together of the 20th Century.

Our next excursion occurred just last week, some 42 years later. Neither Rhee nor I had ever been aboard a World War II aircraft carrier, so we planned a visit to USS Yorktown, moored at Patriot's Point in the harbor of Charleston, S.C.

I've written before of the first USS Yorktown (CV-5), the gallant lady so badly hurt in the Battle of Coral Sea that the Japanese wrote her off as sunk. But after being towed to Pearl Harbor and repaired in an astonishing 72 hours, she then helped turn the tide of the Pacific war at the epic Battle of Midway before succumbing to overwhelming injury.

USS Yorktown (CV-10) was commissioned in 1943 to replace her namesake. She saw major battle action, survived 22 Kamikaze attacks at Okinawa, and went on to earn battle stars in Vietnam, as well. She sits now, stuck in the mud at Patriot's Point, an aging, fragile reminder of an incredible generation of Americans, the likes of whom we shall never see again.

Visitors quickly realize that more than a single day is needed to truly do justice to the ship. Four museums are housed aboard her, including actual World War II and Vietnam-era aircraft which flew from her decks. There's a Medal of Honor Museum which, of itself, is worth the trip.

But the ship herself is simply awe-inspiring. How people designed her, built her and sailed her into harm's way is nearly incomprehensible. The engine room, alone, staggers the imagination with its maze of pipes, fittings, shut-off valves, electrical conduits and telephone-pole-sized propeller shafts.

Sadly, USS Yorktown won't be with us much longer. Her hull is rusted through in places, her flight deck is crumbling, and the ranks of World War II fast carrier veterans who serve aboard her as volunteer guides grow thinner with each passing year.

"Any nation that does not honor its heroes cannot long endure," wrote Abraham Lincoln.

Even so, another baseball season beckons eternal hope. Perhaps some of those students who never heard of Ebbet's Field, who didn't know the Dodgers got their name from Brooklynites who perpetually dodged trolley cars, who never knew of Nathanael Greene whipping the British on the red clay of Georgia's Revolutionary War battlefields, will make a trip to Patriot's Point in Charleston harbor and visit a gallant lady before all we have left of her are fading photographs.

Nat Harwell is a long-time resident of Newton County. His columns appear regularly on Sundays.


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