As the Sun Goes Down
Photo Narrative of a Journey Through War
by Shannon P Meehan CPTMeehan@yahoo.com and A.J. Meehan, Medium Edition
ALL PROCEEDS FOR THIS BOOK ARE DONATED TO WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT, IN SUPPORT OF OUR TROOPS WOUNDED IN ACTION.
COMMENTS TO: CPTMeehan@yahoo.com
This is the story of one soldier's journey through war. Leaving love and peace with a family back home, he struggles to create this very same type of atmosphere in a new, dark and void battlefield overseas.
Bearing the coldness of bitter nights filled with violence, success for him and his men looks bleak.
But a light sparked by God and fueled by himself, his soldiers and his family, could prove bright enough to overcome imminent death, and truly learn ... just how to ... come to life . . .
All photographs contained in this book are genuine and not file photos. All were taken by me, with exception of a few taken by fellow Soldiers or my wife.
TO READ ALONG WITH PHOTOBOOK:
The first few pages of the book introduce WAR. Briefly, they explore the devastations and horrors that are the reality of war (the bloodied and beastly tank roaming the land with its dark shadow stretching over the buildings, war invading families and everyday lives of civilians, some innocent, some not, but all of this leading to a desolate land).
The pages following introduce me and my Soldiers preparing to leave home (and our loved ones), and enter the war previously introduced. We are happy, and we are pictured proud to do conduct the mission (p8-p9).
The book then transitions into me leaving my wife behind to go fight for our nation. On the steps of Philadelphia's Art Museum, we say goodbye (p10), and by the next page I am gone. As I leave her, alone, I pose the question, how I will be able to endure this war without her?
This question is answered in the following pages. And once I have made my peace with leaving, my men march off to war, we march off into chaos (p16 representing us marching off into the chaos on pg17).
The next few pages characterize our arrival and our new living areas for the next 15 months. They range from curious and humorous, to cold and desolate (p20 showing the rigid desolation of the land we now inhibit with its hard, concrete lines and barren field and barbed wire in the foreground, and p22 showing the humorous contrast of a warm and quaint coffee house sign resting on a stiff, concrete barrier).
The next page transitions to us, settled now in our new homes, ready to begin our fight (patrolling the country). The Soldier is pictured on the far left of the page, looking forward (right), to the following pages that are the battles he will endure.
The book shifts to us out in the streets, patrolling the land. In these pictures, you can see the stark contrast in the two cultures (masque in background with Soldier in foreground, our earth-colored humvees driving one direction and their brightly colored cars driving the opposite way, old man sitting vs young statue-like Soldier standing, etc). One page (p28) showing our differences even in similarities with their idea of a biker gang, their idea of graffiti, their idea of junk food, and it also illustrates the irony in me traveling all the way overseas to find a child wearing a Philadelphia Eagles sweatshirt, and me pictured in my HS wrestling shirt. Quite out of place.
The following page conveys an experience all too common with us. One morning we work endlessly to build up a school and the infrastructure of a town, and later that day we are forced to fight and destroy infrastructures in that very same town. From building to destroying, all in a day’s work.
This leads to Soldiers demonstrating their frustrations and the vast gap between what we want and how we feel (illustrated on p31).
Next, we move to the destruction both the town and us Soldiers are forced to endure. From debris on the body of a tank to buildings blown apart, we see the destruction up close. The last picture includes a little girl in the foreground with a crumbling building behind her. This is done to transition into the next section of the book.
Here we view pictures of children living through all of this, almost forgotten. We see families real brothers and sisters caught in a war, with families torn (seen on p42 with the varying reactions a family has to our presence), and some lost (seen on p43 as a little child squats, looking out at us alone with a electrical pole resembling a cross in the background).
It is now dark. The sun is setting, and with it goes our sanity, our goodness. Enduring all that we had, our souls enter the dark madness and become absorbed in the chaos. I sit in reflection (p47) on all that we have had to do, all the violence and destruction, capturing of enemy and I wonder while trapped in the darkness of night.
With a picture of the sun setting (p48) I explain my fears of how to endure this and break out of this evil darkness the fading sun has left us in.
My fears are then answered, as Christ reaches down for me, for us (p49 with his hand in the foreground and eyes staring into the viewer).
Following this is a picture of a tree, dead as it is surrounded by darkness, contrasted on the next page with the same type of tree, fresh in the morning light, coming to life as our mind and souls can. How we are able to is conveyed in the following pages (p52-p55, our training, roots and most importantly remembrance of our loved ones, and how my wife at home is with me through the sign I have hanging over my bed oceans away).
With our spirits revived in the bright sun shining, proving the night’s end, we continue our progress in a positive light. Adapting (eating their food), showing compassion and humanity (interacting with the children vs standing statue-like in their presence as earlier pictured). The following pages portray us, teaching their police, handing out supplies and continuing to protect the people, their flag (p56-p59).
The results of such progress are seen next, as the pages illustrate successful businesses open and children selling products, all out of danger.
On p60 we see the colors and light beginning to seep back into their flag, as their pride and confidence begin to take back the once chaotic land. And the results of this are seen on p61.
As my Soldiers and I prepare to leave, we reflect back on all we have experienced. The children see us off, thankful for what we have done.
On p64 I reveal the impact the experience has had on me, and how the children I have photographed will always be with me (as you see them surrounding me in a picture I took of myself through a mirror). On the next page are pictures of my Soldiers intermingled with the people of the land.
My family anxiously awaits my arrival home (p66-p68, my dogs sit window-side waiting, and rush to me, one even pulling at his own leash).
I return. The family joyously reunited (p69). I reconnect with my wife under the lights of Philadelphia. While holding her, I remember a quote from an old film (seen on the next page set against a picture of the moon and stars). The quote speaks volumes of truth both to us holding each other at that moment, and to all of humanity, including what and who I have experienced for the last 15 months. Humanity, we are all one . . .
Again, the sun ascends behind the church I attended over seas, and it rests in the sky, shining down on all that is good. And as the track marks lead off into the bright sun (my journey ending) I hope the viewer can see the goodness that followed the sun’s return. I hope all viewers can be a part of its goodness and endure the trials of life.
Following this are pages with many pictures. This includes pictures of family (my mother with her dog, and my father serving our country in Korea next to me posed the same way), the armored vest plate I was blown up in (and the holes it now has from the shrapnel), posters and decorations I had in my room over seas, the fiery leaves of a tree coming to life, a photo of all my cousins at our wedding, me sleeping in my tank, dreaming of our favorite, family-owned hang-out in RP McMurphy’s , my wife sauntering down Broad St in Philadelphia, me hugging my Soldiers, me showing off my Philly pride atop my tank, the Mary emblem I wore to protect me during my deployment (reading: Mary conceived without sin, pray for us who have recourse to thee), the name of a VMI professor that has helped me turn my experience into a book to be published in the fall (Beyond Duty by Polity Publishing), and a quote I wrote on my wall over there, taken from a work called Benito Cereno. Special thanks to my father, who took the picture of us under the lights in Philadelphia, my sister-in-law, Leah, who taught me much about photography, 1-12: the unit I was deployed with, and Wounded Warrior Transition Unit: the unit I am now in as I continue to recover from my injuries. These thank you notes are set against the background of my old Virginia Military Institute duty jacket.
The back cover is a picture of the building my Soldiers and I lived in that was in the middle of the city, surrounded by foreign homes and streets. In it, the viewer can see the harsh lifestyle we were forced to endure. But through it, our flag survives, not unscathed, but still bleeding strong with color. The title on cover page and the phrase on the back together: As the Sun Goes Down, We Shall Remember Them . . .
ALL PROCEEDS FOR BOOK DONATED TO WOUNDED WARRIOR PROJECT IN SUPPORT OF TROOPS Being an urban Irish Catholic from the northeast and a graduate of Upper Darby High School, I continued my education in quite a different atmosphere by attending the Virginia Military Institute; a southern school rich in its own culture and heritage. Through the rigid military lifestyle and tough academic load we bear came a great brotherhood with many of my classmates. Upon graduation I became an officer in the US Army's Armor (Tank) Corps. I was in the 1st Battalion, 12th Regiment of the 1st Cavalry Division. I was enjoying my duty as a platoon leader, my life as a married man to my love, Amanda Meehan, and 'fathering' our three puppies. In Oct of '06, I was deployed to Baqubah, Iraq (Diyala Province) for 15 months where my life and outlook on life would forever be changed. What my men and I endured is a story not heard nearly enough as we watched a city crumble before us, and fought to save it .
As the Sun Goes Down (11x13) Published June 10, 2009