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February 05, 2007

Portfolio: Camp Roberts, California, Part III

Sunrise this morning at Camp Roberts, Calif., taken with the Casio EX-S600, 1/50, f2.7.

I did another stint at Camp Roberts, helping troopers heading into combat plan for the aftermath of battle, preparing wills, advanced medical directives, and powers of attorney.

When I was done for the day, I roamed the post, camera in hand (or in pocket).

Today began with a spectacular sunrise; I stood in the cold outside the chowhall, almost forgetting to take the picture, so stunning was the vista.

A day earlier, I entered one of the many chapels dotting the base, ramshackle on the outside, seemingly unchanged since the 1940s on the inside.

As I stood in the cool shadows, sunlight streaming through the tall windows, the sounds of modernity faded away as the door swung shut behind me. I paused for a moment in the vestibule, then stepped into the main hall.

The dust motes danced through the shafts of light; it was easy to imagine khaki-clad GIs filling the pews, soon to board the waiting trains for Europe and the Pacific.

As I walked down the aisle, the worn floorboards, covered in the ever-present tattered burgundy linoleum, creaked beneath my boots. I paused, studying the rails that many a Catholic had knelt upon, head bowed in prayer, hearting pounding as he sought G-d's blessing and protection in the trying, dangerous days ahead.

Something caught my eye, and I took a closer look.

The boards were scuffed and scraped, worn from more than 60 years of use, and on the rail in the background, dirt, rocks and gravel from the boots of the GIs who'd sat in these pews. How long had these pieces of earth lain upon the wood? Whether they were from the boots of a trooper heading to Iraq, or from GI Joe, there was something about those pebbles that seemed to capture the essence of the footsoldier, the weary, plodding march that lead to victory -- or death.

I can't help but wonder if these men made it to VE-Day, to VJ-Day, survived the heat and bitter cold of Korea; the war in Vietnam -- and at home.


When I'm done drafting the wills, the powers of attorney and other plan-for-the-worst-hope-for-the-best paperwork, explaining them to the soldiers, I tell every trooper, "Good luck; I'll see you when you get back," shake his hand and send him on his way.

And I take a moment in that chapel and say a prayer for them all, warriors past and warriors present.

Posted by Mike Lief at February 5, 2007 02:57 PM | TrackBack


Wow, beautiful piece Mike. A great story that leaves me wondering about all those boys who prayed in the chapel.

Posted by: Kamal at February 6, 2007 09:57 AM

Thanks. Everyplace I go on base, there are reminders of the soldiers who passed through Camp Roberts on their way to battle.

Late in the afternoon, away from the still-used portions of the post, I listen to the wind blow, the empty barracks emitting the occasional creak, and it feels like I'm surrounded by -- drowning in -- the past.

The buildings are falling to pieces, but the men who left and never returned are eternally young; the increasing decay all around reminds me of how much time has passed, how much they've missed, since they last assembled for morning muster.

Posted by: Mike Lief at February 6, 2007 10:10 AM

Mike, that's incredible, words and pictures. Thanks.

Posted by: Anwyn at February 10, 2007 10:19 PM


I loved the photo's, I was at Roberts when I was put on Levy for FRG. Do you ever go by HLMR? I was there in the mid to late 70's.



Posted by: John Blackburn at February 25, 2007 01:43 PM

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