Thursday, June 16, 2005

In Memoriam Brian Pohanka

Brian Pohanka and I were acquaintances. We met the first time some years ago at a function in Gettysburg, and then again a few years back at another of the many Remembrance Day dinners. He in his full blue uniform, and Cricket in a gown, to look at them you thought automatically, “That’s the handsomest Civil War couple I’ve ever seen.” But it was more than that, Brian brought panache to the role of re-enactor, and an enthusiasm to everything he did.

Brian first came to my attention as one of the “talking heads” on the History Channel’s Civil War shows back in the mid 1990s. He brought a knowledge of his subject to the small screen, and infused youth and all his youthful exuberance into a Civil War awareness movement that was just emerging from the stodginess of the mid-twentieth century. Indeed, at that time most of the world’s awareness of the American Civil War was still based on the histories that grew from the Lost Cause mythologies. But the timing was right for things to start happening when that mythology was exposed as such, and the more realistic histories of the American Civil War began to be written. And Brian was right there, helping to lead the way.

Unknown to me, at the time, was the fact that by 1995, Brian had already put many years into the Civil War preservation effort, geared at preserving Civil War battlefields and their surroundings. Brian was a quiet leader in that field. He did not seek the limelight, but worked quietly, yet successfully, in the background, building coalitions, starting preservation societies, and getting people organized and started on the road to fund-raising.

Brian was a leader among leaders, who grasped life by the horns and lived it his way. Intelligent, kind, and gentlemanly, he was what so many of us aspire to be: a true hero in all he did. He is gone from us far, far too soon.

I will remember him as I saw him last, standing in full uniform at the Dobbin House in Gettysburg, his arm clasping Cricket close to him, and his other arm raised as he proposed a toast to his beloved 5th New York Volunteer Infantry, “…To Duryea’s Zouaves! Huzzah!”.

Ladies and Gentlemen, charge your glasses, please. To Brian Pohanka! Huzzah!



Randy said...

To Brian and all he held dear.

Thank you and God's speed.

sue trout said...

I like to imagine that the entire 5th New York, the original "boys," were lined up en masse to receive Brian with open arms yesterday morning. No one fought harder for them than Brian did.

If only we could be half as courageous as he was in this last fight of his, or accomplish a fraction of what he did in his 50 years, then we will have done well. He'll be missed by so many.


Anonymous said...

What led to his untimely demise?

GettysBLOG said...

Brian succumbed to the ravages of cancer at the age of 50.

Seamuss said...

I was present that night in the Dobbin House, it was my first year as a member of the 5th NY, and I was way pleased to be there . Brian and Cricket were fairly luminous that night, everyone had a wonderful time , and I was looking forward to many more such evenings in the company of people I enjoy and admire. Sadly, we will never see another night quite like that one, but I will never forget it , and agree with your earlier poster, that when Brian crossed over, he was met by the full compliment of 5th officers and men, welcoming him into their company. I cannot view it any other way..
God Bless the Captain , and his Lady, and as he always signed off -
Jim Shockley
Co A
5th NYDZ
Po'keepsie Boys

Sue said...

I too was at the Dobbin House that same night, and I don't think I've ever laughed as much as I did at the stories told by Brian and a few others during the dinner. As you may recall, Brian told a hilarious story about an episode with the 5th NY when he thought he probably set the wrong example for a young member of the company. He was a natural and gifted storyteller, even when poking fun at himself. That truly was a very special night.