Tribute to Brian C. Pohanka
Address Given at Manassas Battlefield
June 24, 2005
By Patrick A. Schroeder, Historian
We gather here to remember and pay tribute to our friend, comrade, and colleague.
Brian endured his individual battle, solaced by the fact—at least to Brian—that many a Civil War veteran had endured worse—he drew strength from those soldiers, and emulated those strengths throughout his life. Brian was not just a talker, but a doer— and at so many levels—restoring his historic Tower House home, his gardens, writing and preservation. He was also a virtual encyclopedia. For every question I had, Brian had a ready answer.
The sheer number of people whose lives Brian significantly touched is simply amazing, as is attested to here today. He was so giving of his time and was always willing to give someone a hand with their project to make it better. Brian was my mentor, as he was for many. He instilled upon me to be diligent and thorough with research. He was meticulous in his research—and this is one of the reasons it took so long for him to finish his 5th New
York Regimental History. He didn’t want to leave any stone unturned. Other things that were important to Brian was honor, tradition, and respect—respect for people, sacrifice, and history. My first event with the 5th New York was when I was a naïve, but eager 14-year-old here at Manassas honoring the heroic stand and sacrifice of the 5th NY in
August 1862. Too young to carry a musket and not knowing the drill, I was given the colors to hold while the unit demonstrated the bayonet exercise, and in a short movement of the company the flag clipped a tree branch and I received a scowl from this bearded, and at the time, menacing looking fellow. This was my introduction to Brian Pohanka. I soon understood that that scowl was out of respect for the flag and for what was not correct—and a 14-year-old carrying the National colors was not.
Undoubtedly, the veterans of the “Old Fifth” and the Army of the Potomac were ready to welcome Brian with open arms as a brother and comrade. He has finally got to meet the Duryees, the Winslows, Warren, Hancock, McClellan, Miles, Custer and Chamberlain, . . . as well as the men in the ranks of the “Old Fifth” like Thomas Southwick, George Mitchell, Alfred Davenport, and Butch Sapher.
And to the modern day 5th, I know one of the things he wanted to do more than anything
else, was to attend the unit event at Gathland State Park on South Mountain at the end of April. Despite his condition, he felt it his duty to be there! But alas, he was too weak. However, we all know, he will always be at our events in spirit.
Brian’s plight and situation reminded me so much of the battle with cancer that U. S. Grant went through—both enduring constant pain, yet diligently working on their books—Grant finishing his memoirs to support his family, and Brian finishing his regimental, an everlasting tribute to the soldiers of the 5th New York, Duryee’s Zouaves.
Even in his last days, Brian would smile upon a humorous recollection or an episode of “The Little Rascals.” And who will forget his personification of the German World War II ace Adolf Galland, some Romanian Guards from the filming of “Cold Mountain,” or a German or Irish Civil War soldier?
Brian always appreciated a good joke and played along with them. After the release of the film “Glory,” a favorite of mine was, while in the ranks after receiving stern orders from Captain Pohanka, I’d call out as he walked away, “Dat dat dat Capt. Pohanka, he’s a harrrrrd man.” There are many incidents from our numerous road trips. On our ill-fated trip to the 125th Anniversary Re-enactment of Shiloh, we had 10 re-enactors
stuffed into a mobile home that became dubbed “The Jitney to Shiloh.” A little jingle evolved as that trip progressed—Brian spontaneously sang it for a few of us at his 50th
party this past March. It
went like this, “Roll that Jitney down, got to get down to Shiloh
town. It’s snowing like hell, I don’t feel well, and I don’t
want to sleep on the ground.”
Brian believed that the best way to preserve the memory of the Civil War Soldier was to preserve the land that they fought on. He would give an annual address on Remembrance Day at Little Round Top before the statue of G. K. Warren, the 5th New York, and a
gathering of descendents, admirers, and park visitors. Joshua Chamberlain was among his favorites to quote. Chamberlain once addressed veterans at the Gettysburg battlefield with this, and it is fitting to all battlefields, and remembering Brian today—I know he cherished these words:
“No chemistry of frost or rain, no overlaying mold of the season’s recurrent life and death can ever separate from the soil of these consecrated fields the life blood so deeply commingled and incorporate here. Ever henceforth under the rolling suns when these hills are touched to splendor with the morning light, or smile farewell to the lingering day. The flush that broods upon them shall be rich with the strange and crimson tone, not of the earth, nor yet the sky, but mediator and hostage between the two.
In great deeds, something abides. On great fields, something stays. Forms change and pass, bodies disappear, but spirits linger to consecrate ground for the vision place of souls, and reverent men and women from afar, and generations that know us not and that we know not of, heart drawn to see where and by whom things were suffered and done for them, shall come to this deathless field to ponder and dream.
And low the shadow of a mighty presence shall wrap them in its bosom and the power of the vision pass into their souls.”
Patrick A. Schroeder
In Loving Memory of
My dear friend & colleague,
Brian C. Pohanka
|© Schroeder Publications|
Brian & Patrick working on the film, Glory, circa 1987
Schroeder as Pall Bearer, June 24, 2005