By MICHAEL HILL Associated Press
STILLWATER, NY (AP) – Military veterans who painstakingly dug and sifted tufts of earth this month on an Independence War battlefield in New York City did more than uncover artifacts drawn from muskets and cannons.
The meticulous fieldwork gave veterans – some with post-traumatic stress disorder and physical injuries – a familiar sense of camaraderie and mission.
So while archaeological digs in Saratoga National Historical Park have produced evidence of the Second Battle of Saratoga, which turned the tide, the teamwork behind the finds also benefited veterans.
“We can all come together, share your battle stories, your deployment stories, and share your love for the story of what you’re digging,” said Bjorn Bruckshaw, of Laconia, New Hampshire, during a break during ‘a recent hazy morning.
Bruckshaw, 38, was part of a three-person team who spent the morning digging small holes in places that trigger metal detectors, then searching through the damp clumps to find … old nails, mostly .
But the self-described War of Independence fanatic loved it.
Bruckshaw, an Army veteran injured in an Iraq bombing, is among 15 veterans helping dig through American Veterans Archaeological Recovery, an organization that helps military people make the transition to the civilian world. . Although the group primarily deals with disabled vets, their focus is on what participants can do in the field rather than injuries, said Stephen Humphreys of AVAR.
“In the military, you are trained to be on time for everything,” Bruckshaw said. “So the transition to the civilian world is a little more difficult for a lot of people. For me it was a little difficult to suffer from TBI (head trauma) and PTSD from my combat injuries. But you have. support groups like these. “
National Park Service archaeologist William Griswold said the team were looking for artifacts that shed more light on the Battle of Bemis Heights, or the Second Battle of Saratoga, on October 7, 1777. The US victory over the soldiers British and German help persuaded France to provide crucial support to the struggle for independence.
The battle also browned the heroic CV of future traitor Benedict Arnold, who suffered a leg injury and is commemorated here with a monument to his boot.
While maps and newspaper accounts of the time describe the troop movements during this fateful battle, the artifacts can identify the movements and provide a reality check.
For example, historians know that the British in Saratoga loaded their cannons with tin cans filled with iron marbles, or “crate bullets,” which spread like shotgun blasts. The locations of the buried iron balls found here are used to more accurately infer where the cannons fired from.
“It’s a good way to check out a lot of these textual sources because in the fog of battle people often make mistakes or embellish things,” Griswold said.
Fieldwork was first conducted here in 2019, under the supervision of the National Park Service Regional Archeology Program. The American Battlefield Trust is a sponsor. Work was halted by the pandemic last year, but teams with shovels and metal detectors were back this month and ending this week.
“Partly it’s a matter of the pursuit,” said veteran Megan Lukaszeski. “You never know what you’re going to find. You could dig and you couldn’t find anything, or you could dig and find the most amazing things. “
After retiring from the Air Force, Lukaszeski went to school to study archeology. The 36-year-old from New York has previously participated in AVAR excavations to recover remains from WWII crash sites in England and Sicily thanks to the group’s partnership with Defense POW / MIA Accounting Agency. She plans to earn her master’s degree and pursue a career in archeology.
For others, work is more an opportunity to learn about archeology while having fun.
Former army colonel Tim Madere has previously searched for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. This month, the 68-year-old sifted dirt through a screen looking for artifacts and shared laughs with other workers. The Savannah, GA resident said he’s gotten over most of his PTSD, but believes you can never get rid of it entirely.
He sees this kind of fieldwork as a good way for people to manage it.
“You hear their stories and then you tell yours so that we kind of get a better appreciation for what all of these Americans have done to protect the United States,” he said. “So it’s good to see other people, and they’re doing well. “
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