This is the sixteenth essay in our monthly series “Finding Antietam – A Guide’s Story.” Each month, we’ll feature the story of one of our guides and what sparked their interest in Antietam and the Civil War and why they became an Antietam Battlefield Guide. Antietam Battlefield Guide Marty Pritchett shares his story this month.
Being a landlubber from Kansas the Coast Guard may not seem the first choice of military service. But there I was on a Coast Guard cutter patrolling Baltimore Harbor in the mid-1980s. There was an occasion where I was to escort a brand new Naval combat ship as it sailed through the Chesapeake and Baltimore Harbor for the first time much like I had done on the opposite coast when the Queen of England came to visit San Francisco a year earlier. Crewing my cutter was myself and a contingent of sailors that were from our local reserve for a force multiplier. I knew some, others I did not but they were well trained, and being reserves were from Maryland, a state I will come to find out I knew very little about. At about 2 am, while conducting safety patrol, one starts finding just about anything to talk about to keep aware and awake. So what had been bugging me all day finally made its way from my mouth. I asked, “Does anyone know what the name of the ship we are guarding means?” Antietam….anyone? It didn’t take but a second that I was given a rather vigorous and animated description of the bloodiest day in American history told by Maryland sons. When they were done swabbing the deck with me they pointed me in the right direction to visit the battlefield and I was bitten for good…But my Coast Guard career was only half over and I was sent to other parts of the country until I retired from the Guard from my last assignment in south Texas. Taking a position with the State of Texas environmental response division, I set my life on post-military retirement autopilot and worked on my Civil War interest. That’s when 9/11 occurred. My reaction to this horrific event was typical to most in that I wanted to do something but did not know what exactly to do. What I didn’t know was the Coast Guard opened an office in Martinsburg, West Virginia tasked with providing Maritime Domaine Awareness and were looking for candidates with experience to man the office. That was right up my specialty alley so I applied and left Texas for West Virginia. Antietam is just 12 miles from my office along with other battlefields nearby; I found myself in buff nirvana. I then became a volunteer at Antietam and after about 8 years of that decided to go for my guide license. So that is how I ended up at Antietam and becoming a guide.