UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Twenty-eight elaborately decorated canteens sit nestled in a bed of sand. With bright colors or muted tones, copper barbed wire or broken tops, each canteen offers a glimpse into the experiences of the soldier who created it.
The canteens are part of “Resettle,” a dual exhibition on display in the Edwin W. Zoller Gallery on Penn State's University Park campus, which includes installations from School of Visual Arts students Andrew Storck and Luke Fasano. An opening reception for the exhibition will be held from 5:30 to 7 p.m. on Nov. 13.
During his time in the Air Force as a munitions and weapons system technician in Alaska, Storck carried missiles and loaded bombs onto the fighter jets that protect the United States' northwest border. And by his side was a trusty companion that could tell quite the story — his canteen.
In 1900, Lt. Col. Philip Reade delivered a “Report Upon Army Canteens” to the Army inspector general that highlighted the antiquated nature of the 19th-century water vessels. The report led to a redesign of the canteen and designated it as a standard-issue item that every enlisted soldier in the U.S. armed forces would receive on their first day of training.
Reade wrote in the report, “It is submitted that a man will retain things for the preservation of his own life longer than he will retain things for the taking of life. Hence he will hold on to his provisions longer than retain implements, such as his gun, cartridges, knapsack, pioneer tool, or even his stock. In other words, the soldier will include his canteen as one of his best friends. He is never prodigal with his water when inured to war experiences. City dwellers who know that there is always plenty more in the pipes do not appreciate this last fact.”
Storck was issued his own canteen in 2005 when he enlisted in the Air Force, two years after he graduated from high school in Allentown, Pennsylvania. Alaska is where he spent the final years of his service, and in 2015, after concluding his time in the military, he was confronted with a harsh reality that many veterans face.
“I enjoyed my time in the military, but, like so many others, my training was highly specialized and unless civilian airlines are going to start carrying weapons, those skills are obsolete,” Storck said. “It was a tough reality and made reentry into society incredibly difficult. I felt lost in a sense.”