Meet Rob Shenk of Dallas, Texas

An interview with a Color Bearer member

Passing along these stories may take different forms today, but pass them along we must.  The Trust is a storytelling organization committed to the truthful telling of our military history. I value that deeply.

Rob Shenk, Color Bearer

Color Bearer Rob Shenk with Garry Adelman and David Duncan
Color Bearer Rob Shenk (center) with Trust Chief Historian Garry Adelman and and President David Duncan.

American Battlefield Trust: What moved you to first give to our organization?

Rob: I have long been interested in American history and particularly military history.  When I moved out to Northern Virginia in the early 1990s I suddenly found myself near the very places where the American Revolution and Civil War were fought and contested.  Knowing I could stand on the same ground where these great battles occurred was entirely moving for a Californian who had been conditioned to think that this history was always so very far away.  It wasn’t long till I discovered the Civil War Preservation Trust and became a donor.  Saving these historic places just seemed so natural given my longstanding interests.

Later I made the fateful decision to offer my services to the Trust and Jim Lighthizer was kind enough to take me in as the Trust’s first head of digital strategy. The six years I spent at the Civil War Trust were some of the best of my professional life.  It was a complete joy working to develop the Trust’s digital content and reach.  I think these efforts helped to connect the Trust with so many new supporters that we had yet to reach. 

What do you enjoy most about being a Color Bearer?

The Color Bearers are a great group. Not only are they a very generous bunch, but I also find that they share my deep passion for American history. Having the chance to tour battlefields with them and to share meals has always been a highlight.  The Trust always puts on the best events, has the best tours, with people you really want to be around.

What is your favorite battlefield you’ve visited?

This is almost like asking a parent which is your favorite child!  Like many, I would have to say that Gettysburg is my favorite battlefield all-around.  Its a very scenic and historic place, populated with tremendous monuments, beyond photogenic, and well preserved (thanks to the Trust and others).  But I would also point to battlefields such as Chancellorsville, Vicksburg, Lookout Mountain, Glorieta Pass, Cedar Creek, Antietam, and Manassas for the Civil War and Yorktown, Oriskany, Saratoga, and Lexington/Concord for the Revolutionary War.  During my time working for the Trust, I had the opportunity to visit more than 90 different Civil War battlefields - what a tremendous opportunity that was.

My one Civil War ancestor’s name, Lt. Samuel Custer of the 26th Illinois, can be found inside the mammoth Illinois Monument at Vicksburg.  And my first American relative, Paulus Schenck, fought and surrendered at Saratoga (his choosing not to return to Hesse is why I am an American today).  Visiting both of those battlefields has always generated much genealogical reflection on my part.

Outside the United States, some of my favorites are Pointe du Hoc, Corregidor, Quebec, and Pearl Harbor.

What would you like to pass on to future generations?

A deep love of our nation’s history…or at least a full appreciation of it.  While we are still a very young country by international standards, our nation’s history is already filled with many chapters and individuals worth knowing.   Like Homer and his Iliad, I feel that it's our responsibility to be great storytellers.  Learning history can sound dreadful to many young people. But we humans have always been attracted to great stories.  So for us we need to get even better at sharing our Nation’s stories with our younger generations…and in ways that will deeply embed themselves like seeds.  Passing along these stories may take different forms today, but pass them along we must.  The Trust is a storytelling organization committed to the truthful telling of our military history. I value that deeply.

If you could meet any historical figure, who would you choose and why?

Well Jesus Christ and the apostles in the upper room for the Last Supper would be first on my list.  But if I had to focus on American military figures I would love to be at any of these places:   With George Washington crossing the Delaware River in 1776.  With George Washington as he witnessed the British surrender at Yorktown.  At Robert E. Lee’s side during the Battle of Chancellorsville. With the 54th Massachusetts just before their charge against Fort Wagner.  With Abraham Lincoln as he delivered the Gettysburg Address.   With Ulysses S. Grant in the Wilderness when he decided to continue south.   With Lee and Grant at Appomattox.  As Eddie Rickenbacker’s wingman over the Western Front. Flying in James Doolittle’s B-25 over Tokyo.  Diving on Japanese carriers in Wade McClusky’s SBD Dauntless during the Battle of Midway.  And looking through the periscope of USS Tang (just not on its last patrol).  Flying in Maj. Pat Brady’s UH-1 airlifting wounded soldiers from deep in the jungles of Vietnam.  I also wouldn’t mind sharing C-rations with Audie Murphy or MREs with Jim Mattis.

Anything else you want to share?

Most who know me, know that I have a real passion for photography.  During my time at the Trust I really indulged that interest as I tried to capture the beauty and majesty of our American battlefields.  While at the Trust I had a chance to meet many other photographers, vastly more talented than me, who shared my same passion for historic landscape photography.  What the Trust has done to encourage this growing tribe of first rate photographers and to showcase their works is nothing short of amazing.  And through friends and compatriots such as Garry Adelman and Bob Zeller I certainly learned a great deal about the tremendous photographic legacy of the Civil War.