I have not lived in Owosso for more than forty years now, but on the morning of October 9, 2012, I came for a visit. While here I walked around the old neighborhood I’d grown up in, looking for subjects to photograph. As I approached the corner of Park and Comstock streets I saw beneath an American flag an A-frame sidewalk sign that read, Shane Thanks For Your Service—the words spelled out in upper case, unpunctuated, sans serif, flexible, plastic letters of mixed size—a humble and poignant scene. PFC Shane Cantu had been killed in Afghanistan six weeks earlier.
As a photographer I immediately saw a pleasing composition—the curving yellow curb, Old Glory waving against the azure sky and the flag’s shadow framing the sign. But there was much more in this picture.
The sign was placed in front of 123 East Comstock street, the current location of Sunnyside Florist. But in 1948 this was the building in which Clay Reeves began Reeve’s Wheel Alignment. He was one of Owosso’s most decorated veterans. As a Marine he’d fought on Iwo Jima and was wounded three times. For his heroism he received the Silver Star, two Bronze Stars and three Purple Hearts.
A few yards up Comstock street, to the west, but not visible in the photograph, sits the Indian Trails Bus station. And it is from here, over the years, that hundreds of young men and women have left Owosso for service in: World War Two, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. In 1968, I was one of them—on my way to Marine Corps boot camp in San Diego.
So it is fitting that Shane was remembered in front of the building that once housed the business of one of Owosso’s heroes, and that this remembrance was placed just a few paces from the Indian Trails bus station.
When I look at this picture today I remember how I felt that August morning in 1968 as the door closed and the bus lurched into gear and backed onto that little stretch of Comstock street shown in the photograph. I remember straining to see through the windows the quiet town, way of life and youth I was leaving behind, perhaps forever.
For me this photograph reveals much more than meets the eye. It is not a simple composition of visual elements. Rather it is reminder, a warning, an evocation and an image of hallowed space.
© 2018 Michael Maurer Smith