Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Oh, Shenandoah!

It’s 1:00 AM on Wednesday and I’ve just made it back to the cabin in Sewanee, Tennessee. Jenny and Sam are sleeping. The golden retriever, Faith, came out when I arrived and now she’s back to bed too.

The last couple of days have been so fascinating and yet so typical of how friendly people and interesting places continue to reveal themselves along the TR Tour.

On Sunday afternoon, I got in my car for a quick ride to Shippensburg, Pennsylvania. Most of the 650 miles each way were through the Shenandoah Valley on Interstate 81. I’ve taken this route at least a couple dozen times each way over the last several years. To get from Sewanee to the northeast, the quickest route begins by heading southeast on I-24 to Chattanooga, briefly traversing Georgia’s northwestern bump and passing by a too often missed monument to New York men who fought at the Battle of Chickamauga. I-75 runs up through Knoxville and then it’s I-81 all the way.

With the American Legion Keystone Boys State program and Shippensburg University as my destination, I spent most of my travel time listening to news and talk. Public radio and religious programming are my usual choices. During weekday travel, I’ll take a sample of the Beck, Limbaugh and Hannity programs, to balance my NPR tendencies. Chicago’s WGN Radio 720, home to the Cubs and, recently Blackhawks games, is a favorite, especially for its program Extension 720, hosted by Milt Rosenberg each weeknight (games allowing) from 10 PM to Midnight. A University of Chicago psychology professor, Milt has been hosting the most eclectic, yet in-depth, scholarly and serious discussion of art, culture, politics, religion, history, books, food and more for at least a few decades now.

I have been known to leave it on the oldies station for a while and croon along. Anyway, radio helps the travelling pass and safely so. When a rolled over truck left I-81 like a parking lot for two hours in the middle of the night, I switched to one of my current reads, Ruddy's book on TR's views on history. Made Shippensburg in plenty of time to enjoy an afternoon hike in the invigorating summer heat.

The American Legion Boy’s State program was begun by the Legion in 1933 in my home state of Illinois. Legionnaires were responding to the summer camps being sponsored by the Communist Party of the USA, which was attempting to radicalize and recruit the unemployed urban youth in the depths of the Depression. The Legion program spread to all forty-eight and eventually all fifty states. Years later, the American Legion Auxiliary began the Girl’s State Program. Today, American students from overseas participate, too. At Boys State and Girls State, top high school juniors from throughout a state gather to participate in a weeklong residential program dedicated to teaching civics and citizenship in such a way to produce good citizens committed to making positive contributions to their communities and their country. There are two parties, campaigns for office, speeches, laws, trials and sports and plenty of food and speakers.

Performing Monday night for a few hundred of our young leaders was inspiring for me. Their energy and enthusiasm, their good questions and their rowdiness were exhilarating. It brought back great memories. My own experience as a youngster at Boys State and at Boys Nation made a huge impact on my life. The American Legion stands for God and Country. I hope when my ride is through, I can say that I have stood for the same.

After bunking in one of the Ship’s dorm rooms, I woke with the morning light and headed for a makeup with the Carlisle Breakfast Rotary Club. My host, Kevin Colgan, is retired Army, a former computer science faculty member at the Army War College. A majority of the club appear to be retired military. The good spirit and patriotism were palpable and sincere. The program talked about a developing bike path and linear park extending along an old rail bed and right of way from Carlise to Newville. The spokesman was a retired military man who was a picture of fitness. He could have kept up with TR on a point to point hike.

Mr.Colgan allowed me to ride along after breakfast while he picked up two small families, two wives and three daughters newly arrived from Italy and Estonia. Their husbands have just begun a one year program at the Army War College, joined by 38 other international military officers and their families. In August, another 140 Americans join in. Issues of strategic leadership are thoroughly discussed and debated. The Americans are mostly Colonels in the Army, but many are State Department or Department of Defense personnel or officers from other branches. Fascinating really. A brief visit with The Reverend Mark Scheneman at St. John’s Episcopal Church and I was back on the road for points south.

The Woodrow Wilson Birthplace and Presidential Museum in Staunton (pronounced Stan-ton), Virginia is something I had driven by so many times, and finally my schedule had me there at a decent hour and I pulled in. Set along a hill in the beautiful old red brick town, the birthplace and museum are both excellent and the people a charm. Of course, the election of 1912 is the primary lens through which the Wilson and T. Roosevelt relationship is viewed. The literature on Roosevelt and Wilson is rich. I admit to having previously felt some hesitation at visiting the opponent’s camp!

As luck would have it, a small crew were readying Wilson’s 1918 Pierce-Arrow limousine for transport to Kansas City for a brief visit to the World War One Museum there. I think the adults had as much joy as the children hearing the old motor struggle to life and seeing the car roll out of its glass-doored garage and down the old streets of Staunton on the way to the flatbed. After a couple hours of reading, studying and enjoying the docent’s tour of the house, I asked if I might say hello or leave my card for the education or museum department of the museum.

A great gift followed for me when I had a chance to meet officers and staff of the museum and library, some guests from DC and Augusta, GA, and finally to perform, after being invited to do so, for twenty public school teachers in the middle of a three year summer immersion and discussion of history and teaching history. How cool was that? Wish I could have bought half the books in the gift shop. here I come for some good used editions.

Long ride tonight. Thank goodness for coffee.

So, the adventure continues. I get ready to hit the rack with a smile. Hope to see friends and make new ones in Branson, Spearfish, Medora, Dickinson, Las Vegas and Colorado Springs in the days ahead. I’m so glad the girls join me for this road trip.

No comments: