Story and photos by Paul V. Scholl
Publisher, Messenger Publishing Group
In a matter of minutes, everything changes. In a matter of hours, we lose, then regain our focus. In a matter of days, we recover. In a matter of years, we forget. In solitude, we best remember those precious minutes.
So much happens for us in the time between Memorial Day weekend and the waves of a long hot summer. Graduations that culminate years of learning and parenting children through schools, May and June weddings, Father’s Day, and of course, our nation’s birthday. Blink and you will miss it all. Luckily, this year I didn’t blink.
This trip followed an overnight stay and day in San Francisco to attend my son Gabriel’s college graduation from the University of San Francisco. He accomplished the feat in just three years of hard study. “Proud” cannot contain the feelings as I watched the ceremony. Wasn’t it just yesterday that he was playing outside in the rain, chasing the ice cream truck down the street in his bare feet, making the Little League All-Star team and playing in the high school jazz band? Moments in time that will last a lifetime…
Why the Trip?
The airport shuttle arrived right on time. The driver, courteous and talkative, provided enough entertainment to replace an in-flight movie. Subject matters aside, I could only imagine what the two last female travelers picked up for their airport trip thought about the driver’s comments at the end of our conversation about his wife and the wonders of married life. It was ample proof of why one should not determine someone’s intent by hearing only the end of a long conversation.
My wife had planned the long weekend away to celebrate her mother’s 75th birthday with family and friends. As mother-in-laws go, she’s the best, so I wasn’t going to miss it. My wife had flown out a day earlier to help with the celebration. We all had a special time together this visit sharing stories, teasing and joking, and playing games that made you laugh so hard you were really hoping it was iced tea someone had spilled on the floor.
On the first flight from Sacramento to Charlotte, three guys were sick, hacking most of the flight. Not that I was going to sleep much anyway, but the kick-kick-kick from the little kid behind me was a reminder of how long the flight was going to be. A notepad, a calculator, and a complimentary 5.8 oz. soft drink in a 6 oz. plastic cup kept me focused and appreciating so much more.
We landed in Charlotte. Landing at Gate A, leaving by Gate E—If I had known it was close to four miles I would have just walked to Harrisburg. It reminded me of that famous Rhett Butler quote.
Did you know that there are actually five different Starbucks between Gate A and Gate E in the Charlotte airport? I’m just sayin’.
The plane out of Charlotte was so small I was looking for a remote control antennae. Bob the luggage guy looked like he was just going to strap down the extra bags on top of the plane.
The entertainment on this flight was the stewardess. She was great, funny, and determined. She was the best “one-man crew” you are ever going to find. All I can say is “Pay her more. Whatever she is making, pay her more.”
Having flown much more in years past, I was amused at the people with headsets this trip. Zero conversation. No getting to know anyone that you will be sitting next to for the next six hours. How boring. I thought of all the great people I had met over the years by getting to know them through air travel. The minister, the lawyer (yes, he was very interesting), the young entrepreneur, the business guy buried in acquisitions, the young woman traveling to take care of her father’s estate after he had passed away just after her last visit two weeks earlier. They have all been traded for an iPod.
When you fly over the USA, you get a perspective lost in a daily world of iTunes and reality TV, traffic jams and taxes, PTA meetings and mowing the yard. You see all the space. You see the cities, the communities, the homes, all filled with people with their own individual lives full of loves, attitudes and latitudes, daily problems and worries, desires and dreams, and wants for a better tomorrow. Every one of them different, and just like you.
Gettysburg on Memorial Day
Most years I attend local ceremonies for Memorial Day, but this year it would be different. My one request this trip back to Pennsylvania was to have time to visit Gettysburg again.
It was 1991 the last time I had been on the hallowed grounds of Gettysburg. It was an off day for tourists then, thankfully. Overcast weather, mid-week, humid and un-inviting. Perfect for a singular roamer on an unfamiliar quest. There was opportunity to walk through battlegrounds where you weren’t supposed to go. It was a day that changed my life.
Grief was in the mist. It was in the trees. It lined the rocks. You could feel it finding its way through the stilled grass. Six generations and it was as real as the days all those men fell in battle.
Alone, aware, quiet, and still. The lingering cries of casualties, cries for their mothers and wives and children, were imminent and obvious as the ripples of water on a disturbed pond. It was all so overwhelming I was grateful to be alone. The awe of the desperate sacrifices of so many was deafening. It was coupled with the knowledge of the ignorance of most who have never even studied what happened in this small island of glory, and such waste, in the history of our nation.
Compelled to move, but slowly and with reverence, I walked the cemeteries. Reading every monument tribute to the fallen, taking it in as the numbers began to have faces and families, taking in the moments that the lives changed forever. I couldn’t help but think every high school class should take this trip as a requirement to graduate into adulthood. It would change a society.
And then I found Spangler’s Spring. It was as if I were behind the eyes of another, yet so familiar, man. It is impossible to describe the sensations of déjà vu, the waves of memory files opening up from a time when you know you died here in a surprise skirmish, one minute joking with other gray uniformed men, the next your face and body hitting the ground with a permanent thud so certain as the pain of torn flesh screamed to the heavens. It was then, and it was now. My body reacted with such trembling and fear that I looked around again as if another attack were looming.
It lasted for about three minutes. And then a peace came over me like the heavens had opened up to assure me all was well. All was well.
This year, 24 years later, a return was necessary. My wife and I toured the new tourist center, watched the new films, enjoyed the exhibits, had a quick lunch, and began our own driving tour.
As we found our way to the cemetery, the Memorial Day parade was just ending. Hundreds had come to visit and pay respects. We walked the grounds and took in the monuments, the history, and the importance.
Unknown, unknown, unknown after unknown. Number after number. Finding “1” on a small headstone at the end of a long-circled row near the road had me stop, and pray for “1.” It has been a long-practiced personal ritual upon visiting cemeteries to speak aloud the names of the souls displayed on headstones. It gives them a brief and temporary vibratory resonant life again. Somehow, in spirit, it acknowledges their life among us just one more time.
My wife and I found our way around a number of the monuments, then took to the car to drive the battlefields. At one point, we came upon a small group that had taken a small guided tour. The tour guide explained to them exactly how the battle had been planned, and then executed. He explained how this one battle on this one day in history General Lee was driven back and defeated, changing the history of the Civil War and our nation. Aware, you could still hear the canons firing.
We then looked up Spangler’s Spring. She did not know about my previous visit and experience. I just had to know by returning. When we arrived, I was absolutely certain it was not a one-time phenomenon. The reaction this time was not violent, overwhelming, fearful, or regretful. It was a completion, a completion of a cycle that now drives me every day to do more and be more to preserve our nation.
As a nation, we have to get this right. We have to get this right. Are we at another crossroads due to years of poor leadership? We are a nation built upon all those who have come before us. We are built upon a belief in God, family, and country. We used to stand for something. And now we sit in dull ignorance in front of televisions and watch ourselves be misled by those who do not care about the will of the people.
We forget too often the sacrifices of all those who have come before us to build our country. We forget all those who have fought in battles to preserve our way of life. We have not heard the buzzing of bullets around our heads. We have not heard the canons fire upon us. We have not lost limbs or loved ones.
We do not know all that our fathers, grandfathers, or forefathers have done to try to give us a better life. We certainly do not know all that our neighbor’s father, grandfathers, or forefathers have sacrificed. We just know that our neighbor’s stereo is too loud and they park too close to our driveway for our liking.
Memorial Day is on our calendars for a reason. Father’s Day is on our calendars for a reason. Our nation’s Independence Day is coming up, and it is on our calendars for a reason.
Take the time on Father’s Day to appreciate all that your father and the fathers of your family and your neighbor’s family have done to give us this great community and nation.
Take the time this Independence Day to show your appreciation to the people who hold this nation together, those around you. Take the time to appreciate all those military and military families who have sacrificed more than we know to provide us the safety in which we live.
This Independence Day show up, remember the many sacrifices for freedom, give thanks with great gratitude, and love this nation more.