Pvt.2 Zachary Steele of the 1/330th National Guard Unit graduated Friday.
The Band kicked off the ceremony at the National Infantry Museum’s Parade Grounds.
There was a lot of marching by everyone.
And the Rifle Team put on quite the production.
You don’t suppose it was just a quinky-dink that there was a church dead-center in the middle of this dramatic production, do you?
It was very surreal.
But the graduation was a hit. I was moved to tears when they told us that the parade field was made up from the soil of historical battlefields of Antietam, Normandy, Ia Drang, and many others, signifying that sacrifices made by generations.
But we all got a laugh when Zachary’s platoon dropped to the ground in move that was more performance than punishment.
Everyone got in on the action.
Afterward, I took Zachary and Gloria on a sightseeing tour of Georgia. Zachary thanked me, saying up until then his only impression of my home state hadn’t been a very good one. He thought all of Georgia looked like Sand Hill, Fort Benning.
I showed him the breathtaking views of our Georgia mountains. We ate at the Whistling Pig in Pine Mountain and I was moved to tears when the owner made a point to come over and thank him before God and everyone for his service. “Around here we know our freedom isn’t free,” she said. In fact there wasn’t a person that Zachary met today who didn’t stop and thank him. Over and over and over again. What a change from the Georgia I grew up in. The Georgia of Lt. Calley and the My Lai trials. Zachary has no knowledge or understanding of that. He does not know, thankfully, what is it to live in a time when you had to discard your uniform and not wear it in public for fear of the anger it would invoke. He only knows gratitude — and this for a fellow who has just finished basic training. “I don’t feel like I’ve done anything to earn their thanks,” he said.
I gave him a lesson in all things Kudzu.
And took him to FDR’s Little White house where all the visiting camp kids wanted to get their photo with the man they called Mr. Soldier.
We talked about the polio that struck FDR and Grandpa Gene.
And made a trip out to the museum at the rehab pool that FDR had built.
The waters have been drained since the 70s but the tools of rehab remain.
We stopped at Starr’s Mill where we ran into Dave fishing.
He’d caught a blue gill moments before we arrived but he was fishing for crappie. Dave said he’s been out west. “Been as far west as New Orleans and as far north as South Carolina,” he said. Dave grew up in Columbus & Phenix City. He told me all about a girl he’d met when he was a young boy about Zachary’s age. The girl was from Atlanta and kept insisting that he get his uncle’s cow in out of the rain. She was worried about it. So Dave and his cousin put the cow in the barn but the cow kept getting out.
“You don’t think that girl was one of those animal rights activists, do you?” I asked.
“I don’t know about that,” Dave mused. “But I think she was about half-ignorant.”
I told him David was my father’s name. The pramatic Dave replied, “Walk into any place and call out Dave and about half the men will turn and answer.”
I could have spent the entire day chewing the fat with Dave.
But he had worms to go.
And we had miles yet to get to Atlanta. Zachary had a flight out to Oregon.
Another stop or two, to check out the neighborhood and the local anti-terrorism techniques and entertainment systems (note: satellite dish on the house post to the right).
We got to the airport in plenty of time. I think I made a convert out of Zachary. “I love this kind of thing, Aunt Karen,” he said.
Maybe I ought to quit this writing gig and become a tour guide, heh?