It was the day before Fathers’ Day. With the school year winding down, and summer beckoning, I found a few moments of quiet respite in my home. For the first time, in a very long time, I felt myself relaxing. Calmness and peace, two emotions I don’t experience often, were not as far away as they normally are.
I scanned my bookshelf for a new book to read and my eye was drawn to a book I purchased about a year ago, but hadn’t yet enjoyed, Easy Company Soldier, by Sgt. Don Malarkey. As a historian and a lover of books of courage and valor and sacrifice, I have always been enamored with the stories and tales about the Band of Brothers, the 101st Airborne Paratroopers of World War II. Sgt. Don Malarkey was a member of that legendary outfit. I was eager to read his recollections.
I immediately sat down and opened the book…
When one reads about the 101st Airborne, he quickly encounters remembrances about the intense training the soldiers went through at Camp Toccoa. It was there that these legendary soldiers were made. It was there that the fighting unit known as “The Screaming Eagles” was formed. One of the most legendary aspects of their training was a very challenging six mile run up and down the highest local summit – Mount Currahee. As the soldiers used to say, “Three miles up, three miles down.”
Because the run was so challenging, some of the bonds that formed this heroic squadron were forged on the difficult runs up and down the mountain. Officers at Camp Toccoa would make the soldiers run that challenging hill numerous times each week – day and night. Sometimes the soldiers were lulled into complacency, such as the time they thought they were being rewarded with a spaghetti dinner, only to find, moments after filling their stomachs, they that’d have to run the mountain.
The stories of the camaraderie that took place among those soldiers up and down that summit are legendary.
I love to visit historical sights. I have visited almost every famous battlefield and historic sight in America, or at least the ones closest to my New Jersey home:
Saratoga, Trenton, Princeton, Morristown, Washington’s Crossing, Valley Forge…
Gettysburg, Mananas, Antietam, The Wilderness, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg…
I am always in awe when I visit these locations. I stand on these spots reading signs and markers, looking at statues and memorials, and being in awe of the sacrifices and heroics that took place on those very locations – right under my feet.
I have been compelled to bring others to these same spots and to teach them about the history that took place by sharing stories of valor and courage and hope. I’ve been told that my four-day trips to Gettysburg for the Boy Scouts were among the best scouting experiences some ever had. I think this is because history, especially at those locations, is very real to me. It’s real and personal and true. There is a reverence I feel at places like Gettysburg.
To paraphrase the Gettysburg Address:
“The world will never forget what they did there. The honored dead shall not have died in vain.”
I try to visit as many places as I can. I always hope to spend some time each summer exploring historical sights.
But before yesterday, I had never considered visiting Currahee.
As I read Malarkey’s book though, one word stood out – Georgia.
Georgia isn’t exactly next door, but this summer we’ll be spending a few days there visiting our son Ryan who is studying chiropractic at Life University. I wondered, “How far is Currahee from Marietta, Georgia?” I rushed to my computer and saw that it’s a two-hour drive.
As I was reading and researching this, Ryan was actually covering the last miles in his 2006 Volvo as he would soon be arriving home for his short summer break between the year-round semesters at Life University. Ryan would be home for Fathers’ Day!
As I planned this idea in my head, I thought, “I hope Ryan is interested in doing this. It would be awe inspiring to run the same trail as the Band of Brothers from the Second World War.”
Ryan arrived home a short while later. After long hugs from his mother and I, and the necessary carrying in of bags and other items, and talks of the drive and his visit with his girlfriend, I said, “Ryan, I have a great idea for something for us to do when we visit you this summer…”
Ryan looked at me and smiled. “I think I know what it is,” he said.
“How could you? I just thought of it,” I said.
Ryan smiled a bit more. He said with a question in his voice, “Three miles up, three miles down?”
I was shocked, bewildered…astonished! And I was also very excited! “How did you know?”
“Dad,” he said, “I was thinking the same thing.”