Freedom Beat Across America: In Search of America's Heartbeat

Day 15 and leaving the west behind

Day 15. Hard to believe we are already halfway through our trip. Well, Dottie says that because August has 31 days, halfway will be sometime like 3 o’clock in the morning. And she thinks I’m anal. Anyway, sometime this last weekend, we passed our 3000 mile mark! Not bad for 15 days (okay – 14 and 9/10ths — whatever).

MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History

On our 11th day we drove to Little Rock and stopped at the MacArthur Museum of Arkansas Military History, housed in the historic Arsenal Building. In 1879, Captain Arthur MacArthur was stationed there, and in 1880 his son Douglas MacArthur was born in the building. (If you’ve read my previous post about Fort Selden, you can see why we began to feel that things were starting to come together!) Of special interest to me were wartime photographs taken by Viet Nam war correspondents Jim Guy Tucker and Bruce Wesson. But there is also a whole section that traces the history and development of the vehicle that became known as the “Jeep”, with a 1943 Willys Jeep sitting in the middle of it. There are pictures of the 1911 United Confederate Veterans Reunion. More than 100,000 people attended, including over 11,000 aged veterans camped out in the park surrounding the Arsenal building. There are also some of the 4600 photographs collected during WWII by James Allison, a sports writer for the Houston Press. They portray the effects of war on both soldiers and civilians, which, again, ties into our whole purpose for this trip. Another section is devoted to David O. Dodd, a 17-year-old boy who was hanged as a spy by Union forces on the grounds next to the museum.

The Forgotten War

Nowadays next to the museum there stands a magnificent memorial to the Korean War called “The Forgotten War”. Several black marble stele surround a central sculpture of American soldiers with Korean children. One stele lists a number of firsts for that war: it was the first war where black and white troops served side by side, the first war for aerial combat between jet aircraft and the first to make extensive use of the helicopter. Army and Air Force nurses served in Korea and Navy nurses served on hospital ships. Marguerite Higgins was the only female American reporter in Korea – she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her reporting.
“The United States fought in 11 major wars between 1775 and 2007. Of these, the Korean War ranks fifth in total American casualties . . . It deserves not to be forgotten.”
From Little Rock, we high-tailed it to Tennessee. I always thought that Cleveland was the place where old semi trucks went to die, and that highway 271 was their trail to the graveyard. But I have to say Arkansas has that beat – I do believe there were more semi’s on Route 40 than there were cars.
I got to spend the entire weekend with my grandchildren in Tennessee. But because my son is in the Army, it was also a working weekend. My daughter-in-law invited some of the other wives in for coffee and we filmed some wonderful conversations about separation, adjustment, loneliness and feelings of isolation. These women have a lot to say, and very little venue for saying it.
During World War II there was a saying: “Loose lips sink ships”. If anything, fear seems even stronger these days. So if you can’t talk about your husband’s job, and you can’t talk about what he talks about when he’s home, and you can’t even tell people how proud you are because it might make you a target, or vent about the difficulties that his latest assignment has caused to your home life because it might endanger him or his unit . . . what exactly do you chat about on a casual Sunday afternoon? The fear of endangering, not just an assignment or a deployment, but people’s lives, and not just the soldiers’ lives, but their families, extending into older generations, cousins, aunts and uncles, made the women understandably wary of talking with us. But we have vowed to use no names, no specific places, and we mean it. We only wanted to know their feelings, and they generously shared stories that are universal, and yet because of their circumstances are horribly special to the military life.
My daughter-in-law has sticky clippers, a weed-eater that wants to break down, 98 degree heat and three children, one on crutches with possibly a broken foot, and one not long out of diapers. The city came and took pictures, and she was given 10 days to remove the high brush outside her fence, or pay $150 to have the city do it and then have to appear in court. Now, would that be with or without the three kids? After a lot of struggle, it was just getting dark on her 10th day when a neighbor with a brush-hog saw her plight and helped her out. The job got done – the job always gets done. And she’s not complaining because she knows her husband is doing something vital where he is. But she says sometimes it’s hard for her not to feel that the world thinks she’s got it too easy.
Things like Skype have made military life and separation remarkable and yet more frustrating. I was able to sit and talk to my son as he rubbed his eyes with weariness, and I could not ask where he was or what was happening to him. But unlike the mothers who wrote letters during the Civil War, I could look into his eyes and listen to his voice and know that he was alive.
And that he likes my blog! Yay!!
After a wonderful weekend, we had a last home-cooked meal, said a teary goodbye to the grandkids and this morning left early for North Carolina. This was another driving day, through the beautiful Appalachians, but by the time we stopped at the motel, we were all giddy and giggly with road fatigue, and Skylar was disgusted with the adults’ gross jokes. I guess we need to remember that for all her hard work, she’s still only eleven years old.

Check out Melissa’s reports!


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