Previous Challenge Entry (Level 3 - Advanced)
Topic: Sightseeing (08/08/05)
TITLE: Birth of "A Buff"
By Michael Aubrecht
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That was the summer my family traveled to the National Military Park at Gettysburg. I remember it like it was yesterday and how funny the name "Gettysburg" sounded to me at the time. I also recall how I had absolutely no idea what was there. For some reason, both my mother and father kept the main attraction a surprise and I vividly recall asking them repeatedly on the drive there, where were we going and what we would see.
After what seemed like days, we finally arrived at this little tourist town in Pennsylvania greeted by miles of wooden rail fences and wheat fields. "What is this?" I asked myself, "Some kind of farm?" Pulling into the town, I can still picture all of the flags (both Union and Confederate) that adorned the doorways of virtually every store and hotel in sight.
As we checked in, my parents gave me a very brief introduction on where we were and what happened there. Hearing the key word "war," my mind began to race as I tried to take it all in. A Civil War? Americans fighting Americans? Soldiers? Slaves? Instantly a mass of both familiar and foreign terms sparked my interest.
As we departed the hotel and began to sightsee, I found myself becoming more and more excited about where we were and what I was about to experience.
The battlefield itself was a bit of a bore initially as endless rock outcroppings and miles of grassy fields failed to capture the imagination of this six year-old boy. On the other hand, the many museums and other attractions we later visited really caught my eye. After attending every show and spectacle available, the battlefield took on a whole new meaning and I vividly recall our second tour out to hallowed locations like Seminary Ridge, Little Round Top, High Water Mark, the site of Pickett's Charge and Devil's Den.
I remember ducking down behind the stone walls and pretending it was July of 1863. Often I would force my little sister to play the role of the "loser" in that particular melee and I must have "shot" her dead a thousand times.
As our vacation progressed, the tales of these men and the three-day battle in which they participated captivated me like nothing had before, or has since. I began to understand the impact of the Civil War and respected the North's battle to preserve the Union, as well as the South's fight for state's rights. Initially, I struggled to find the "bad guy" in all of this. Ultimately, neither side were "true enemies" and I felt that both were acting on behalf of their country and God.
Over the next few days, I spent every waking minute possible soaking up as much knowledge as I could on the War Between the States. I also soaked up a ton of souvenirs. The following year we returned again and I don't think I ever anticipated a family vacation as much as that one. By then I was a seasoned seven year-old Civil War Buff who had even memorized the Gettysburg Address. "Four score and seven years ago…" This time, I understood exactly where we were and the sacrifice of the men President Lincoln honored in that speech.
What had started off as a simple family vacation changed my life forever as Gettysburg left an indefinable impression on me that remains to this very day. Now I live in Fredericksburg, Virginia and the same magic that I experienced in the north now surrounds me in the south. Just as I cannot forget this childhood experience, I cannot forget the men who fought and died so that America could be reborn in unity.
God Bless every Billy Yank and Johnny Reb who fell on the fields of battle all across America and God Bless my parents who introduced me to them all.
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