On April 25, 2019, BGES celebrates 25 fantastic years of fronting Civil War education and preservation. In that time, we’ve scoured related sites both large and small with our premier study tours, and branched off into other important areas of American history as well. We’ve launched some important legacy preservation projects, grown our Wounded Warrior tours for America’s heroes, and published books and monographs. And through it all, we’ve been honored to engage with some of history’s and the military’s greatest minds. To commemorate our 25th anniversary, in the days leading up to the Big Day some of our members will be sharing their favorite BGES stories on these pages. Be sure to return to the website often to relive some poignant memories.
For a number of years, I have been fortunate enough to accompany Len Riedel on Wounded Warrior tours to Civil War battlefields with busloads of patients and their families from military medical centers like Walter Reed Hospital. The purpose of the daylong trips was not to teach the passengers about the Civil War battle that took place at the particular battlefield we would be visiting that day, but was to just get the wounded warrior and/or family out of the hospital for a day. Some had been confined for months or more.
One of my favorite memories is of a trip we took on April 15, 2012, to Gettysburg. There were about 30 on board the bus. We stopped at various sites on the battlefield, got out of the bus, and Len gave us a talk about what happened at that location. At one location, we parked the bus beside the Eisenhower Observation Tower for Len to take the group to see an area where there had been fighting. As I looked around, I noted that one of the wounded warriors, a double amputee named Christopher, was headed instead, by himself, to the observation tower. I decided to follow him to make sure he was alright and did not get left behind when Len and the others returned to the bus. To my amazement, I witnessed Christopher climb the very tall tower with an obvious sense of determination. The documentation of that climb has been one of my most memorable pictures and could well be made a poster for Determination Personified. At the conclusion of the battlefield tour, Len took us all to the Gettysburg Information Center where they presented a film. As we entered the theater at the upper seating level, there was a sign that said that the first upper row of seats was reserved for the handicapped. I watched with a smile as Christopher just looked at that sign, shook his head with a frown, and began walking down the rows of steps to the very bottom first row, saying that he was not handicapped.