Monday, April 23, 2012

Charleston calls

Although I have never served in the military, I have developed an appreciation and abiding respect, over the years, for most things military.

That includes military history, and specifically American Civil War and World War II history.

So when the Davidson County Civil War Round Table selected Charleston as this year's annual extended weekend bivouac, I was as anxious as a kid at Christmas.

Charleston is an unique city among American cities. Well, yeah, sure, it was the cradle of nullification and secession, but beyond that fascinating miscalculation in American political theory, the town is steeped in architectural, historical and epicurean delights. It's on the the required bucket list of destinations that is given to you at birth.

Remains of the Hunley crew at Magnolia Cemetery in Charleton, SC.
I'd been to Charleston several times previously with my wife, mostly to take in the obvious: Fort Sumter, The Citadel, the Battery, any number of bed and breakfasts, Fort Moultrie, palmettos and the city market, to name several sights (and sites).

I was particularly eager for this visit, though, because we were going to see the Hunley. The Hunley was a Confederate submarine that became the first submersible warship in the world to sink another vessel (the USS Housatonic) in wartime. It mysteriously sank returning to Charleston Harbor after its engagement, drowning all eight of its crewmen in about 30 feet of water. The sub was finally raised in 2000.

It is currently in North Charleston at the Warren Lash Conservation Center, where it is resting in a tank of some kind of electrolyte solution, connected by wires and computers to keep it from rusting away after years in salt water (I am technologically challenged. It may not actually be an electrolyte solution, but "electrolyte solution" sounds impressive to me, as if I know what I'm taking about. And it is on display, only on weekends, for $10. You can see it for yourself when you check off your birthright bucket list.)

Shortly after our visit, we drove a few miles to Magnolia Cemetery, where the remains of the Hunley crew were ceremoniously buried several years ago.

In the morning, we had taken a Civil War walking tour through Charleston, turning our ancient ankles on ballast stone streets while turning over a largely Southern perspective of the war.

Citadel cadets march in perfect step during an Awards Parade recently.
 A day earlier, our little band of historians were at The Citadel to observe an awards parade. This event is something just shy of spectacular. About 1,000 grey-uniformed cadets, who are not affiliated or obligated with any military branch and will likely graduate as civilian business persons, engineers and civic leaders, march with military precision, on command, to John Philip Sousa tunes. It was something to see.

A day earlier than that, two of us left Davidson County ahead of the others and traveled to Savannah to visit the Eighth Air Force Museum.

(If Charleston is No. 1 on the bucket list of Southern cities, Savannah is a close 1-A and remarkable in its own right. Spared from destruction in the Civil War, it now thrives as a destination point for voodooists and others who worship midnights in the Garden of Good and Evil. It is also the home of Paula Deen, for those who care.)

The Eighth Air Force, by the way, was first organized in Savannah in 1942 and went on to fame for bringing World War II to Hitler's doorstep at a time when American military might was just beginning, and no other branch of the Allied armed forces could set foot on western Europe soil until D-Day. Consequently, in a horrendous battle of attrition, the Eighth Air Force lost more men (26,000 deaths, 47,000 casualties) than the entire U.S. Marine Corps (more than 17,000 deaths) did in the South Pacific during the same war.

It has just now occurred to me that in a handful of days, I have visited where men have volunteered to fight war either under water, or four miles above the earth.

What kind of men are these?

1 comment:

  1. They were brave men who answered the call of duty, honor, country. They were ordinary men who did extraordinary things. Fortunately, my military experience did not include being shot at or shooting at anyone. I think one always wonders how one would perform under those circumstances. I would hope it would have been like these brave souls.