“Lady,” he said in a firm nasal voice, “I’d give a fortune to live where I could see me a sun do that every evening.”
“Does it every evening,” the old woman said and sat back down.
—“The Life You Save May Be Your Own,” by Flannery O’Connor
The boys are becoming predictable. In the best way. They sarcastically chirp from the back of the bus, Are we there yet?
They pile out of the bus quickly because they’re excited about where we’re going and what things they’re going to see. They’re appreciative that Gary and I have worked hard to make each day fun and fresh. They’re especially excited today … especially … because after all the war history we’ve seen and done this week, I now know all seventh and eighth grade boys are fascinated with guns and today they're going to get to shoot some dang guns.
We took them to the new National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center near the front gate of Fort Benning. It was just after 9 o’clock and the parking lot was nearly full. People and soldiers in their camouflage uniforms were everywhere. It was starting to feel warm. It was sunny. We found out that it was infantry school graduation day and the soldiers and their friends and family were walking around to the back of the museum to some bleachers and a parade field. We approached the enormous building. I didn’t have to look behind me to see if the boys were keeping up.
It was explained to us by a nice old man named Wallace, who greeted visitors at the start of the museum, that no matter how hard you battered an area with rockets, bombs, and missiles, that it has always been the infantry that mopped up the last one hundred yards. Wallace said it’s been this way since the Revolutionary War, and probably even longer. Wallace pointed behind him and said up this way is the last one hundred yards and the beginning of the museum. Welcome. You fellows enjoy yourself and tell your friends about our museum.
I said we would … on both things.
We experienced the most stirring hundred yards in a museum I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine the time and effort that went into planning this slightly uphill walk of one hundred yards where life-sized figures, beginning with a depiction of a battle scene, left and right of us, of the Revolutionary War, was presented. This place is a study of the history of the American infantry, but it’s also a study in how a modern museum is designed and put together. There’s a real helicopter a few feet above your head, and you don’t notice it until you sense something huge above you. The battle scene depictions, with period battle noises and scenes flashed with modern video, take you all the way to the Iraq war. The boys stood at each section, stunned. Mouths open. If this was the full museum, we’d have been satisfied.
So boys are fascinated with guns and war. Their noses are inches away from displays of our guns and the guns of the enemy. Captured guns. All kinds of captured things. And boys like to shoot guns, too, if they can. They learned there was an M-16 shooting range up there somewhere. As interactive as a museum about the tools of an infantryman as it can get. Five dollars to shoot a real M-16, hooked up to an automated system where the recoil was realistic … where the target range was realistic … and the targets, in human silhouettes and vehicles, appeared for only four seconds, so be cool and patient and make them count. Of course, this was all hooked up to a fancy computer run by a couple of young guys who were just as excited about shooting some guns as we were. Only thirty rounds it was explained … here … you’ll want to make sure this switch is at semi-automatic. The gun fires when you pull the trigger, in other words, and as fast as you can pull the trigger. The gun’s sites are real, too. Has anyone here ever shot guns before?
Five hands went up.
The fellow said the computer will record your score and then we’ll look at it on the screen. Ready?
Gary and I watched.
Percy was way too trigger happy. He killed a lot of dirt. Thirty rounds gone in seconds.
Elmo and Boog were the most patient.
I’m guessing their parents would be proud. Gary took a picture and e-mailed it to Lurlene. She thought it was a quite a scene … sort of scary … her kids with M-16s at a fake shooting range. They begged and badgered us to do it. They even paid with their own money. Every one of them. Every one of them had a great time and begged to do it again. We had to move on. We had to keep it rolling … so much to see. So much to try to ingest and figure out about war and machine guns. They’re made for only one thing. Grenades are made for only one thing, too. Mortars, and rockets, and 40 millimeter chain guns. One thing. But so elegantly and thoughtfully made. It’s mesmerizing and undeniable. This is fascinating. Utterly fascinating.
Gary eased up to me at a display … after seeing so many of them … so many full of real weapons … and said if you don’t think the United States is serious about defense and winning battles and wars then you’re deceiving yourself.
I agreed with him. This museum leaves no doubt about our commitment, in hardware and strategies and tactics, to protect ourselves and our allies.
We said good-bye to Wallace. He could tell we had a great time. He could tell we were moved.
In the parking lot a soldier was standing by a car. He was by himself. It looked like he was waiting on someone. I walked up to him and asked him what he thought about the museum … as a soldier.
He said it was pretty hooked up.
I knew what he meant. I think.
He was eighteen or nineteen. Maybe twenty. I shook his hand and looked him in the eye and said we appreciate what you’re doing for our country.
He said you’re welcome.
On the way to the bus I looked back at him for an instant. He had lit up a cigarette and was leaning on the hood of the car. I remember there were a couple of displays in the museum about how tobacco was just as much a part of war as anything else. I'm not judging a brave young soldier smoking a cigarette. I won’t do it.
So that’s it, Dixie. Two weeks of some hellacious field tripping. Anyway, real school starts again Tuesday after a three day weekend. Monday’s a holiday … Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. He was from Georgia, too.
And in case you need them one day, I put together some tips for you on how to manage a week of overnight field trips from Savannah through south Georgia over to west Georgia with some particular field trippers named Boog, Percy, Elmo, Sheldon, Albert, and Hap …
- You can easily get your nose hairs and ear hairs and eye brows singed off in a Japanese hibachi steak house in Columbus, Georgia
- Even though they’ve gotten in trouble for being loud in a museum, it’s probably not a good example for a teacher to scream at them in the museum for being loud in a museum
- If there’s a gift shop in a museum, and there always are, the boys will spend more time in the gift shop than they did in the museum
- Later in the week, make sure you tell the boys that the fellow acting as a pirate in that haunted old restaurant was really a pirate and see how they ponder over that information for the rest of the week, especially since the fellow acting like a pirate really did seem like he was one
- When you learn that a couple of them have not called their parents not once during the week and when they also tell you their parents have not called them not once during the week try real hard not to act like something is real, real wrong with both of those things
- You might consider pulling off to a hardware store and having a copy made of the bus key in order to keep you from totally freaking out and having a near heart attack the moment you think you’ve lost the only bus key
- When you ask them to be packed and ready outside their rooms at 8 o’clock and they’re packed and ready outside their rooms at 7:55 you must do all you can to ignore their irritating and smug expressions when they have successfully and totally called your bluff
- Totally impress the kids by asking site managers and museum guides questions site managers and museum guides don’t know the answer to
- When Sheldon gets into that weird habit of using cuss words in his conversations and you know he really isn’t doing it deliberately, don’t give him a wonderful nickname, like Cuss Buster, which is the one we gave him, which then acts to encourage him even more to use profanity in his conversations for the rest of the week
- You’ll be surprised how they don’t get mad when you remind them every day to please take showers or baths and to please shampoo their hair. They all know they should practice comprehensive and frequent hygiene but most of the time they’re apocalyptically uninterested in doing it.
- When you get back from a week of overnight field trips and you’re putting your personal stuff in your truck and there’s Percy standing there watching you and you’re prodding Percy to make sure he tells Lurlene that Todd and Gary are the most awesome teachers on Earth as well as your heroes make sure Percy’s mother isn’t standing behind you and you didn’t know it. It’s slightly embarrassing when that happens.
Next Entry ... January 19: Lift The Northern Hemisphere