Cannonball

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Memory lane – first Gettysburg visit

It was the hot summer of 1968. My parents decided to take a family vacation to Pennsylvania, a state I had never visited. We packed our suitcases in my Dad’s cream-colored Ford Falcon and headed across Ohio through Wheeling WV and into the Keystone State. After hours of driving, we stopped at Chambersburg’s Travelodge for the night. I could barely sleep, knowing that tomorrow I would see fabled Gettysburg for the first time! Vision of statues and monuments danced in my head, and I had prepared for this almost spiritual experience by reading and re-reading all my copies of Civil War Times Illustrated and every ACW book in the local East Fultonham, Ohio, branch of John McIntyre Library.
In the morning, Dad drove eastward from Chambersburg across South Mountain and approached Gettysburg in the early morning fog. My heart leaped…

As we climbed up McPherson’s Ridge, peering out of the mist was the statue of John Buford, the first Civil War monument we could see. I’m sure I let out a war whoop, and the excitement began. Within seconds, there was old John Reynolds, peering through the fog on his impressive metal steed.
Dad drove around the field most of the day, stopping at various famous spots where my sister and I could get out and walk the terrain a little and examine the monuments first-hand. I was in heaven! Mom snapped several rolls of film, and the entire day was terrific. Late in the afternoon, my Dad surprised me by stopping at Fort Defiance and allowing my sister and I to select one souvenir apiece.
I wound up with a boxed set of Britains 54mm “Swoppets/Eyes Right” toy soldiers (Union) and a solitary CSA flag bearer that Dad alllowed me to also purchase to take home to their Marx counterparts in my closet.
Finally, in the early evening, we bade farewell to Gettysburg and headed toward Hershey and the chocolate factory tour. I watched Gettysburg receded in the back window as I happily played with my new army men (no, we did not have back seat seatbelts!).
Little did I know that I would not return to Gettysburg until 1982 when, as a young scientist working for office products giant Avery Dennison, I took a day of vacation and made a side trip to Gettysburg after a business meeting at our factory in Quakertown, Pennsylvania. Now, after hundreds of subsequent trips, I stil cherish and treasure my memories of that first visit, especially because my beloved Dad is now in Heaven with his Father, and my Mom is in a nursing home in southern Ohio.
Do you remember your first visit to the battlefield? What memories do you enjoy from that experience?