On Memorial Day, 2015,  we loaded up the car and  headed out for a day trip to Toccoa, Georgia.  Although this Blue Ridge region of the Peach State has many spectacular places of interest, I was only focused on finding one particular landmark: Currahee Mountain. Currahee is a Cherokee word meaning “stand alone”. Most likely the name was derived from the mountain’s prominent peak that extends higher than all others within Stephens County. Currahee Mountain, which rises abruptly above the Chattahoochee Forest, climbs about 800 vertical feet  above the local terrain and its summit is visible for many miles on a clear day.

 

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For me, the significance of Currahee Mountain was not due to its topography, but rather the historical legacy it offers to the local community and our country as a whole. In 2001, the mountain received international notoriety by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg when they created their HBO television miniseries, Band of Brothers. The show chronicled the story of Easy Company of the US Army’s 101st Airborne division and their mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day.

 

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The immediate area surrounding Currahee Mountain was once the official training site of the American paratroopers stationed at Camp Toccoa, Georgia. It was this grueling terrain that the men of Easy Company and the 506th Infantry Regiment ran up and down on a regular basis to condition their bodies for combat. The name of the mountain, “Currahee”,  became the proud motto for these paratroopers including the now famous quote: “3 Miles up, 3 Miles down”.

 

Camp Toccoa

A soldier of the 506th Infantry Regiment poses in front of the entrance to Camp Toccoa, GA.

 

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Paratrooper display at Currahee Military Museum, Toccoa, GA 

 

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Memorial Day is a much more solemn holiday than Veterans Day as it was set apart to honor only those veterans who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country. Although I typically spend this day engaged in family-themed activities such as recreation and barbeques, I wanted to do something this year that would allow me to reflect more on the people who gave their all so we can enjoy those liberties so often taken for granted.

This year I became determined to know the pain of running the “three miles up, three miles down” of Currahee Mountain.  Though I’m hardly as fit as I once was, I devised a couple of rules for myself to make this special run as challenging as possible: I would not allow myself to walk at any point in the climb or descent; also, I would do the entire thing wearing combat boots. So many Americans throughout the history of our country have felt the pain of death in combat. So many Americans throughout the history of our country have felt the deep, heart-wrenching pain that comes about when a family member or loved one is killed in the heat of battle. What a small price it is to pay, what a small discomfort it is to endure, simply to run up a small mountain when so many Americans, past and present, have given away God’s greatest gift -their very own lives for the service of others.

Finding Currahee Mountain was a challenge all of its own. Aside from a small roadside marker, the trail leading up the mountain had no real distinguishable characteristics. It was simply a dirt road where heroes once trained.

 

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 “In memory of  Col. Bob Sink, first Commanding Officer of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment”

 

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Big John poses with Old Glory just before taking to the mountain.

 

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Although Rebecca’s knees were injured and Noah had previously never ran more than of couple miles on flat ground, they both committed whole-heartedly for the cause.

 

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…and so it begins!

 

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The pride of a father grasps firmly onto those colors!

 

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 Her knees ache fiercely, yet she soldiers on!

 We passed a few others along the way but there were two people who touched me in a profound way. One was a young soldier who was descending back down when we first began our climb. He was in uniform, wearing full battle gear to include a helmet and body armor. He carried a flag similar to mine and had an assault rifle slung across his chest. What a symbolic image he presented as he marched down that dusty trail!

The other was a heavyset, middle-aged man with a photograph of his brother memorialized on the back of his t-shirt. We exchanged words in passing and he informed me that he was making the trek for his dear brother who had been killed on his second tour in Iraq. What a small sense of pain I felt on this run compared to the internal wounds this man suffers daily over the loss of his own brother. I pray he found comfort knowing that we didn’t forget, we will never forget, the price that his brother paid for all of us so that we may live in a safer world.

 

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Rebecca carries the flag!

 

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You go, Noah!

 

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The higher we go, the steeper the climb!

 

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 Noah takes his rite of passage!

About a quarter of a mile from the top, something truly remarkable occurred. We were facing the steepest, harshest part of the climb. My jog  had slowed considerably and it had admittedly become more of a crawl than a run.  Each pain-staking step forward was transformed into its very own crucible and all three of us were suffering in our own personal hell.

It was at this moment, when the mountain seemed to be giving us her worst, that Noah grabbed a hold of the flag and took off in a full sprint towards the peak. To see him run like that, fueled by nothing other than raw determination, filled me with pride beyond words.  Noah understood the meaning of selfless service and he had come to understand the meaning of sacrifice.

 

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Rebecca leads the way as she takes those few remaining steps to the summit.

 

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Our small, exhausted squad snaps a quick selfie from the top before beginning the descent.

 

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A view from the top of Currahee Mountain.

 

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Noah waves Old Glory over Toccoa, Georgia.

 

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Noah leading the charge back down the mountain!

 

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To honor those who didn’t come back.

 

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We were amongst the lucky one to leave that mountain and head back home. Many left that mountain and never made it home.

 

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Noah rounds the curve!

 

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My babydoll assumes the honors!

 

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Our trial is nearly over! We will conquer Curahee!

 

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Another selfie at the finish!

“3 miles up, 3 miles down” – We had conquered Currahee Mountain. Along the way, the mountain gave us stories of sacrifice, taught us life lessons, and made an impact on us that goes much deeper than sore muscles and aching joints. God willing, we’ll all return here next Memorial Day. May we never forget!

 

Camp Toccoa Memorial

Camp Toccoa Memorial, Toccoa GA

 

Taccoa Falls

Toccoa Falls, Toccoa, Georgia

No one has greater love than this, that someone would lay down his life for his friends – John 15:13

 

Happy Travels,

Big John

 


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