Monkeying around on Gibraltar

The Rock of Gibraltar was referred to by the ancient Romans as the Pillars of Hercules. Legend has it that Hercules pushed up this massive rock out of the water, along with another pillar known as Jebel Musa , and narrowed the strait. This musclebound deity was said to have constructed these promontories to prevent any nefarious sea-monsters from entering the Mediterranean Sea from the Atlantic.  While Rebecca and I didn’t run into any sea serpents on our voyage to the rock, we soon discovered that the entire place was inhabited by creatures of an entirely different kind.

 

Following the collapse of the Roman Empire, the rock fell to Muslim Moorish rule in 711 A.D. After exchanging ownership numerous times throughout history, Gibraltar was eventually ceded to Britain from Spain in 1713. By the end of the 18th century, the Rock of Gibraltar had endured fourteen bloody sieges in a period of 500 years. Although Gibraltar borders the Southern coast of Spain, the British were quick to realize that the rock offered a strategic naval advantage that they were willing to pay any price to keep. By the onset of the 20th century, the Rock of Gibraltar had become England’s most important possession in all of the Mediterranean.

 

Big John poses under the Welcome to Gibraltar sign

Rebecca and I didn’t have any concrete plans as we set foot upon shore in this quaint British territory. We just knew we wanted to hike our way to the top and then get a good look around from the higher vantage point. Thankfully we were both wearing good walking shoes for this little trek. That rock was a lot taller than it looked from the onset!

 

We don’t really need a map for this one. We’re just hiking straight up until we reach the top!

 

Sometimes I just snap the picture when she’s not even looking.

 

Rebecca poses alongside the statue of Admiral Sir George Rooke

Admiral Sir George Rooke commanded the Grand Alliance in August 1704when his victorious Anglo-Dutch forces captured Gibraltar from Spain during the War of the Spanish Succession.

 

The rock actually stands 1,398 feet at its highest point. We are in for one heck of a climb!

 

Monument of the Evacuation of the Gibraltarians

During WWII, the British government ordered a mass evacuation of all non-essential citizens from the territory due to ongoing war operations and safety concerns. Because of this order, some Gibraltarians found themselves homeless for a period up to ten years.

 

Gibraltar Defense Force Memorial

The rock honors those that served to protect her during the second world war.

 

She said she had to make a call but I don’t see her talking to anybody.

 

“Yes operator, are you aware that all the people not living on this rock are now using mobile phones?”

 

Grand Casemates Square

Later in the day we found this courtyard  teeming with people. The Grand Casemates Square features daily shopping opportunities in outdoor public markets.

 

What’s with all these stuffed monkeys hanging in all of the shops? Maybe the locals know something I don’t.

 

These stairs were pretty intense… especially after learning I walked all the way up them for nothing. Maybe I should’ve listened to Rebecca and purchased that map.

 

Oh my God! There’s an escaped monkey sitting right on the ledge in front of us! Somebody needs to run back to one of those red payphones and inform the zoo!

 

What the freak! Two more monkeys! What’s going on here? I’ve seen something like this is a movie before. ” Take your stinking paws off me, you damn dirty apes!”

 

This guy appears friendly but it’s probably all a ruse. That whole “I’m just a cute little monkey” bit is real fun until you find yourself locked in a cage at the top of the rock.

The Rock of Gibraltar is actually home to roughly 300 of these monkeys. Officially, they are known as the Barbary macaques. Legend has it that the territory will only remain under British control as long as these rock apes remain a part of the local population. So although these tailless creatures can prove to be a mischievous lot, the citizens living here do their best to simply coexist.

 

The Moorish Castle flying the Union flag

The Moorish occupation of Gibraltar lasted the longest in all of the territory’s recorded history. The Moors reigned for a total of 710 years before finally falling to the Spanish in 1462.

 

Rebecca poses on the stone bridge leading to the Moorish castle.

 

Big John mans one of the two long-standing guns on Queen Charlotte’s Battery

 

She likes the big guns!

 

A magnificent view of the city halfway from the top.

 

 

Long before the invention of spray paint and aerosol cans, British troops used other methods to tag their graffiti on the walls.

 

“Umh, I can see you flirting with him! I’m standing right here!”

 

During WWII, Winston Churchill believed that an attack on Gibraltar by German or Italian forces was imminent. A massive network of tunnels were constructed to serve as a fortress within a fortress.

 

 

A communications officer deciphers code deep within the rock.

 

British troops bunker up high, monitoring the coastline for any signs of enemy activity.

 

A birds eye view from the top.

 

 

How was I to know the cannon was actually loaded? Luckily the ball fell short of striking Spanish soil; although I’ll probably still end up having to pay for that fisherman’s boat.

 

 

A view of one of Gibraltar’s beautiful beaches.

 

These Barbary macaques seem to lack any fear of heights.

 

 

It wasn’t nearly as good as it looks. They had already eaten most of the apples and the remainder of the fruit salad was sort of sticky and hairy.

 

 

That little guy was feeling all tuckered out. He had no intentions on walking all the way back down the mountain.

 

 

I found it best to wear sunglasses around the monkeys. That way it’s harder for them to see fear in my eyes.

 

A cable car delivers a sweeping view to its passengers as it carries them to the peak.

 

 

The only road going into and out of Gibraltar crosses right over the runway. Traffic is halted anytime a plane lands or takes off.

 

Barbary macaques nursing their young.

 

 

I really don’t appreciate the way that one on the left is looking at me. I clearly already picked up that apple before their kleptomaniac baby tried to steal it from me!

 

 

It looks dangerous, baby!

 

 

The Devil’s Gap Battery was the only gun in Gibraltar to see action during World War 1. In August 1917, she fired upon and sunk a German submarine caught surfacing off the Algeciras coast.

 

 

It’s getting hot up on this mountain and the monkeys seem a bit too riled up for my liking. I think it’s time we should seek out a little R&R back down in town. 

 

Look at that! Rebecca has stumbled upon the oldest bar in Gibraltar. How’s about me and the Mrs. step inside for a pint.

 

We better not drink too much though, the “bobbies are on the beat!”

 

“…and a top of the morning to you, officers!”

 

“So many drinks to choose from! I’m so thirsty from our climb I’m tempted to try one of each!”

 

The Horseshoe Pub or “Donkey’s Flipflop” is one of the local hangouts and offered a friendly, cool environment to escape the heat.

 

Cheers to my wife! She will always be my best mate!

 

 

It may appear to you that beer-drinking was my primary activity whilst on the Rock of Gibraltar. Well actually, aside from that laborious hike up a mountain to dine with some greedy monkeys, I think that is about all I did.

 

…but I did bring along this pretty little girl to wash down a few pints with me!

 

Must’ve been all of  the beer combined with this ferocious heat, ’cause I swear that motorcycle-man statue just shot a wink at me!

 

 

I hope you enjoyed sharing along in our little trip to Gibraltar. If you ever find yourself on this side of the Mediterranean Sea, allow me to offer you a bit of advice. Visit the markets, see the rock, and take a little stroll to the top. Be sure to take in a few British pubs and certainly enjoy a nice cold pint or two. As far as the monkeys go, I think they’re better enjoyed from afar. Never get into a scuffle with one of the babies over an apple core, it can’t really ever end well. Also, there’s really no need to try to teach them any coin tricks or anything involving a sleight of hand. Apparently they’re already schooled on magic. I started to demonstrate the “disappearing quarter behind the ear trick” with one of the younger ones. Before I could finish my trick, he did a better trick and made my wallet and camera disappear. Unfortunately it ran down the cliff and escaped in a cave with all of my stuff.  I never did learn how he performed that trick.

Thank you for reading my article and I hope you will visit again real soon. Feel free to explore other areas of my blog, leave a comment, and show some love on social media.

Happy travels,

Big John

 


Posted in Adventurous Places, Europe, Historical Journeys and tagged , by with no comments yet.

The Holy City and Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains

The Wichita Mountains Wildlife Refuge is a must-see point of interest;  should anybody ever find themselves treading aimlessly through the prairie grasses of Southwest Oklahoma. Measuring over 59,000 acres, this wildlife facility is home to the plains bison, Texas longhorns, Rocky Mountain elk, and considerable other large mammals. Aside from the beautifully rugged terrain, visitors to the area might also delight in 806 diverse plant species, 240 types of bird, 36 species of fish, and 64 reptilian and amphibious creatures. With my baby doll by my side, I set out on Memorial Day weekend. My mission was to divide and conquer this marvel of the American Great Plains. Come along as we explore the Holy City and Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains.

 

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Entrance into one of the many trails winding through the Wichita Mountains.

 

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An American bison grazes on the prairie grass landscape that blankets much of the park.

 

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Signs like these inform visitors of the numerous types of flora and fauna found in the refuge.

 

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All this Texas Longhorn needs is a good tree to scratch between those ears!

 

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Ahh! It appears he found one.

 

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Hey, don’t mind me! This is your road. I’m just a minor inconvenience.

 

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Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to play in the street?

 

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The branches of these gnarled trees, stretched out against the mountainous backdrop, were nothing short of beautiful.

 

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Beautiful yellow prairie flowers as far as the eye could see.

 

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Almost felt like I should’ve been on horseback trying to traverse this terrain.

 

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A quaint Oklahoma town nestled in the valley below.

 

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These colorful slabs of granite give off the impression of a wild and tameless land.

 

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Outside the entrance to the Holy City of the Wichita Mountains.

Throughout history, the Wichita Mountains have inspired people in multiple ways. In 1926, Austrian-born Reverend Mark Anthony Wallock was so taken aback  by this rugged terrain that he turned 66 acres of it into a biblical reproduction of Israel. Atop this holy outcropping of rock, Reverend Wallock began the nation’s largest passion play ever, entitled “The Prince of Peace”.  The play quickly rose to such a national acclaim that in 1939, 225,000 people filled Audience Hill for an Easter sunrise performance.

 

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A single stone taken from the Mount of Olives is set into the base of this statue. This eleven foot marble statue depicts Jesus Christ standing over the site with outstretched arms.

 

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As Rebecca and I exited our vehicle, we caught glimpse of these two wanderlust souls pulling up into the parking lot. They had started their little journey all the way back from the Land Down Under.

 

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Good onya’ Mates! Your super-Aussie recreational vehicle, the Global Roamer 2, was easily the envy of the park!

 

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A fitting monument to a man who dedicated his entire life to Christ.

 

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Never imagined I’d find a rusty chariot in the Okie hills.

 

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A portrait of the good reverend himself greets visitors as they enter the Holy City chapel.

 

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One of Christ’s apostles, I presume.

 

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We all need guardian angels to watch over our lives.

 

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Here is a much smaller depiction of our lord and savior, compared to the eleven foot Jesus standing watch just outside.

 

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The chapel at Holy City was built to resemble America’s oldest church, Christ Church in Alexandria, Virginia, where President George Washington was said to have worshiped.

 

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A solemn space to pray and reflect.

 

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Wax figures depicting a scene of immortality and resurrection.

 

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Confronting the stone gateway to Jerusalem.

 

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Psalm 78:35 – And they remembered that God was their rock, And the Most High God their Redeemer.

 

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On the path to Calvary’s Mount.

 

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All along the watchtower, princes kept the view, while all the women came and went, barefoot servants too…. -Hendrix.

 

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Rebecca just loved these pretty cactus flowers.

 

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Rebecca strikes a pose on top of Wallock’s Calvary Mount.

 

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The historic town of Medicine Park, Oklahoma’s first resort community.

After departing from the Holy City, Rebecca and I made our way to the nearby resort town of Medicine Park. This  popular resort area sprang up in 1908 as a means for Oklahoma residents to escape the brutal dust-filled days of summer.

 

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Comanche, Kiowa and Apache once occupied these grounds, believing that the Medicine Park Lake provided life and healing powers.

 

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I believe this postage stamp mural captures the essence of this little town.

 

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A fisherman dances his fly across the water’s face.

 

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Somebody is feasting on rainbow trout tonight!

 

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The Bath Lake is situated at the center of town.

 

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Gone Fishin” seems to be the buzzword around these parts!

 

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Don’t let this old sign fool you! The Old Plantation Restaurant in Medicine Park is a premier dining establishment.

 

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Much like every other building and dwelling in Medicine Park, this restaurants exterior is comprised almost entirely of cobblestone.

 

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The walls of this eatery have stood since the founding of Medicine Park. Boy, would they have stories could these walls talk!

 

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For a big, juicy steak and salad, I will attest that there’s no place finer in all of Oklahoma!

 

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She may be small, but this downtown has a character all of her own!

 

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The annual Red Dirt Ball in Medicine Park brought out some of the best musicians around  to showcase red dirt music at its finest. 

There’s no better a time to visit Medicine Park than on Memorial Day weekend. Rebecca and I had a blast while listening to great music, drinking cold beer, and sampling all the food and fun!

 

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The Wild West Soda coach was one of many vendors who made their way to Medicine Park’s annual Memorial Day festivity.

 

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I couldn’t help but snap more than a few pictures of this sweet operation!

 

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The adorable couple running this Old West-themed beverage counter served up hand-crafted sodas with a smile.

 

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Ah, to live out retirement traveling across our wonderful land. To see the all of America’s grandeur while never going thirsty. These two really got it made!

 

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Hello sexy! Do you come here often?

 

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Careful! Please don’t prick your pretty little finger!

 

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I’m just going to sit her with her and finish this beer.

 

If there is one thing I hope to accomplish here is to get you motivated to find an adventure of your own. It’s a big world out there and there’s plenty to see and do just around every corner. As you can see, Oklahoma is a lot more than just dustbowls and prairie biscuits. God bless America!

 

Happy travels,

Big John

 



Posted in Adventurous Places, Historical Journeys, North America and tagged , , by with 2 comments.

Remembering WWII in Linden, Tennessee

On September 24, 2016, my sons and I set foot into the small, unassuming town of Linden, Tennessee. In doing so, we magically stepped back a period of seventy-two years. We had entered into the year 1944. During our time-travel voyage, the boys and I experienced a taste of life as it was in both Europe and on the homefront during that momentous period of history.  There were war bonds to buy. Food was rationed at the markets. Air raid sirens cracked the morning calm and the threat of an enemy attack was at the forefront of everybody’s mind. We were suddenly caught up in the largest event ever recorded by history – we had entered into a world at war.

 

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Newsboys take to the streets heralding the story of impeding doom.

 

What had started in a Linden resident’s home to honor local veterans, Remembering WWII has now blossomed into an award winning national event that draws in thousands from across our nation. The motto of this fascinating event is to remember your past and honor your heroes. Its founder, Anthony Courter, stated the following:

We began Remembering WWII, not to glorify war or advocate a return to “the good old days”, but to cast a vision of the future by helping our generation understand the lessons of the past.

Remembering WWII is a festival like no other I’ve ever experienced. It was nostalgic, patriotic, and unapologetically American. Remembering WWII was as educational as it was entertaining. The atmosphere was somber at times, while cheerful at others. If there was one thing about this festival I believe everybody would agree on, it’s that Remembering WWII was a whole lot of star-spangled fun! There were realistic battle reenactments on the streets and propeller warplanes zooming overhead.  There was great music as big bands played on stage and a talented sister-trio belted out the hits of WWII. There was food, vendors, and fireworks. There were even vintage military vehicle rides for the kids.

 

Video courtesy of rememberingwwii.com

The thing about this festival that had the most  profound impact on me was the one thing that is soon to be no more. Some of the last remaining heroes of WWII attended this event. They are what’s left of America’s “greatest generation” and it is them I am obliged to honor and cherish. I shook the hand of Clinton Riddle and Don Jakeway of the 82nd Airborne Division. These two paratroopers landed in Normandy and fought their way through the horrors of war in a D-Day invasion.  My two sons listened in as Jerry Neal spoke of dropping bombs over an occupied France only to barely survive a crash landing in the English Channel. I heard the courageous tales of many of these men and I remembered. I remembered my own departed grandfather who humbly served our country as a Higgins boat sailor in the raging waters of the Pacific. I thought of my other grandfather, a marine who carried his saxophone onto Japanese occupied islands. My grandfathers’ days are no more; but in a way, their spirits still live on in these survivors. Their memory immortalized by this event in Linden, Tennessee.

 

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Jerry Neal of the 490th Bomb Group, 849th Squadron, 8th Air Force poses with a picture of his brave crew.

Mr. Neal is a veteran of Operation Overlord (D-Day).  Upon returning from the skies over Normandy, he and his crew ran out of fuel and crash landed in the English Channel.

 

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Romance was alive on the streets, even in the midst of war.

 

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Don’t they look dandy! Those victory curls are all the rage!

 

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Window dressing in the shops of Linden, Tennessee.

 

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Every parade needs a fire truck!

 

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What better way to seize the day than by bicycle.

 

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WW2 veterans seated under the flag of an occupied courthouse.

There’s no fear in these boys’ hearts! These heroes of heroes have seen firsthand how this one plays out!

 

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Morale is high on the streets of Linden, Tennessee.

 

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Smalltown, America has always enjoyed a good parade.

 

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Hot food and refreshing colas served in the Cafe’ de Normandie.

 

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A member of the Women’s Army Corps takes to the streets with her camera.

 

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Don’t these volunteers look pretty aiding in the war effort!

 

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Gathering under shade inside the HQ tent of the American Red Cross.

 

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Shelves of delicious French bread entice soldiers and civilians to enter this bakery’s doors.

 

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A mother and her babes makes a day of it on these friendly streets.

 

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Two Bavarian sweethearts!

 

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Come see this new motion picture, “Mrs. Miniver”.

This award winning movie of 1942 is a romantic war drama. It tells the story of an unassuming woman caught up in a war that rages across Europe.

 

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Signs of the Nazi occupation are plastered throughout the town.

 

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Noah and Jonah reflected in the glass as they stroll past this rationed food market.

 

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…Lest we forget.

 

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This American woman brings her kitchen out into her own front yard.

 

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Isn’t she a class act!

 

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Registration tent for volunteers and reenactors.

 

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Paratroopers (Fallschirmjager)  of the 3rd Division, 5th Regiment forming up for battle.

 

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A German tanker carefully inspects his Panzer.

 

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Noah’s way too excited to put his grip on this authentic MP40.

 

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Big John leans against a heavily armed vehicle.

 

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Life inside the German encampment.

 

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Gear and rations for the American G.I.

 

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An American paratrooper resting his knees.

 

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The American Jeep was the warhorse that carried the fight to the enemy.

 

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Rise and shine, soldier boy! There’s a war to fight!

 

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Morale, welfare, and recreation inside the camp.

 

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My boys posing with the enemy.

 

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A solitary troop loads ammo into magazines.

 

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Let’s get these tanks rolling!

 

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Some of these German boys look pretty well fed!

 

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The Brits setting up camp.

 

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Army life seems almost identical for both allies and axis.

 

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Fraternizing behind enemy lines.

 

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People around here will always stand for Old Glory!

 

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A proud American standing tall!

 

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German troops storming into Normandy.

 

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A fiery scene envelops before us.

 

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Beat back those Krauts!

 

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Bodies of the dead litter the streets.

 

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The courthouse becomes enveloped in dark smoke.

 

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Here comes our boys!

 

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Our liberators carried by Jeep.

 

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Keep your head down! Keep calm and carry on!

 

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Was I really in France or was I still in Tennessee? I don’t know, but things sure did get hairy when those Germans came storming into town. Their tanks and machine guns were something fierce and at one point I thought we were all goners for sure! Thank God for our American and British fighting men, and let’s not forget the French resistance fighters too. We gave those Krauts hell, and in the end we routed them from our friendly little town.

All that fighting makes a guy hungry. What’s this about an evening dinner and a USO styled show?

 

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Help sink boats, buy Victory Floats!

Before loading up and heading back home, the boys and I attended the outdoor dinner and a portion of the USO-style music show. Of course, the food and entertainment was phenomenal. It tasted like victory… and who amongst us can resist the creamy sweetness of a victory float?

 

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Captain America needs you!

In closing I would like to thank the entire community of Linden , Tennessee. I would like to thank them, not just for the adventure of it all, but for the important life lessons this event taught my own two kids. In remembering the courage and sacrifice of those that went before us, we might strive to better appreciate the freedoms so many of us in this country take for granted. To sum up the true spirit of Remembering WWII, it is this: We, as Americans, should be careful not to forget those lessons from history; to forget is to chance repeating the mistakes of the past.

Happy travels,

Big John

 



Posted in Historical Journeys and tagged , , , by with no comments yet.
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