Remembering Pearl Harbor

On Sunday morning, December 7, 1941, the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service launched a surprise, preemptive strike on the US. Pacific Fleet stationed at Pearl Harbor Hawaii. All around the island of Oahu, other US military bases and strategic locations of defense were simutaneously attacked by Japanese aircraft.  The attack began at 0748 hrs., when the first of 353 Imperial Japanese aircraft , (consisting of two waves of fighters, dive bombers, and torpedo planes), broke through the clouds and began wreaking havoc on their unsuspecting targets below.

A japanese bomber soars up and over battleship row after releasing its payload.

In the aftermath of the Sunday morning attack, all 8 US Navy battleship were damaged with 4 sunk. The Japanese also sank 3 destroyers, 3 cruisers, 1 minelayer, and an anti-aircaft training ship. 188 US aircraft had also been destroyed in the attack; 2,403 Americans were killed, and another 1,178 others were wounded. By attacking the US Pacific fleet at Pearl Harbor, the Japanese had hoped to prevent the United States from interfering with its planned military campaigns in Southeast Asia and elsewhere. One day after the devastating attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States declared war on the Empire of Japan.

Big John at Pearl Harbor Memorial, Hawaii

Blessed with the opportunity to spend a considerable amount of time on the island of Oahu, I made it my priority to explore the Pearl Harbor Memorial, as well as other areas directly affected by the December 7 attack. These are just a few of the photos I captured along the way. It was my intention that these photos cause readers to pause and reflect on this momentous event that led the United States into World War II.

Although some of the sites at the Pearl Harbor Memorial are paid attractions, the USS Arizona Memorial is entirely free. If you plan on visiting the site, I highly recommended that you get there as early in the morning as possible as the tickets to the USS Arizona are all on a first come – first serve basis. The later it is that you reach the park, the longer it is that you will most likely have to wait. While waiting your turn to see the USS Arizona, there are a number of museum-quality displays to explore, as well as the USS Bowfin submarine, and a gift shop and cafe.

Going out to the USS Arizona is a very solemn experience. First visitors will be ushered into a theater where they will watch a moving documentary of the Pearl Harbor attack on a large screen. After the film, visitors will board a boat where US Navy sailors will take them out to the wreckage. During the entire tour of the USS Arizona, all talking and texting is highly discouraged. Photographs are encouraged and permitted.

US Navy sailors ferry visitors to and from the USS Arizona

Battleship USS West Virginia sunk and burning at Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. In background is the battleship USS Tennessee.

The USS West Virginia was hit with seven type 91torpedoes on her port side while bombers struck her with a pair of 16 in (410 mm) armor piercing shells. The ship was sunk but did not capsize. The crippling damage to the USS West Virginia caused it to sink upright to the harbor floor  During the attack, 106 sailors lost their lives. The USS West Virginia was eventually repaired and saw action during many World War II battles in the Pacific.

Survivors of Pearl Harbor described the scene as a literal hell on earth. Everywhere there were explosions, screams and fire. Sailors jumped from their ships into the harbor, covered in oil and fully engulfed in flames. All the while, Japanese planes continued their onslaught while brave sailors, Marines, and aviators tried to repel their attack.

The USS Arizona (BB-39) explodes violently as a Japanese bomb detonates inside a powder magazine.

For 1,177 officers and crew of the USS Arizona, there would be no future war stories to be told. For the men that died aboard the USS Arizona, the war ended even before it had begun.  Unlike many of the other ships that were sunk on December 7, 1941, the USS Arizona was well beyond repair. The wreckage of the ship, along with her valiant men, still lie at the bottom of Pearl Harbor.

The USS Arizona Memorial with USS Missouri in the background.

The USS Arizona Memorial is an actual gravesite as many sailors are still entombed inside the hull of the ship. The memorial was designed by Alfred Preis, an Austrian-born architect who was sent to a US internment camp after the Pearl Harbor attack.

Although the memorial is positioned directly over the wreckage of the USS Arizona, no part of its structure actually rests on the ship.

To this day, considerable amounts of oil from the ship still seep to the water’s surface.

The names of all lost who served aboard the USS Arizona and lost their lives on December 7, 1941.

An actual anchor belonging to the USS Arizona that was recovered in Pearl Harbor.

The USS Bowfin (SS-287), a Balao-class submarine, saw action in the Pacfic and is now moored at Pearl Harbor, HI.

The lone sailor now stands watch over Pearl Harbor and is a tribute to all those who served in the sea services.

A WWII era torpedo

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, American Naval Command believed that Pearl Harbor was too shallow for a successful torpedo attack. In planning their operation, the Japanese modified their torpedoes to operate effectively in only about 40 feet of water. The Type 91 torpedo, which was deployed in the attack, was an aerial torpedo designed to be launched from an airplane. The torpedo’s wooden stabilizers were shed from the tail fins immediately upon water entry and the weapon power-glided towards its target just below the water’s surface.

Map showing the December 7, 1941 attack on the island of Oahu.

The Pearl Harbor Naval Base wasn’t the only thing on Oahu attacked on December 7, 1941. The Japanese also struck  Schofield Barracks, Wheeler Army Airfield, Hickam Airfield, Bellows Field, Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay, and Ewa Mooring Mast Field. Along with the numerous military personnel killed and wounded, there were also 49 civilians who lost their lives that day.

A restored Japanese Zero at the Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island, Hawaii.

Many Japanese pilots carried these “good-luck” banners with them inside the cockpits of their planes.

Actual wreckage from a Japanese fighter plane.

On December 8, 1941, Sakamaki became the first Japanese prisoner-of-war as he stumbled out of his beached mini-submarine at Bellows Air Station, Hawaii.

Sakamaki was commanding a 79-foot submarine armed with twin 18-inch torpedoes. His mission to destroy the USS Pennsylvania was cut short when it got stuck on reefs at Belllows Air Station and them bombed by US piloys patrolling the area.

My son, Jonah, stands in the same spot the Japanese submarine washed to shore.

This map was found in the beached submarine showing the entrance to Pearl Harbor.

The big barracks at Hickam Field was set ablaze after being strafed and bombed by Japanese aircraft.

During the attack on the barracks, a bomb directly struck the mess hall during breakfast and killed 35 men. In total, the casualties on Hickam Field totaled 121 men killed, 274 wounded and 37 missing.

Today, the Hickam barracks serve as the Headquarters for the Pacific Air Force.

This flag, which once flew proudly over Hickam barracks, was rescued from destruction on the day of infamy. 

The Courtyard of Heroes inside the courtyard of the Pacific Air Force Headquarters Building (formerly Hickam barracks).

Those that view the bullet holes and shrapnel damage to these walls are reminded to always stay vigilant.

A wall of remembrance at the Pacific Air Force Headquarters Building

A Japanese dive bomber aims for the runway at Ford Island and Battleship Row.

Tora! Tora! Tora! (Photo courtesy of www.worldwar2database.com)

This view was captured from from the top of Ford Island’s control tower as Hangar 6 burned after being struck by multiple bombs. Men can be seen pushing planes away from the carnage while trying to fight back the flames. Imperial Japanese Navy Captain Mitsuo Fuchida broadcasted the words, “Tora! Tora! Tora!” (Tiger! Tiger! Tiger!) to signal a successful surprise attack. Captain Fuchida later recalled, “When Lieutenant Commander Takahashi and his dive-bombing group mistook my signal and thought we were making a non-surprise attack, his fifty-three planes lost no time in dashing forward.”

The tower on Ford Island as it appears today.

These glass panes still carry bullet holes from the December 7, 1941 attack.

The Pearl Harbor Aviation Museum on Ford Island houses a Boeing B17 Flying Fortress. Visitors to the museum can see this heavy bomber, along with many other planes that helped America win the war in the Pacific.

The Curtiss P-40 Warhawk was one of WWII’s most famous fighters.

This Douglas SBD (slow-but-deadly) Dauntless was the navy’s premier dive bomber of that day.

This massive burial ceremony was performed for the men killed at NAS Kaneohe Bay during the December 7th attack.

This signpost represents the crossroads to war in the Pacific.

Following the vicious attacks on Pearl Harbor, nearly every able-bodied American rushed to the recruiting office to do their part for the war effort.

My maternal grandfather, Robert Triebull, (on the right), crouches for a snapshot outside the Lan Ting restaurant, Waikiki, Hawaii.

Robert Triebull enlisted in the navy. He drove Marines to shore on landing craft (LCVP) during seven major battles in the Pacific. Click on the following link to read more of his story:

Diary of a Higgins Boat Sailor in the Pacific

My paternal Grandfather, Richard Cutler, serving as a Marine in the jungles of the Pacific.

Richard Cutler joined the Marines when the war broke out. He served as a rifleman and also played the saxophone in the Marine Corps band. Read more of his story by clicking this link:

A Leatherneck with a Saxophone Takes to the Pacific

Many scenes from the Pacific Theater can be revisited at Pearl Harbor Memorial.

The USS Missouri (BB-63) is now permanently moored at Ford Island, Hawaii, USA.

Signing an end to WWII aboard the USS Missouri Battleship.

On September 2, 1945, the Japanese joined with allied forces aboard the battleship USS Missouri (BB-63) to sign the Instruments of Surrender. This event marked the allies’ victory over Japan and the ended the war.

Big John takes his mother to meet Sterling Cale, one of the last remaining survivors of the Pearl Harbor Attack.

Sterling Cale is a true American Hero. He went on to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor, only to serve again in both the Korean War and Vietnam. On the day of our visit, Sterling Cale was at the park signing autographs for his inspiring autobiography.

Remembering Pearl Harbor

Through the passing of time, historical events can become so distant that they adopt an almost abstract quality to them. In remembering Pearl Harbor, I hope we always remember that the men that died there, and those men and women that ultimately served and sacrificed in the Second World War, were not some abstract figures in some bygone, abstract event. The attack on Pearl Harbor – the day that will live in infamy – involved the very heart of America, our very own families and friends.

Happy travels,

Big John


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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

 



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3 Miles Up, 3 Miles Down or How to Conquer Currahee

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.

camp sign

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”.

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.

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.

…and so it begins!

My son grasps firmly onto those colors as his proud father rallies him on!

 Her knees ached fiercely, yet she soldiered 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.

Rebecca carries the flag up Curahee Mountain.

Way to go, Noah! Remember the reason why you’re running!

The higher we go, the steeper the climb!

 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.

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

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

A view from the top of Currahee Mountain.

Noah waves Old Glory over Toccoa, Georgia.

Noah leading the charge back down the mountain!

We made this run to honor those who didn’t come back.

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

Noah rounds the curve on the way back down.

My baby-doll assumes the honors!

Our trial is nearly over! We will conquer Curahee!

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, Toccoa GA

Toccoa Falls, Toccoa, Georgia

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

I appreciate you taking the time to read my article and thank you for visting my blog site. Feel free to leave a comment, explore more of my site, or share some love on social media.

Happy Travels,

Big John



Posted in Adventure Fitness, Adventurous Places, Historical Journeys, North America and tagged , , , , , by with 11 comments.
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