Cumberland Times-News

Columns

July 13, 2014

They’d have fallen like Autumn leaves

— So there we were, minding our own business (at least momentarily), leaning against the cannon at Little Round Top.

Capt. Gary pointed down the hill and said, “There’s our buddy, Jim (the tour guide).”

He wasn’t easy to spot at first, being surrounded by a busload of high school girls and a few teacher/chaperones.

Jim is a great guy. He likes us, and not just because we buy him drinks at Gettysburg Eddie’s. (He also buys them for us.) He knows he can entrust his charges to us without fear of our corrupting them or undoing his very good work, and he will get a much-needed break at the same time he receives quality free entertainment.

I would add that Jim, like the other tour guides, is required to possess a knowledge of what happened at Gettysburg that would put to abject shame all but the top-shelf college American history professors.

He also knows that Capt. Gary and First Sgt. Goldy aren’t like many of the re-enactors, who do what they do to feed their own egos (which leads the tour guides to despise them). We study the subject and admit that we don’t know everything because we don’t want to mislead them or give bad information.

Most important, we don’t (what was left after Ferdinand moved to another part of the pasture) the tourists. We want them to take something good away from the experience.

We teach them, they teach us, and we try to see that everybody has fun with it. Most times, we just talk.

Jim said he told the schoolgirls, “I’m sure those soldiers would like to have their pictures taken with you,” then high-tailed it to get out of their way.

It was like facing a buffalo stampede, except that we didn’t have any horses to shoot and take cover behind.

They were darting here and there, in and out — almost as if it had been choreographed — to alternate standing next to us at the cannon.

Then they would look up at us with radiant eyes and teenage girl smiles that would reduce boys and lesser men than the captain and the sarge to quivering protoplasmic marmalade and say, “Hi!” We just quiver a bit internally and proceed with the mission.

It’s at such times that I often turn to casual onlookers and ask, “NOW do you understand why we do this?” They usually nod Uh-huh.

(My dad and once I watched a pretty girl walk by, expertly pretending not to notice her. [Dad took notice of pretty girls until the last day of his life.] I told him some things are easier to deal with when you’re 50 than they were at 20, 30 or even 40. “Wait ‘til you’re 85,” he said, “and see how damn easy it gets!”)

 When the person with the camera says “Smile!” we usually explain why we don’t smile: Back in the day, having your picture taken was a formal occasion, and it took so long to expose the plate that you simply couldn’t hold a smile that long.

Sometimes, it’s not possible to keep a straight face — like when a little kid in his mother’s arms points to us and hollers, “They’re The Good Guys!”

An attractive lady teacher was the schoolgirls’ designated picture-taker. They took turns handing her their cameras and jumping in between the captain and the sarge.

The time came when she was holding three cameras, so she leaned back a ways and rested one of them on what I can only describe as a shelf, which at the teacher’s angle of attack was about level with her chin. That camera never moved an inch while she took pictures with the other two. I figured she’d done this before.

Gary and I didn’t dare look at each other for several minutes out of a mutual desire to maintain decorum.

Some of the re-enactors are pretty good guys. One is our friend Larry, who portrays Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Larry showed up in uniform with three other Union generals, including George B. McClellan, and a full bird colonel.

I told the captain, “Sir, I ain’t seen this many stars since the last time I was out on a clear night.”

There were plenty of tourists to go around, so we divvied them up.

One family group that came up to the captain and me included a tall, clean-cut, thoroughly robust and handsome young man. I’d not hesitate to walk into any bar in the country with him (after he turns 21, that is).

He would have had those high school girls swooning and fluttering to the ground like white oak leaves on a late October squirrel-huntin’ day.

“We oughtta recruit this’un, Cap’n,” I said. “He’s packed with vitamins. Besides that, he’s already Army.”

He was wearing a T-shirt that said he was a member of the U.S Military Academy football team and told us he was in the class of 2015.

“Come here, son,” said the captain. “I want you to meet another West Pointer,” and took him over and introduced him to Larry, who looks so much like Grant (class of 1843) that most folks would have trouble telling them apart.

While his family watched, Larry talked to him for close to an hour — about what, we had no idea, but we had the feeling that Grant himself was present and doing most of the talking.

He even escorted the cadet and his family down the hill to the 20th Maine monument at the left flank of Little Round Top, a couple of hundred yards away.

This kid’s grin was big as those we see on the youngsters we hold while they’re sitting on the cannon barrel, with one of our caps on their heads. (Or the little old ladies who ask if they can have a photo with us, when we respond that we’re always grateful to have our pictures taken with pretty girls.)

“I guarantee you,” the captain said, “it won’t take long for everybody in that young man’s class to hear about this after he goes back to West Point.”

So will everybody in every other class, I added. It will be a day he and his family will remember for the rest of their lives.

That’s the real reason we do what we do.

Oh ... did I mention that Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee is also a friend of ours? He is.

And so is Wolf Boy.

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