Cumberland Times-News

September 29, 2012

If he still has it, the general has to buy

Jim Goldsworthy, Columnist
Cumberland Times-News

— On this particular Friday morning, we definitely were not at the top of our game ... but that was all right. It was self-inflicted.

Other people have had worse days on Little Round Top, and we had nobody but ourselves to blame. Not enough sleep, for one thing. But we figured it wouldn’t last long, and it didn’t.

Not five minutes after we had finished what seemed like a longer than usual climb to our traditional post at our Parrott Rifle (a cannon, which had received a new paint job since our last visit), a little kid who couldn’t have been much more than 3 years old saw us in our Yankee uniforms and came a-runnin’.

His parents were close behind, moving a bit more slowly. Capt. Gary sat him on top of the cannon barrel and held him there, I put my cap on his head and his parents snapped a picture that showed him with an enormous grin. We’ve done this before, and it works every time ... both ways.

After they left, I asked the captain, “OK, now?” He said he was. “So am I,” I replied.

We added a new nationality to our list of visitors: soldiers from the Colombian Army.

One of them, a sergeant, pointed to the crossed cannon on my hat, smiled and said, “Artillery!” He stood next to me for a photo, and his officer stood next to the captain.

We can almost count upon being visited by a busload or more of Italians. There are ways I can tell that’s who they are:

• Even though I can’t speak the language, I recognize it when I hear it because the late Frank Calemine taught me just enough of it that I could get into a fight any place in Italy, if I so desired. (He did this when his wife Mary, who also spoke Italian, wasn’t around.)

• They demonstrate an animated and unrestrained happiness and friendliness moreso than any other nationality of people I’ve met.

• They don’t talk much to us, except for those who can speak enough English to ask if they can have their pictures with us, and to say “Grazie!” They are, however, constantly looking around to talk to each other — all at once — at the same time they’re also smiling at us. Not easy to do. (The closest I’ve seen to this came from four women at a table near the bar in Gettysburg Eddie’s. All four were talking — and eating — at the same time in a volume that utterly shattered what had been an atmosphere of calm and quiet. One of Gary’s buddies from Mount Savage said mournfully, “I guess that’s the end of us talking.”)

As the Italians left, there was a chorus of “Ciao!” and a lot of smiles and waving.

We also had smaller groups of French and Swedes, most of whom had no trouble conversing with us in English.

An attractive Swedish woman who seemed to be about 50 — more or less — stood next to me to have her picture taken.

I remarked that “People have told me there are a lot of pretty blonde ladies in Sweden ... and they were right!” (I am my father’s son.)

She rewarded me with a smile that would have generated even more collywobbles when I was younger, then pointed to her hair.

“Too many are gray,” she said.

“None that I can see,” I replied with absolute honesty, and the smile widened.

Capt. Gary, 1Sgt. Goldy and Cpl. Reggie are glad to see anyone who comes our way, especially if they’re on four legs instead of two.

Like people, they come in all sizes, including a big shaggy black German Shepherd-looking dog whose owner called out, “He’s friendly!” as they approached ... and he was. He may have made more of a fuss over us than we made over him, and in doing so reminded me of those Italian folks.

Another dog not more than about 15 inches tall looked like he was from a breed I should recognize and was severely testing the tensile strength of his leash.

I asked his owner what breed he was, and she said, “Heinz (57 varieties). He’s about 8 months old, and they say he won’t get much bigger than he is now.”

Capt. Gary leaned over and whispered, “That’s not what the size of his feet tell me.”

As you can see, we don’t just talk about the Civil War. Gary sold life insurance and was a bartender in Baltimore, and I’ve been doing the newspaper thing for 45 years, so we’re used to talking with people. Many times, they tell us things we don’t know. Some have ancestors or other relatives who fought with or against my relatives (I had some on both sides) at Gettysburg.

We meet a lot of active-duty soldiers and veterans, including a stocky middle-aged fellow who smiled at me and said, “Hi, there, Top!” (short for Top Soldier — the nickname for a first sergeant). I replied, “Good morning, sir!” I am certain that he and I have had that conversation before, at the same place.

A sergeant first class who was with a Mississippi Army National Guard outfit stopped to talk. As he left, it was all I could do to keep from calling him “Sir,” which would not have been proper because he works for a living.

His group included two generals — one of them a female major general (two stars).

As they walked by, this lady general looked at us and smiled. I tipped my hat to her, and she smiled even more and saluted me.

A fellow we’d never met before who portrays a Union brigadier (one star) joined us with his young son, who wore a shell coat just like mine — except that it’s considerably smaller.

He pointed to me and told some people, “My son looks like his little brother, doesn’t he?”

I thought to myself, but didn’t say, “Hell, sir, he is my little brother.”

The boy showed us a metal challenge coin the lady general had given him.

“Sir,” I told the brigadier, “I will leave it to you to explain to him that if the next time he meets that general and she asks to see that coin, and he doesn’t have it, he will have to buy the drinks. If he has it, she will have to buy.” I could tell he wasn’t sure what to say.

People often ask if we are re-enactors, and we explain that we are not. We do “living history.” We talk about it and leave the running across the field to those who are younger and have better backs, legs and lungs.

The captain tells folks that what he sometimes sees in re-enactments and movies and TV shows irritates him because it is wrong.

“Those men are shown going into combat while carrying full packs and other gear that might weigh as much as 90 pounds,” he says. “Soldiers going into battle would leave those things behind.”

We now and then run across people who actually are living history. I’ll tell you about a few of them next week.