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September 3, 2008 > From Fremont to the Cradle of Freedom

From Fremont to the Cradle of Freedom

By Geoff Stanford

This 4th of July, I took the trip of a lifetime. I saw with my own eyes the shores of the James River where our country began, and walked in the footsteps of George Washington and Benjamin Franklin. I stood on the fields of Anteitam; the same ground that witnessed the most brutal fighting in American history and stood in the same room where Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant began the process of re- uniting the country. Everywhere I went, the sacrifice of so many was apparent.

Being my first trip to the East Coast, I wasn't sure what to expect. How well does the National Park Service upkeep our nation's most sacred landmarks? How well do they tell the story of what happened there? I must admit that I was absolutely amazed as to how great of a job they do. From the interpretive guides to the cleanliness and respect shown to our country's hallowed ground, our heroes really do have a peaceful place to rest.

While visiting the historic district of Philadelphia, I could almost see Washington, Jefferson and Franklin pulling up at Independence Hall in their carriages. I even had a drink at The City Tavern. Being around since the 1700's, I sat and relaxed exactly where our Founding Fathers sat and talked revolution. Walking through Constitution Center, I saw how they made those revolutionary ideals become real.

After a beautiful drive through southern Pennsylvania, I arrived at Anteitam National Battlefield. The site of the bloodiest day in American history, these fields saw 17,000 American casualties in one horrific day. Even worse, the sun set without a clear victor. It was enough of a victory, though, for Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation, forever changing the meaning of the war and the fate of America.

Next I visited Gettysburg, the most visited battlefield in the world. All of these visitors bring a lot of money to the park, and the $100 Million visitor center and museum were an amazing experience themselves. I stood on Little Round Top, where the fate of the Union Army at Gettysburg and of the entire war, was stretched to its limits. The heroic stand of the 20th Maine and other elements of the Fifth Corps countered Lee's flank attack and saved the day. Looking out over the ground covered by the infamous Pickett's Charge, one inevitably takes a second thought of what courage actually means.

Upon leaving these now serene fields that were once filled with so much mayhem, I traveled to New York City, the sight of mayhem today. From the hustle and bustle of Times Square to the baseball sanctuary of Yankee Stadium, New York City is truly one of a kind. Looking out at Ground Zero and seeing the memorials within St. James church, one cannot help but feel the sacrifice and courage that even today's Americans have endured. Patriotism runs high and the love for country is palpable.

I next visited the current seat of the federal government, Washington D.C. What struck me most was the honor and respect shown for those who have died to make our country what it is today. From the memorials to men; such as Lincoln, Washington and Jefferson, to the War memorials that pay homage to the common soldier, I stood in amazement at what our 233 year history is full of; those who have sacrificed their all for an idea. The idea of freedom was worth dying for; to give the only life they had to make sure we were free today. It was a powerful feeling and well worth the trip itself.

I ended the trip with a week- long tour of the state of Virginia and the rich Civil War history that runs through it. From the rolling hills to the split- rail fences, I felt like I traveled back in time. From the imposing earthworks and trenches of Yorktown and Petersburg to the fields and stone walls of Fredericksburg, I saw the places "where uncommon valor became commonplace."

I saw the boyhood home and the deathbed of George Washington. I stood in the exact room where Lincoln died, the morning after the theatre. I walked the rooms of Monticello, where Jefferson made use of many practical inventions. I traveled through the heart of the North and the heart of the South, and was pleased that some had the heart and courage to keep it the United States of America.

Of all of the things that I witnessed and learned on my trip, I believe the most important of all was a deep appreciation for all that I take for granted. We truly are lucky to live in America, and are indebted to those who have placed it in our hands. Our duty to them is to make sure we pass on a country just as strong and free as the one we were passed. I take pride in performing my duty in that proposition. I couldn't ever take the same trip twice, and I couldn't appreciate it any more than I do.

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