In my downstairs den (currently a COVID-19 home office) above the entryway to the left is William B.T. Trego’s “The March to Valley Forge."
Inspired from a passage in Washington Irving’s “The Life of George Washington," it shows the general on his white horse as what was left of his Continental Army trudges past. “Sad and dreary was the march to Valley Forge ... hungry and cold were the poor fellows ... provisions were scant, clothing was worn out and so badly were they off for shoes that the footsteps of many might be tracked in blood.”
Upstairs in the library, the first thing the eyes see is Arnold Fryberg’s tribute to the 1976 American bicentennial, “The Prayer at Valley Forge."
It is a visual representation of the observation of 26-year-old Quaker Isaac Potts as told to the Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden preserved for us today by the Pennsylvania Historical Society: “I heard a plaintive sound, as of a man at prayer. I tied my horse to a sapling and went quietly into the woods, and to my astonishment I saw the great George Washington on his knees alone, with his sword on one side and his cocked hat on the other. He was at prayer to the God of the Armies, beseeching to interpose with his divine aid, as it was ye crisis and the cause of the country, of humanity, and of the world.”
Down the room and above the north window is a reprint of Andy Thomas’ “The Battle of Carthage,” bookended by portraits of Ulysses S. Grant to the left and Robert E. Lee to the right.
Moving toward that window, "The Source Records of the Great War" chronicle the savagery of the first world war transitioning into the second. It starts with sundry items — postcard humor of the day, ration books and the Thanksgiving dinner menu from the USS Iowa in November 1945. Each piece is buttressed by myriad written accounts from Winston Churchill’s history, “The Second World War,” complemented by the joint venture with Time/Life editors that includes an LP of Churchill's war speeches, numerous Stephen Ambrose works and Bob Dole’s “One Soldier’s Story” (I waited in line more than two hours for that handshake and signature) being the most recognizable, with shelves of everything else in between.
Standing watch over it all, atop the corner bookshelves, are pictures of Kansas native, Anzio veteran and German POW Harry Albright; and Missouri native and 8th Air Force veteran who was killed in action on his first bombing mission, waist gunner Jerre Algeo, of Golden City.
Atop the roll top desk where these columns are written: a model of the Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress, a commemorative D-Day plate and a first flight coin from the restored B-29 Superfortress “Doc,” with Peter Hurd’s Life Magazine print “Return from a Raid Over Rouen” hanging above.
On the wall to my right, portraits of Maj. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, Gen. George S. Patton Jr., and Ensign George Gay, next to a Douglas TBD-1 Devastator — the same model he flew off the deck of USS Hornet on the morning of June 4, 1942. You know Patton, many of you most likely know Boyington, but if you do nothing else after reading this column, look up Gay, The Battle of Midway.
Following that wall back to the staircase, my father’s World War II scrapbook is chock full of advertisements of the time and a picture of him in uniform before he set off for Alaska during the Korean War.
To a stranger, it's just a room above a garage filled with what my personal circle simply refers to as my “stuff." There's nothing of significant monetary value, but to me, it's a priceless reminder of all who have gone before me and that no matter my own trials, they are, to a one, of infinite insignificance compared with the hardships and sacrifices of past generations.
I have written the above with a sincere hope that via my little virtual tour you will think of them — the American veteran, the citizen soldier who for more than 200 years has stood in the breach.
From the freezing, shoeless farmer turned soldier marching into Valley Forge, to the Korean War artilleryman who sat in our local church; from the downed F-4 pilot who endured more than a year in a North Vietnamese prison camp and whose house I pass by with every trip home, to every man and woman serving around the globe today, it is up to us, the American civilian, to never forget and to forever guard their sacrifice and to give thanks to every person in uniform today who asks so little while giving so much.
I close with two absolute truths: Freedom is not free, and never upon never should we ever forget the American soldier who pays that price.
Geoff Caldwell lives in Joplin. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.