Military service has become something of a tradition in my family. It all started with my granddad’s enlistment the day he turned 18, then my dad’s, then my own. Each of us understands what it means to sacrifice for something we love, and we always make sure to come together on Memorial Day to celebrate our country, our freedom, and our family. And, of course, we just like to have a good time.
This year was a bit special. My granddad turned 78 last month, which makes 60 years since he joined the service. To celebrate, Dad and I thought it would be nice to do something a little different than our usual hot dogs by the pool (as famous as we are for our spectacular backyard cookouts!), so we took a trip to Lookout Mountain.
It had been a little while since we got the chance to go, but these trips are another kind of tradition for us. All the kids in my family remember daring each other across the Swing-A-Long Bridge at Rock City and racing to make out the seven states on the horizon, or pretending to be one of the first explorers in the caverns of Ruby Falls during the tour. Our favorite was always the Incline Railway. Granddad would treat us all to an ice cream from Clumpies and we’d dare each other to sit as close to the front as possible during the climb up the mountain.
I think Granddad especially loved the history of that place, whether he was admiring the charm of Historic St. Elmo down below or perusing the Centennial Photo Exhibit while we gawked at the massive Engine Room up top. That’s why Dad and I knew he would enjoy spending Memorial Day with a ride up to the top of the Incline Railway and a visit to the Chickamauga & Chattanooga National Military Park.
Granddad has kept himself in pretty good shape, but even so, the parks and museum are only a five-minute walk from the top Incline Railway station. We made the short trip to Point Park, which encompasses more than 9,000 acres of Civil War battlefields, monuments, and forests. The Battles for Chattanooga museum, located across from the Point Park entrance, was our first stop. A digital, projection-mapped show traced the major battles and events for us in a stunning visual story that brought the struggles to life. These battles sealed the fate of the Confederacy, and seeing it presented in such a well-crafted, modern way really drove the significance home to all of us.
After visiting the museum, we ventured into Point Park where we took the park’s paved walking path past historic tablets, monuments, and a scenic overlook that gave us a full view of the valley. Up there in the cooler air of the mountain, we paused a while and looked out over the land with renewed spirit. This, after all, was the driving reason for each of our decisions to enlist—an incredible land, full of amazing people. We spent the whole morning wandering the grounds and taking in the natural beauty of the mountain, reminiscing on old times and catching up on the new.
When we made our way back to the station, we took aside some time to do the things we always used to—take in the sights, talk Dad into posing for a few photos with us on the observation deck, wait in line so we could snag the front-row seats for the ride back down. And we even indulged in a little Clumpies ice cream at the bottom (you’re never too old for a family tradition). All in all, it was one of the most special Memorial Day weekends we’ve ever spent together, and we can’t wait to do it again next year.