Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Fort Leslie J. McNair and "last" meals

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I was pleased last week to hear from a senior historian at the U.S. Army Center of Military History, kindly offering to share a little more information about one of Lucas County's World War II fatalities. Hopefully, there will be more to tell about this later in the week.

But it was not the subject matter that triggered a memory; instead, the location of the Center --- Fort Leslie J. McNair. I have fond recollections of a couple of weeks spent --- while sleeping at least --- at McNair back in late 1969 during a kind of dream time between graduation at Fort Holabird, in Baltimore, and deployment to Vietnam.

McNair, which currently occupies about 100 acres, is located within Washington, D.C., at the tip of Greenleaf Point at the confluence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The National Mall and all that it entails is not far to the north; the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, west across the Potomac. Although not widely known, this is the third oldest U.S. Army installation, established in 1791.

In addition to the history center, the National Defense University and Inter-American Defense College also are located here. It also is headquarters for the Army's Military District of Washington.

Anyhow, we really didn't spend much time there; "we" included maybe half a dozen or more of my Holabird classmates. We traveled to and from an office complex in Arlington, Virginia, morning and late afternoon --- passing the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery en route --- and were on our own for the rest of the time.

No one at McNair was in least interested in what we did or didn't do --- the lights were kept on for us and breakfast was available. That was about it.

Because of its location, McNair was an ideal home base for exploration and we did that evenings and weekends nonstop --- although a lot of tourism had gone on, too, during the months in Baltimore, just a quick bus trip up the pike, so I can't really sort the timing of one adventure from another.

But I do remember our final meal together. Most of us had flights to catch the next day and were reasonably sure we'd never see each other again, so decided to splurge by going to Trader Vic's --- then quite a trendy and moderately upscale place in the Capital (now Statler) Hilton. Trader Vic's is still around, internationally, although only one location --- the California flagship --- continues to operate in the United States.

In "last meal" mode, we got into our dress uniforms, headed out and none of us spared any expense --- anticipating a whopping bill. When we asked for the bill, however, the waiter informed us that some kind soul elsewhere in that big room and picked up the tab anonymously for us all.

It is not necessary --- really --- to thank every Vietnam vet for his or her service at this stage rather late in the game. But I've got to admit acknowledgements were few and far between back in the day. Which I suppose is why the memory of this one, so long ago, has stuck with me. And I can see us sitting there at a big round table even now ....

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