Up near the town of Peru, Indiana, Grissom Air Museum on the grounds of Grissom Air Reserve Base had an impressive collection of airplanes representing numerous eras in American aviation. Other artifacts and scenes around the grounds provided an in-depth look into our nation’s history, as well as telling glimpses of our present that will one day tell a story of their own.
War. What is it good for?
For inspiring movies, TV shows, novels, video games, a few board games, protest songs, and museums about war.
Your move, Edwin Starr.
Anyone who really knows Anne is well aware of her long-standing interests in American history in general and World War II in particular, with an intense specialization in the European theater. When opportunities arise to learn more about it and to view its remnants in person, those tend to rise near the top of our travel to-do lists. And so it went in Vincennes.
I consider myself generally antiwar, but when faced with collections of giant machines larger than cars, some part of my brain interprets them not as armed conflict tools or purveyors of bloody destruction, but as really cool, super-sized toys. Maybe it’s some primeval boyhood attachment to the Matchbox and Hot Wheels collections I gave away in junior high. Maybe I subconsciously perceive sleek steel mechanisms as an extension of 1980s macho action flicks. Maybe the part of me that loves fast driving yearns for some opportunity to sit behind the controls of any fantastical vehicle that can exceed 100 mph without legal retribution or instant crashing. All I know is it’s fun to look at planes up close.
Longtime MCC readers have seen airplane galleries from past vacation stops such as the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, the National WWII Aviation Museum in Colorado Springs, and the USS Intrepid Museum in Manhattan. But we didn’t have to leave our home state to see more examples of vehicles our nation’s massive defense budget purchased throughout the last century.
Public tours of the grounds of the United States Military Academy, a.k.a. West Point, come in two sizes, the 75-minute version and the two-hour version. Anne, ever the American history aficionado — frankly, it’s kind of what she went to college for — signed us up for the deluxe version of their tour that included a walk through West Point Cemetery, an officially designated space since 1817. We weren’t given time or directions to inspect every individual grave, but those we spotted — whether with our friendly tour guide’s assistance or through our own recognizance — was a veritable who’s-who from the past two centuries of American history, from the Civil War to Iraq.
Given the choice, I’d rather be early for appointments than embarrassingly late. I’ve lost count of the number of really close calls I’ve had in my life, when a confluence of my mapping skills, sense of timing, and unexpected obstacles balanced out and saw us arrive at a given destination a heart-stopping minutes before showtime.
The official instructions to our next stop ordered us to be there thirty minutes before takeoff. Despite the previous 90-120 minutes’ foul-ups and misjudgments, we pulled into their parking lot at fifteen minutes till. Anne had given up on making it. I thought we could pull it off, but allowed I might be wrong. It wouldn’t be our first time prepaying for a tour only to have something go afoul and lose us our nonrefundable fees. But no, the sight of the front-gate tank told me we were right where we were meant to be, which is a miraculous thing given that the directions had stopped making sense or matching anything in sight several turns ago.
We were therefore a bit flustered when we walked into the visitors’ main check-in lobby of the United States Military Academy, more commonly known to us civilians as simply West Point.
Given that America’s east coast is the home of numerous military hot spots, it followed that the Virginia area would offer touring options for at least one of them. Our warcraft of choice was a bit of a drive from Virginia Beach, but seemed like an interesting idea at the time. We might remember it more fondly if it weren’t for my ongoing physical issues, and if hadn’t taken us two tries to gain battleship access.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
Once upon a time in 2004, Anne and I got married and had a honeymoon! A week later, we (and my son) embarked on our fifth annual road trip: a drive northeast from Indianapolis up to see the watery wonders of Niagara Falls and its adjacent tourist traps.
Of the four Great Lakes we’ve visited, Lake Ontario was the only one considered a strategic location worthy of a military outpost by both the French and the British back in the eighteenth century. For fans of natural attractions and American history — you can bet my wife qualifies — Fort Niagara State Park is a logical addition to your upstate New York vacation itinerary.