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Monday, June 29, 2009

Weekend in Gettysburg, and an unexpected ending

I arrived home late last night from three great days in Gettysburg, and I really wanted to post a wrap-up of the trip before going to bed, but I just couldn't. True, I was tired and it was already rather late by the time I got things squared away... but I couldn't help thinking about something that happened at the end of our last book signing last night, and I needed to give myself a day before posting anything. More on that as I close this post.

I arrived in Gettysburg late on Thursday afternoon, which gave me time to make some visits around the battlefield. As I've mentioned here before, I've been taking much more time on my visits this year to spend simple, quality time on the field. I enjoy closely examining the new vistas afforded by the tree clearings. This time I took more time to examine the Slyder farm area on the southern end of the field, then Munshower's Knoll. I also took several minutes to once again look around in the area of the stone walls bordering the southern end of Rose's wheatfield. After eating way too much (for the hundredth time) at Mayflower's Chinese Buffet, I stopped at several retailers in town and signed newly-arrived copies of The Complete Gettysburg Guide that the stores had pre-sold and wanted signed so the customers could pick them up.

I got to the Reliance Mine Saloon a little after 9 pm, where I met some friends. I called it an early night, however, since I wanted to get up early and visit the Visitor Center bookstore and spend a couple more hours on the field. Dr. Dave and Carol Moore graciously put me up again this trip.

The book has been selling very strongly in the VC bookstore since its arrival nearly two weeks ago, and in the morning I took a look at the displays. They feature the book at each entrance, as well as on the register counters. We all are very flattered that they're doing that in addition to being on the shelf in the Gettysburg section. Customers can easily find the book and the prominent and numerous displays are very generous of the store folks.

I then took a slow cruise of Culp's Hill and motored over to the American History Store (on the corner of Steinwehr and Baltimore Street) to see manager Jim Glessner. As I've said here many times before, Jim has turned this former Greystone's store into the premier bookstore in Gettysburg. That, in addition to the DVDs and historical maps he carries makes the store a wonderful place to browse. The book selection is now even better than it was under the Greystone ownership. Steve Stanley and I were slated for a book signing in the store that evening as well as Saturday evening (7-9 pm). Jim had secured a sidewalk sandwich board to advertise the signings, and buddy (and Licensed Battlefield Guide) Jim Hessler was going to be with us as well, signing copies of his brand-new book on Sickles at Gettysburg.

After dinner Steve and I arrived at Jim's store for the signing, and it went very well. We signed quite a number of books for customers, as did Jim Hessler. But the most enjoyable part for me always is talking to people. We had great conversations about topics addressed in the book - not only specific parts of the battlefield, but also the rock carvings, Letterman Hospital, and the cemeteries. Folks really do have quite broad interests in Gettysburg, and people are quite eager to see them addressed in The Guide.

I then had a great couple hours in the Mine with friends, including Blake Magner. I really enjoy talking with Blake - especially hearing his experiences. Besides being widely read and great to discuss Gettysburg with, he's entertaining as hell. His dry wit and fantastic stories are wonderful. Bill Frassanito was also holding court that night, and I hated to have to leave about 11:30, but Steve and I had an early and long day ahead of us.

I picked Steve up a little after 7 am Saturday, and we headed off to the All-Star Complex on Rt. 15 South for the Gettysburg Collector's Show. We had a table there, and sold copies of The Guide as well as large copies of some of Steve's maps. Wow, I love that show. Of course, there are all manner of weapons and artifacts there - but I love the books. Several of the top book sellers are there, and I have found many of my old first editions at previous shows. But I really have to behave there... otherwise, I'd re-mortgage the house after a couple hours and the wife would kill me...

There were thousands of visitors, and we sold a nice amount of the book. I did make several trips around the floor, and purchased a few books (but didn't have to mortgage the house, thankfully). Steve's girlfriend Kyrstie (a wonderful lady, and - just between us - several levels above Steve's station :)) helped us out at the show and even brought us lunch. During the show Saturday and Sunday, lots of buddies dropped by. Newly-minted Licensed Guide Stan O'Donnell and his wife Bev came by, as did George Franks, Karl Fauzer, Sal Prezioso, Duane Siskey and Lori Krick, and others. I spoke for a time with Andy Turner, whose Gettysburg Magazine display was right across our table (making me stare at the Bob Younger book collection the whole time!). Andy and I spoke about a couple articles I'm going to be sending him, and both he and Col. Silas Felton bought copies of the book.

I forced Steve to take me to the Chinese Buffet again for dinner, where I again ate enough to choke Pleasonton's whole cavalry corps. We had our second book signing at Jim Glessner's store that evening, then we all went to the Mine for Book 'n A Beer night. A couple customers bought copies of The Guide, but the highlight was again listening to Blake for a couple hours.

Sunday morning we were again at the Book Show before 9, and we stayed until 1 pm. It was a very nice show - I got to spend a good deal of time not only perusing the books for sale, but also examining cavalry sabers and carbines. I really wish my friend (and co-author of the book One Continuous Fight) Mike Nugent could attend a show - he'd go nuts looking at the weapons and artifacts.

After packing up we had lunch with Kyrstie and Steve's daughter Ashleigh (along with Duane and Lori) and then we went to the Visitor Center for our 3-5pm signing there. There we met new Licensed Guide Christina Moon and gave her a copy of The Guide. Christina recently suffered a house fire, and she lost her entire book collection along with just about everything else. Her many friends have been helping her rebuild her collection, and it was an honor to present her with a copy of the book.

The signing went very well. Even though there weren't that many customers so late on a Sunday, we signed quite a number of books. One customer's story, though, really made an impression on Steve and me. The gentleman had attended a Smithsonian-sponsored tour with venerable historian Ed Bearss last week, and on the bus Ed had his copy of The Guide. Ed passed the book around the bus and really praised it. Steve and I were really floored by that, and we are humbled by Ed's endorsement. The gentleman had made a point to come to the VC to get the book and was happy that we happened to be there for a signing at the time. To know that Ed brought his copy of the book along on the tour and showed it to folks was one of the nicest things we'd heard about the book.

Close to 5 pm, as we were about the finish, Len Riedel, Executive Director of the Blue and Gray Education Society came by. Len had brought several wounded Iraqi War veterans to Gettysburg for a tour of the field, and some came into the bookstore. After a few minutes, one veteran came rolling up in his wheelchair. I began speaking with him, and he told us that his right leg had been blown off by an IED. The terrorists had been targeting him that day, because he had been hitting them pretty hard. They hit him four times before he lost the leg, and he happily told me that the ones who wounded him are "with us no more." He was actually rather soft-spoken, and told me that this was his first visit to Gettysburg since a young boy. His own year-old son was sitting in his lap, and I really loved talking to him. He was going to be fitted with an artificial leg soon, and had a great attitude about his wound, calling it "just losing a foot, that's all." He looked at the book, and really liked it. As he was talking with Steve and Len, I snuck over to a cash register, paid for a copy of the book, then went back to them. Steve and I signed a copy for the veteran and we have it to him. He really appreciated it, but we told him that we appreciated his service much more and thanked him for fighting for and protecting us. As I spoke with him, I wanted to cry, which frustrated me. I have seen several wounded before, but his wonderful attitude impressed me more than I can express. He took life as it comes, and accepted his wound like it's just part of the job. His lovely wife came by shortly after, and I looked at this little family in which there was evidently a lot of love. The soldier looked to just be about 25 years old, but I predict he has a lot of life ahead of him. We regretfully said our goodbyes, but it was after 5 pm and I needed to hit the road and get home. I drove Steve home and got on the road, but thought about the soldier nearly all the way home. I'll never forget him, the story he told me, and the sacrifice he made for all of us and for justice.

I have bought something over 3,000 books in my life, but I will always remember that the one we gave him was the best purchase I ever made. It's also one that I will never forget. It was a terrific few days in Gettysburg again, but made all the more special by meeting that soldier at the end. It taught me more about the people I write about, a little primer that is always welcome, and reinforces the purpose of all that we do as students of history.

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