Note: I wrote this in 2005, about a year before my dad passed away. Happy Fathers' Day to all the dads out there.
My dad, retired civil engineer Art Brandow (82), loves to visit achievements in engineering. Natural scenic beauty is more my thing, but I really enjoy helping dad travel, something he can no longer do on his own. Last October we made a father-son trip that combined nature’s beauty and engineering wonders.
Our week-long father and son trip to Tennessee started in Nashville with a 3-day reunion of dad’s WWII outfit, the 285th Engineering Combat Battalion. Their unit was thrown into the breach at the Battle Bulge two-days before Christmas 1944 and then fought with General George S. Patton’s Third Army into and across Germany. Great stories.
Naturally, many of the stories I’ve heard before. But the collective re-telling of these stories by the Vets who shared these experiences as very young men six decades ago brings them back to life. Like the story of a near fatal attraction. Dad volunteered to swim across a river to tie-off a lead rope to begin the construction of new temporary bridge for the advancing allied armies. Upon arriving on the far-shore, dad looked upslope and found the hillside strewn with U.S. military-issue money. But he stuck to his duties, and he and his fellow combat engineers completed the bridge. Luckily, before anyone wandered upslope to pick up the cash, someone noticed that the paper money had been strewn across a mine field. What a terrible initiation to the tricks of a retreating army that could have been?
Other stories were new to me. Like the one dad told me in private one evening about being hailed by a woman, perhaps a war-widow, living on a river barge. She asked the young soldier if he could find her a loaf of bread? He was able to oblige, and the grateful women surprised the youth with another form of initiation. I’ll leave it at that.
After the reunion, we rented a car and traveled east across Tennessee, visiting friends at Tennessee Tech and touring the scenic sites, including Fall Creek Falls State Park.
In Knoxville, we visited the University of Tennessee, where the Army had sent Dad for wartime training and where he met a girl he remembers fondly. But then his unit was formed-up and later sent to Europe.
We took a side-trip to Great Smoky Mountains National Park. At a scenic overlook at the North Carolina stateline, dad, always looking for the next place to sit down, sat down between two young women taking a lunch break from backpacking the Appalachian Trail.
Dad and the ladies had a grand old conversation, and he might have wandered-off down the trail with them had he been able. I hadn’t seen the old man so enthusiastic about hiking in some time, proving at 82 he is not yet completely immune to the virtues scenic beauty.
But Dad really lit-up when we topped-off the trip with visits to two grand engineering achievements, the Tennessee Valley Authority’s Norris Dam completed in 1936 and the nearby Cumberland Gap Tunnel completed in 1996, which links Tennessee to Kentucky via four-lane highway. Norris Dam put thousands of desperate people to work in 1933 during the depths of the Depression and later helped win World War II by producing abundant hydropower for Oak Ridge and other war-related facilities just downstream. The Cumberland Gap Tunnel created a more scenically beautiful Cumberland Gap National Historic National Park by putting the ridge portion of the Interstate Highway underground.
Funny how love, life, engineering and scenic beauty are all connected in a way.