This week is a time where we celebrate our independence as a nation. I recently looked over a Journal I wrote of 2010 trip to D.C. that was an emotional experience for me. I was blessed to host a group travel trip where we saw just about every Memorial to our veterans and those that built our independence.
Here, I wanted to share the story of a very special man that went with us, and the powerful story of one of the most determined leaders our country has known.
Among our veterans on this trip was Rodger Hendrickson of Auburn, Ind. He had served in the Army or National Guard for 25 years, and was in combat in Vietnam. I asked him what it was like to be here at Arlington. He said, “This is hallowed ground.”
Rodger had been in choppers that had been shot down in Vietnam. He has a permanently injured knee from service. Combat left scars with him, not all physical.
Canoeing has become a kind of therapy for him. At age 50, he canoed the AuSable River Canoe Marathon from Grayling, Mich., to Oscoda, Mich. That’s 120 miles. It is the longest nonstop canoe race in North America. In addition to paddling for 14-19 hours straight, competitors must also make portages over six dams along the river race route. He did it in 8 days at age 50. At age 60, he did it in 7 days. He will be in another big canoeing experience in Arkansas soon.
He told me his wife had once wanted to put up his war medals on display. He couldn’t let her because there were too many bad memories. He said he had been able to exercise most of his demons, but that so many came back as “walking dead.”
He said the Vet Center in Fort Wayne had been so important for him because it was a place he could go and talk. Rodger said he could not have dealt with Vietnam had it not been for his wife Patricia, who was on this trip along with their son, Alan.
It is an unforgettable experience to go through Arlington National Cemetery and see the rows of markers. To this day there are 27-30 burials a day. Jim, our guide, said the major criteria to be buried there is to have died on active duty or to have high honor or to have served honorably for at least 20 years. Rodger qualified to be buried there. When I asked him if he would be, he said no. He wanted his ashes to be scattered on the river he has canoed so much in his life.
We visited Arlington House, where the view of the city is spectacular. We saw the statue of U.S. Army officer Phillip Kearney, who fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. In a calvary charge in the War with Mexico, he suffered a grapeshot wound and had to have his left arm amputated.
In the Civil War, he led his Union troops onto the field shouting, “I’m a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!” He led the charge with his sword in hand and reins in his teeth. He used to inspire his troops by saying, “Don’t worry, men, they’ll all be firing at me!”
In the Battle of Chantilly in 1862 he went to check on a part of the line, despite warnings of danger. He said the Confederates had yet to mold a bullet that could kill him. Sadly, he rode into Confederate troops and ignored their demand to surrender. A single bullet in his spine killed him.
He is laid to rest at Arlington. His statue is one of just two equestrian ones on the grounds. As a young man, Kearny inherited over 1 million dollars in 1836. He could have led a life of luxury. Instead, he joined the military to serve his country, ultimately giving his arm and then his life. Seeing statues like that and learning his story makes a visit to Arlington life changing. You come away so appreciative.
If you have the opportunity to visit our nation’s capital soon, I encourage you to do so. Although we have many problems now, seeing those Memorials truly stoked the fire within me.
Charlie Adams is the author of Stoke the Fire Within. He delivers a variety of motivational keynotes and workshops to Corporate and Educator audiences. He also speaks on the college athletics recruiting process to help northern Indiana families understand how to navigate the confusing process. Since 2006, he has hosted over 25 Group Travel Experiences for Edgerton’s Travel known as ‘Travels with Speaker Charlie Adams.’ To bring Charlie in to inspire your people or event, or learn more about his motivational programs, you can go to StokeTheFireWithin or reach him directly at [email protected]