An Everlasting Memory…….#241 (the 90’s)

Robert Willson United States Navy

Gary finding the work day drive from Alva to Kiowa not as scenic or indigenous to the natural habitat as the excursion from Anthony to  Kiowa.   The journey from Anthony enabling a view of the wild turkeys in the trees bordering the Medicine River,  Deer grazing in the nearby pastures,  coyotes scrambling thru the field  and the ever-present family of possums marching provisionally inline along the highway.   Gary and his family having resided in the Kiowa for ten years, his acceptance as a brother in the Apostolic Christian Church and employment at John Deere, the Grade School and ambulance service imparted a kinship with the small Kiowa farming community.  His four years of work related drive from Anthony to the Kiowa Hospital was one bountiful acceptance but the return daily drive from Kiowa to Alva was difficult to palate.

A common scene in the morning between Anthony and Kiowa

Gary realizing that  Jan was in need of some recreational time from the past moving experience and their resettlement in their rental home,  her sister Gayle extending an invitation  for Jan to visit.  Having just purchased a camcorder,  Jan journeying the 310 miles to Overland Park to spend a weekend with her sister,  returning with a camcorder recording of the Renaissance Festival at Bonner Springs,  a community just outside of Kansas City, sharing the recorded wonderment of those participants in costume with her parents and friends.   Gary was surprised when Jan announced two weeks later she was returning to Overland Park to visit her sister again,  the Renaissance exhibit fulfilling the month of September and most of October,  his foremost concern was the six-hour drive she would have to endure.

Bonner Springs Renaissance Festival

Roberts enlistment in the Navy was no surprise to the family,  the young man having difficulty in deciding which direction to administer his educational efforts.   Gary recognizing his disillusionment,  having been in a similar circumstance upon his high school graduation.   One had to start from square one,  choose a college,  obtain a student loans,  secure part-time employment and locate a residence,  a difficult burden to shoulder.   The United States Navy was inclusive with its provisions,  incorporating all,  plus enabling a person to serve his country,  mature in stature, and instill an intellect.  Robert eagerly applying himself to the seven week navy boot camp at the Recruit Training Command at Great Lakes Illinois.

A memorable underground passage at O'Hare

A memorable underground passage at O’Hare

Home to 650 recruits - Great Lakes Naval Station

Home to 750 recruits – Great Lakes Naval Station

Graduation time at Great Lakes finding an invitation to parents, wives and relatives being extended.  Gary,  Jan and Sandra departing on a late morning  United Airlines flight from Wichita’s Mid-Continent Airport,  an afternoon arrival  at the O’Hare International in Chicago. O’Hare was an inaugural event,  the families first visit to the iconic airport facility 15 mile from downtown Chicago, Gary impressed with its size  and constant flow of aircraft  landing and departing in a never ending stream.  Disembarking  at Terminal C, experiencing the glowing neon and electrified chimes of the  below ground passage to Terminal  B, a very unique and memorable welcoming to travelers.    The Alamo rental car providing transportation for the 20 mile excursion to their waiting motel room in Mundelein,  a community  north of Chicago and eight miles from the Training Command Base.   Friday morning finding the Willson’s traversing to Recruit Training Center,  a line of traffic being halted just outside the main gate,  a supervised off-road parking area enacted for the two thousand plus ceremonial visitors arriving to applaud the 750 navy graduates.  The family having no problems in locating their destination, swept up in the flow.

Freedom Hall - A true family gathering

Freedom Hall – A true family gathering

Reporting for duty

Reporting for duty

Brother and Sister Hugs

Brother and Sister Hugs

Upon entering the football field length Freedom Hall, one side lined with bleachers enabling seating  for capacious number in attendance, Gary noticing across from the seating area along the length of the wall were placard posted with training unit designations, apparently each a training units station for the ceremony,  thus enabling the parents or visitors to be seated across from their recruit members unit.  The 1 ½ hour ceremony in the monumental Freedom Hall beginning,  each training division entering with promenade precision,  Gary finding the pomp and circumstance most impressive as only the military can achieve.   Watching his Son Robert parade in,  Gary stifling the tears of admiration,  a proud moment,  noticing he wasn’t alone,  hundreds of onlookers were reaching for a Kleenex or handkerchiefs.   The conclusion bringing a pandemonium of activity,  families all embarking from the bleachers to acquaint their Navy Pride, the Willson’s included.   Concluding the ceremony,  a surprise enjoyment,  a lunch provided courtesy of the United States Navy,  given in honor of the new E-2 sailors and their family.   The activity fulfilled, Robert returning to his billets to change clothes,  the Willson’s proceeding to a provisional hospitality room.   Their sailor son joining them and providing a tour of the visitors center and a walking excursion of the grounds including the PX.  Robert accompanying the family directing them on a motorized tour of the base, its lakeside provisions and on base housing, Gary impressed with the Navy’s only recruit training facility.

Caught with your mouth full

Proud father with son

The visitors continued, the city of Chicago beckoning, the family consuming the Magnificent Mile of downtown Chicago,  mounting a tour bus,  the guide pointing out all the highlights of Michigan Avenue,  the Navy Pier and N. Lake Shore Drive,  Gary making  mental notes from his traveling advantage point,  setting preferences for a walking tour.  Starting on Michigan Avenue,  the Ghirardelli chocolate store a first stop,  the ambulated tour beginning, absorbing the essence of Chicago.   Mounting the steps of The Field Museum across from Soldier Field,  Gary having seen this iconic museum used as background in many motion pictures,  his anticipation rising.   Entering the pavilion,  his expectation fulfilled,  center foremost was the Skeletal remains of T-Rex,  a tyrannosaurus rex from cretaceous period 66 million ago standing exactly as portrayed on the Hollywood screen.   Continuing upstairs thru the various room and  exhibits,  the atmosphere and smell of the museum bringing back childhood memories of Gary’s monthly visits to San Francisco’s  Golden Gate Park and The Academy of Science, with its Planetarium and Natural History Museum.

The Field Museum

T – rex

Chicago Navy Pier

The Navy Pier, construction starting in 1916, originally designed for the lake shipping industry, but thru the years transposed into a public works,  then the latter half of the twentieth century,  an ongoing lake touring industry,  shops,  culinary and an understandable tourist attraction with a carnival atmosphere. The hungry visitor finding an impeccable accommodation for lunch,  an outstanding international food court,  each member of the family fulfilling their own cuisine desire.   Returning to their rental transportation a final stop at the tallest building in the United State,  the Sears Tower.   Gary was looking forward to the express elevator ride to the 103 observation floor.   Embarking from their park vehicle,  Jan making a decision forgo the excursion,  choosing to remain outside the building while Robert, Sandra and Dad entered the tower for the ascending ride.   Embarking from the elevator, the observation room give a  panoramic view of the hazy Chicago metropolitan area from a height 1400 ft..

Tallest in the US – Sears Tower

View of Chicago from 1400 feet

The morning finding the family in a departure mode, arriving at O’Hare International for the return home, Gary giving a last salutation to Chicago by eating a Chicago Dog at the airport before boarding their flight to Wichita.   The journey to witness Robert’s Basic Training consummation being chronicled as indelible and an everlasting memory. Leaving Chicago Gary wasn’t looking forward to newly discovered doldrums of Alva Oklahoma and to further his melancholy,  upon arrival,  discovering  their feline companion Muffins having passed on.  Gary reasoned, the ups and downs of these events were another exclamation point in the time line of life’s journey.

Love that Chicago Dog

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