by Walter Redden
Metro Chattanooga is a bustling aggressive area with some 400,000 plus people. Hospitality is on display and is most evident to the visitor.
It is said that all roads lead to Rome; well, "track 29" leads you to downtown Chattanooga. As we turned off on the Market Street exits from I-24, the huge "Choo Choo" sign, a landmark atop the terminal station, soon came into view. This grand old building was closed in 1970, but in 1973, the beautiful terminal station was revitalized and opened its doors to welcome visitors to Chattanooga.
The piece de resistance (the main event) was our 13th annual reunion of the 15th RSMC, retired Air Force Security Service who were stationed and scattered throughout Japan and Korea in the early 1950s.
Entering the rotunda of the station, the sounds of the big swing era were recalling the jitterbug. The world renowned Glenn Miller band with Tex Beneke and the Modernaires was performing - in my mind - "Pardon me, boy, is that the Chattanooga Choo Choo?" The words and music by Harry Warren and Mark Gordon were dancing through my memory. As I walked up to the Holiday Inn desk to register, I knew we were off to a good start - a sudden feeling of euphoria.
A contest by interested architectural students of the Beaux Art Institute in Paris developed plans for a railroad depot suitable for a large city. The winner was an American, Don Barber from New York City. Today [the Chattanooga depot] is a magnificently restored building for all to enjoy.
The rose garden, a breath of fresh air, is the only garden in the state of Tennessee designated as an All American Rose Selection Garden. More than 500 roses are in bloom from spring through late fall. The rose is internationally recognized and known as the symbol of love.
The statement on the metal plaque in the garden was apropos to the 15th RSM reunion group.
"This collection of roses is dedicated to all the men and all the women of our country, both past, present and future, who bravely served in our military forces. We are forever in your debt. May these beautiful roses serve as a dedication to your unselfish sacrifices."
Our tour of the city began after all were seated on a deluxe motor coach. Charles Pierce, born and reared in Chattanooga, was our amusing and engaging guide. As he picked up the microphone and welcomed us to Chattanooga, it was obvious our guide was ebullient, filled with enthusiasm and information.
The first leg of our tour was to dissect the central business district. It is evident that some big footprints are keeping the city alive - the TVA office of power and the $45 million dollar fresh water aquarium - prima inter pares (first among equals).
Passing Miller Park, the Federal Building, the Symphony Opera company, the Mountain Club, the Read House Hotel (a landmark for more than a century), on to the Reggie White Building (named for a favorite son), we came to a brief pause at Finley field and the football stadium for UT at Chattanooga. The UT at Chattanooga campus is blended into the city. The university has an enrollment of approximately 10,000 students.
Wiggling up and through Missionary Ridge was a show of affluence with beautiful homes. One home had a cannon aiming at the front. The cannon is permanent and cannot be relocated according to guidelines from the Civil War.
The National Cemetery, with white markers all in perfect rank and file, and under the department of the Veterans Administration, is the resting place for more than 4,200. This cemetery is active, holding about 5 burials each day.
We could not miss the Bluff View Art District. There are several excellent restaurants in the area. One favorite is Tony's Pasta Shop and Traittoria. Everything is fresh, homemade. [Especially delicious are] the European style breads. There is deck seating for lunch and dinner with a picturesque view of the Tennessee River.
The trek up Lookout Mountain was a long winding grind. Passing an incline railway, from the bottom, looking upward, is a breath-taking view. The ride is about 10 minutes traveling at approximately five to eight miles per hour. On the mountaintop are gorgeous homes - another affluent area. At the very apex is a huge gateway replica model of the Corps of Engineers. As you look down on the city of Chattanooga, this is a thing of beauty.
Our last outing was a rail excursion from Grand Junction Station to the quaint town of Chickamauga, Georgia. This cute village has been spruced up and the shopkeepers are ready for visitors and tourists. Our planned luncheon was at the antebellum Gordon-Lee Mansion. The ride was staffed by dedicated volunteer trainmen. On the return ride to Chattanooga, the engine collapsed, died a sudden death. A reserved engine came to our rescue. During this hiatus, Barbara Meyer, a college professor in our group, creatively engaged sleepyheads in a challenging spelling game using a single root word. Time passed quickly.
The finale was a business attire gourmet meal with an All-American theme. Red, white and blue colors were everywhere. With a lot of hugs and a lot of handshakes, our reunion came to a close. As one man said in humor, "It is better to have halitosis than no breath at all." His funny remark was the lingering taste of Kim-chi (a radish root) used as a cooking flavor in Korean foods.
"We cannot do much about the length of our lives, but we can do plenty about the width and depth."
A huge applause for Donna and Joe Setzer for arranging our reunion and making it so successful!
Walter Redden is a native of Pace, Mississippi, in the Delta. He retired from the textbook business and resides in Jackson, Mississippi, where he’s active in church and community activities. He’s a devoted husband, father, and grandfather.
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