I hate waking up early, especially on the weekends. However, this Saturday I had a pretty good reason to crawl out of bed and it actually didn’t involve a bowl of cereal and cartoons.
I was going to hang out with some of my favorite people in world, the “Red Shirts” and the veterans of Jasper County.
It is a well-known fact I love my vets! In the time that I have been here in Newton, the vets and I have truly embraced each other. I’ve drank, laughed and shared both triumph and tragedy with the vets of this community and I felt honored to receive an invite to the bus trip Saturday.
The plan was to meet at the American Legion at 9 a.m. and from there, visit the Iowa Veteran’s Cemetery in Van Meter, the Freedom Rock in Greenfield and finally lunch at Smokey D’s before heading back to town. This plan went off without a hitch; the only trouble was waking up on Saturday for me.
I had spent Friday evening freezing my butt off in a gherri curl wig, surrounded by French maids watching “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” for the first time and it was on an outdoor screen. It was fun, but weird (Thanks, Clistia, Marv and Eunie).
Anywho, let’s get back to the bus trip.
As most of us who rode the bus growing up know, all the cool kids sit in the back and this again rang true. My seat buddy, Korean War veteran Bob St. John, and I were in the thick of the Red Shirt shenanigans in the back and got first dibs on “Apple Pie,” snacks and as Doug Bishop phrased it, “adult refreshments.”
Apple pie — trust me, it wasn’t of the dessert variety — and beer are always great ways to get the party started.
I loved the interactions that took place on the bus maybe more than seeing the sites. Bob told me about his time in the service his family and his dog. He also spoke about how he was thinking about mixing whiskey with an energy drink (I hope I’m that cool in my 80s).
The mother and daughter duo of Linda and Mellissa (they’re like a prettier and funnier version of The Judds) provided their usual sense of humor and I got to meet a really inspirational middle school student. Lindsay is only 13, but has been helping out with the Freedom Flights and other vet-related activities in the county for years.
Lindsay was the youngest person on the bus by far, but she displayed a maturity beyond her years. I asked her what got a person so young interested in wanting to help the vets and she credited her parents.
Great job, Amy and Kevin. Be very proud of her.
In addition to running into the usual cast of characters I see at the Legion, I ran into Lynn Harnden, who was the first-ever veteran I wrote about way back in January. He challenged me to see if I remembered him (I did, of course) and for me that was kind of like a full-circle moment.
The transformation from being a rookie veterans affairs writer to being known as the guy for veterans coverage in Jasper County is a great feeling.
Aside from our adventures on the bus, the sites themselves were definitely worth the trip.
The Iowa Veterans Cemetery is still in its infancy, but looks great. It is maintained to federal standards. I also found out we only have two known Jasper County vets there, which I’m taking as a sign to do a follow-up.
I really enjoyed the Freedom Rock. Bubba Sorenson II, the artist, has done a great a job of creating moments on this rock. I know how much artistic talent we have in Jasper County and I can’t wait to see what ours will look like.
I’m also casting my vote for Sommer Kibbee right here and now to get first crack at the rock.
After the rock, we hit up Smokey D’s BBQ. While I did get full, I’ll put it this way — it wasn’t too high on the Kansas City scale. All the hard work that Hickory Park in Ames and Newton’s own Smokin’ Mississippi Queen did to grow my appreciation for Iowa barbecue almost seemed for not.
With our bellies full, we climbed back on our Hawkeye Stages motorcoach and prepared for the trek back to Newton. The whole trip was great, but I think one of my favorite moments occurred as I was walking back to my seat and a World War II veteran put his hand up for a high five.
I gave him five back, went back to my seat with a smile on my face and had another beer with Bob.