Monday, January 16, 2017

You Can't Go Home Again(?)

 ... the dark ancestral cave, the womb from which mankind emerged into the light, forever pulls one back — but that you can't go home again.

... You can’t go back home to your family, back home to your childhood, back home to romantic love, back home to a young man’s dreams of glory and of fame,... away from all the strife and conflict of the world, ... back home to the old forms and systems of things which once seemed everlasting but which are changing all the time — back home to the escapes of Time and Memory. 

From You Can't Go Home Again
By Thomas Wolfe

You can't go home again.

The above quote by Thomas Wolfe is the denouement of his novel, You Can't Go Home Again. It echoes the frustration of unmet expectations that people typically experience when taking a nostalgic journey.

So much changes through the years. Old buildings are torn down, new buildings erected. Long time businesses close their doors, new ones open. New roads are built which redirects traffic from its former patterns. Things change.

People change. The young grow up. The middle-aged get older. The elderly die. This inexorable conveyor belt of life keeps everyone moving along at a pace which becomes dizzying after a while.

We change. What we were ten, twenty, thirty years ago is not what we are now, though inwardly we may not feel any differently.

So in our time travel to past locations and lives, we are met with this burden of change.

And it can be disappointing.

But I think you can go home again - at least in a way that makes it less melancholic, less shocking.

MJ and I celebrated our 30th anniversary late last year. We talked about what we would do for it. The idea of a cruise seemed to be at the top of the list. Hey, that's what everyone does, right?

But a cruise struck me as more cliche than anything else, and MJ wasn't overly enthusiastic about it either.

For the past several years, I had suggested we go to Savannah, Georgia during one of our trips to the south to see family. But the timeframes never worked out for us to do so.

Then one day last year, someone asked my wife what we were doing for our 30th. She, in turn, asked me. On the spot, I answered almost immediately, "We're going to Savannah." It was settled.

The day after Christmas, we boarded an American Airlines flight to take us south.

You see, Fort Stewart, Georgia is where I met MJ. Tybee Island is where I proposed to her. Savannah, Hinesville and the surrounding area were home for a while, both as singles and then as a couple and the idea of returning to our roots was appealing.

We spent a week in Savannah, Hinesville and Fort Stewart checking out old haunts and finding many of them no longer existed. Of course, there were major changes, but we still knew the old ways to get around and they sufficed.

We looked at it all as outsiders now, but strangers with a special knowledge of the area and its history especially how it pertained to us. There was no sadness for any disconnect that we may have felt. We had fun as we pointed out places and talked about them.

And now, a few weeks removed from the trip, I can say that it certainly felt a lot like going home.

Even if it wasn't.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A Trip to the Past - Fort Stewart (Part 2)

(Click on any picture to see a larger version of it)

In order to enter Fort Stewart as a civilian with no military-affiliated ID, one has to go to the Visitor Center which is right beside the main gate in Hinesville, provide a photo ID, car registration and proof of insurance. A quick background check is done and temporary passes issued. We were asked how long we would be there and I said only for the afternoon. The passes they gave us were good for a week.

Upon entering the main gate, the highway runs to the left of Division Headquarters. This is how it looked 30 years ago.

The building has since been rebuilt and has a more modern presentation in Greek Revival.

Take a right at the intersection like you are heading towards the old 124th area. On the left beyond 3rd Div Headquarters is a large brick building. It sits on the spot where the smaller Welcome Center used to be. Beyond that is the SCIF. Or what used to be the SCIF. It's still a secured building with fence and concertina wire around it.

And then after that is the barracks that everyone used to be very familiar with. They looked like this.

But as Rolf pointed out earlier in 2016, they have changed a bit. Now they look like this.

This used to be MJ's room. Her window was behind the bush on the left. There were no bushes when we were stationed there.

I spoke with a soldier who had come out the barracks while we were standing in the parking lot and he told me that these were now where in-processing soldiers stayed. In other words, the former 124th MI Bn is now the Welcome Center.

I took more pictures of the battalion area.


As you can see from these older pictures, the structures still remain but there are significant differences.


The last picture is looking across to the mess halls. This is how it currently looks.

I don't know what that large brick building in the center is. I didn't check it out.

There is a new PX/Commissary building. I didn't photograph it. Here is how they looked 30 years ago.

Now that entire building complex is some sort of strip mall.

The National Guard barracks look pretty much the same as do the motor pools and the hospital. This old wooden building where we used to play basketball is still there.

The theater remains as does the Burger King that was established when we were there. It is probably what put the off post Burger King out of business.

I did find one place where the 24th Infantry Division was mentioned. That was at the Desert Storm memorial across from the new PX. Here are some pictures of it.

I didn't go to Desert Storm. I was 4-5 years into civilianhood when the war started. But because I wore the 24th Infantry Division hat, I had MJ take my picture next to the memorial.

 I considered doing a Part 3 which would have included pictures from Savannah but I didn't get many. So, I'll end this blog post with pictures I took of River Street. 

And because it's one of my favorite places - and it still exists....
Kevin Barry's Irish Pub.

Sunday, January 1, 2017

A Trip to the Past - Hinesville (Part 1)

33 years and two months ago, I entered Fort Stewart, Georgia, home of the 24th Infantry Division (Mechanized) and began my permanent duty assignment at the 124th MI Bn. 

30 years and one week ago, I married MJ Nanney. We met in 1985 when she arrived to Fort Stewart from 2-1/2 years of schooling to be an Arab linguist and intelligence analyst. 2016 marked out 30th anniversary and, to celebrate, we made the journey back to where we met and started our relationship.

As you can well expect, a lot of change takes place over the course of 30 years. It was with this expectation that we flew into Savannah and drove to the Clarion Inn on Abercorn Street where I had reserved a suite for the week.

The day after we arrived in Savannah, we went to Hinesville. We had to go south on I-95 to the intersection of 84 (Oglethorpe Highway) to get there. Driving up 144 through Fort Stewart would not be possible as it is now a closed post and the only way to gain entrance is through the main gate in Hinesville.

The 24th Infantry Division was deactivated in 1996 and the post was reflagged as the 3rd Infantry Division. It became a closed post after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001.

We drove around Hinesville a bit, ate lunch there. Very few of the businesses that existed in the town in 1983 are there now. The Western Sizzlin' is gone as is the Golden Corral. The Shoney's down on 84 has been replaced by another hotel.  The Burger King on General Screven is Shane's Rib Shack.

This used to be the TG&Y.

And this used to be the Winn Dixie.

Where the Walmart used to be is now a PetSense. Walmart has moved out to 84 west heading toward Jesup.

And this, this right here....
.... is the building where the WhyNot used to be. We went in and I told the woman behind the counter that it was the WhyNot back in the day and she replied that she heard that all the time. What used to be the Oasis is now a Korean church. I didn't get a picture of it.

McDonald's is still where it was. Next door to it is Bojangles and I'm thinking it used to be up on General Screven, but I couldn't find anyone who could confirm that.

Still, there are some old stalwarts remaining in Hinesville. Here are couple you may recognize.

When I got out of the Army, I stayed in Hinesville for a year. MJ still had to finish out her enlistment. I lived in the Sandy Hill Trailer Park for several months. It was owned by Carl Dykes - then mayor of Hinesville. This is what it looked like then.

And this is what it looks like now.

The number of pawn shops in the area has dropped drastically. One guy in Super Pawn on General Screven told me there used to be 16-18 pawn shops in the area and now there are only about 5 or 6. This pawn shop may or may not be the one where I bought MJ's engagement ring. If it isn't, it's close to where it was.

There are some new roads in Hinesville, but I didn't drive down them. I just stayed on the roads I knew. There seemed to be a lot more traffic than when we were there thirty years ago. There are definitely more shopping plazas/strip malls around the area. It appears that Hinesville has grown quite a bit. 

Part 2 will cover going on post.