Country full of hallowed ground

By Karl Terry: PNT Managing Editor

Hallowed ground, a place to reflect on the world, has always been a mountain stream or river for me.

I can lose myself in my own thoughts and concentrate on the most important things in my life, God, family, career and health while wading in a trout stream. Recently I got the chance to do just that in Red River on a designated section of Wild Trout Water. Those areas are set aside by states as hallowed habitat for fish and are usually among the wildest riparian areas you can find.

A place can become hallowed ground for people for a lot of different reasons — some slightly whimsical and cult-like, others gravely serious with origins in the blood of ancestors.

The ski slopes of Aspen, Colo. has a shrine to Grateful Dead bandleader Jerry Garcia that’s mostly whimsical. Pearl Harbor has the U.S.S. Arizona Memorial dedicated to those who lost their lives when the Japanese attacked the United States, pulling us into World War II. Oklahoma City has a national memorial to the victims of the bombing of the Murrow Federal Building and the black walls of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. is said by those who have visited to be an experience that’s burned into their minds.

All those sites are a place of reverance for those who visit and often very personal items as well as grief, regrets and fear are left there by visitors.

It’s very easy to see why people this week have been so upset that radical Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had announced his intention to visit the site of the New York City terrorist attacks of 9-11 — Ground Zero. The place is deeply personal to thousands of families who lost loved ones that day and it’s a symbol that hardens our nation’s resolve to cherish and protect our freedom.

Fortunately NYC police have said they aren’t going to allow it to happen on Monday and the Iranian leader seems to have relented from what obviously was an attempt to grab the world stage on the site of an American tragedy.

On that same recent trip to Red River as we drove back toward Angel Fire and dropped down into the bowl at Eagle Nest the fog completely shrouded the mountain lake I knew was there. As we motored past the lake and got nearer Angel Fire, the graceful lines of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial appeared out of the fog before us — sweeping over the brow of the hill like a bird on the wing.

I’ve driven past the memorial for years, read all about the Westphall family’s struggle to build it after their son David’s death in 1968 in the Vietnam War, but I’d never taken the time to stop. I made a U-turn at the next pull-out and went back toward the mist-cloaked chapel that is now operated by New Mexico State Parks.

The visitor’s center with photographs taken during the Vietnam War and artwork celebrating those who fought and died was well worth the visit. The images transported me back to a time in my early teens, and before, when I would see those tired, dirty-faced young men in jungle fatigues on nightly news footage, carrying their wounded from the battlefield, and wonder if that was where I was headed when I came of age.

In the chapel it was quiet and I stopped, removed my hat and said a prayer for those who fought in Vietnam, those who made it back and those who didn’t. I also prayed for the men and women overseas today and asked God to make sure we never forget their sacrifices or the lessons we’ve learned along the journey of our country’s history.

On the trail back to the parking lot I stopped and looked for a moment at all the trinkets that had been left at a little shrine. More than the sculpture-like chapel that told the story that the place was deeply personal to a lot of people.

In the parking lot two guys on Harleys got off in the parking lot and headed for the chapel as I got into the car to pull away. As the car crested the hill I noticed the fog had lifted over the lake while we were there. Everything seemed clearer.