Tag Archives: Arlington National Cemetery

Searching for Charles Gerhardt

5 Nov

A while back, I was appointed Historian for the City of Lebanon. In that role, I have attempted to learn as much as I can about the town. There are stories that I have heard all of my life, and I am steeped in the lore of the area. However, there are gaps in my knowledge.

Learning about the city requires research. I have gone through documents at the city museum and have spent some time in our county archives. I also get on the computer at home to see what can be found on the Internet.

It was an Internet search that led me to an online copy of Tennessee County History Series: Wilson County by Frank Burns, the man who knew more about the history of this area than anyone else I have known. Through a gradual reading, I made my way to the 1940s and World War II, where I found a passage that drew my interest. It reads:

Charles Gerhardt was the only Wilson County soldier to hold
the rank of major general in World War II. June 6 was more than
D-Day to Charles Hunter Gerhardt. It was his 49th birthday.

He went ashore with his troops, inched up the cliffs and the
high bluff with them, and spent the night of D-Day in a rock quarry
just 300 yards from the beach. It was the luck of the 29th to draw
the sector where the German army had concentrated its heaviest
defenses. One company lost all of its officers but one before its
assault boats ever landed on the beach. Within minutes after an-
other company touched the beach, it was out of action, every man
killed or wounded, huddled weaponless against the base of the
cliff. But it was not to be a day of defeat. Slowly the men edged off
Omaha Beach. By the end of the day the 29th was a mile inland.
Omaha Beach was followed by Isigny. There General Gerhardt
moved among his troops as they advanced on the outskirts of the
town, disregarding land mines, rifle bullets, and machine gun fire.

It caught my eye because I have never heard of Charles Gerhardt and never heard of a Major General from Lebanon leading his troops at the D-Day Invasion. This is an interesting part of our history that has apparently been forgotten, and I was determined to find out more. This led to the search for Charles Gerhardt.Gerhardt

A Google search brought up several links, but Wikipedia was the first stop. I know Wikipedia has issues, but I am not writing a scholarly paper. It is only a blog post. Anyway, I learned that Charles Gerhardt played baseball, polo and football at West Point. In 1916, he quarterbacked the football team to a victory of Notre Dame, which was coached by Knute Rockne and led by George Gipp. Some may remember that Gipp was immortalized on film by Ronald Reagan.

The Wikipedia page continues with Gerhardt’s other accomplishments. He served in World War I and was an equestrian judge at the 1932 Olympics. While Frank Burns praises him, this page says that he was a controversial figure who oversaw high casualty rates and opened a brothel for his men after the invasion.

Wikipedia says a lot about Gerhardt, but it does not say where he was born. For that information, I had to click more links. The next stop was the website for Arlington National Cemetery. It contains some of the same information and provides additions to his military record. However, it does not say where he was born.

This is when I began thinking that Frank Burns was wrong. There is no way this man could be from Lebanon. I know of no one who has heard of him, and his birthplace is omitted from every website. That is when I noticed a link to his father, who was also named Charles Gerhardt. The older Gerhardt was also a military man and reached the rank of Brigadier General.

While searching his life, I discovered that “he was detailed to Cumberland University at Lebanon, Tennessee, 1894-1897.” While here, he became Secretary of the Military Wheelmen. Have you ever heard of that? Neither have I. It was an organization that designed bicycles for military use. He also designed a uniform to make them less visible. Yep, he was on the cutting edge of camouflage.

All of that was great to find out. Charles Gerhardt was in Lebanon when his son was born in 1895. However, why was a career military man “detailed to Cumberland University?” It has never been a military school.

To find that, I had to return to the writings of Frank Burns. It turns out that the elder Gerhardt taught military science and tactics at the university.

Through all of that, I learned something new about the history of Lebanon, Tennessee. Major General Charles Gerhardt, who led his men onto the beaches of France, was born here. He also went on the defeat the Gipper and found a whorehouse. Overall, he led an interesting life, and it all started here.

D.C. Road Trip – A 70% Chance of Sunshine and a 100% Chance of Hills

24 Jul

In the days leading up to this trip, my wife was obsessed with the weather. She was always looking at the weather app on her iPhone and trying to figure out what climate conditions we were going to face. I reckon this was because it rained a lot when we were in Cancun.

As my wife scanned the weather, she kept saying that it was going to rain. When I asked the percentages, she said that there was a 30% chance. I replied that it meant that there was a 70% chance of sunshine. This became a running joke on the trip, but, honestly, that is the only way I know to look at it. Now, if it had been 70% chance of rain I would have been worried.

I write all of that to write this. My wife decided that the weather was too shaky to make the drive to Virginia Beach. After all, the beach is no fun if it rains. Of course, it had not rained since we left Tennessee, but that did not seem to be the point.

With that decision behind us, we proceeded with the day’s activities. We got our vehicle and took a short drive across the Potomac to Arlington National Cemetery, a place that was high on my list to visit. I had been there many years ago with my parents and remembered how inspirational it was and wanted my family to experience that feeling. I also remembered that the popular points in the cemetery were on hills. I just did not remember how steep those hills were.

After a nice little hike, we found ourselves at the Tomb of the Unknowns, the place that contains the remains of soldiers who died in battle and were never identified. They represent all of those who were lost in a similar way. While the tomb should be the focus, many people go to the site to see the changing of the guard.image-19

The monument is constantly guarded by a lone soldier, and the changing of the guard is a regimented and symbolic ceremony. As we watched the guards go through their routine, I could not get over the precision of their movements. I could also not get over the fact that someone is guarding the tomb at all times and in all kinds of weather. No matter what is going on around them, the guards never break their routine.

That made me wonder what happened on September 11, 2001. Did the guard flinch as a plane streaked toward the Pentagon just over the hill? What did the crowd watching the ceremony do? What was going trough his mind as smoke billowed over the horizon and the rest of the country was in chaos?

After the ceremony, we made our way to the grave of John F. Kennedy, which sits on another hill. This spot is also inspirational to many people, but I must confess that it did not affect me as had the Tomb of the Unknowns. Kennedy’s assassination was tragic and one of the darkest days in our history, but I have never held him in the esteem that others have. People view him as a great president, but I view him as someone who never got the chance to determine where he would rank. Would he have been a great president, or would he have had a bad second term? We will never know. I think people who go to his gravesite mourn what might have been or a lost innocence more than anything.

As we stood at Kennedy’s grave, I looked up the hill at the home of Robert E. Lee.image-22

When Lee chose to fight for the Confederacy during the Civil War, the United States military seized the property due to its commanding position over Washington, D.C. To punish Lee, they buried soldiers around the house, and that is how Arlington National Cemetery began.

Walking through the hills and dells of the cemetery was tiring, but we had one more place to visit before returning to the hotel. Along the way, we drove through historic Alexandria, Virginia and could immediately sense that this was a high rent district. The homes were well-manicured. Shops and restaurants lined the sidewalks. If we were going to eat, then this was a good place to start.

We found a place called Society Fair, and I immediately knew what this place was all about. It is one of those “lunch lady” places where women of leisure eat sandwiches and cake for a couple of hours. Of course, it does not take that long to eat a sandwich and a piece of cake. That means the rest of the time is filled with idle chitchat. The food was fine, but I could feel the testosterone dripping out of my body by the second.

Finally, we got out of there a arrived at Mount Vernon, home of George Washington. This was also a place that I definitely wanted everyone to see. Washington accomplished a lot, but nothing was more important than his management of the colonial army against the British. Walking in his footsteps is a must for anyone visiting the area.image-21

We watched a short film that had a guy from one of my stepdaughter’s vampire shows playing Washington. Then, we walked up the hill to his house. Did I mention that these guys liked living on hills? I guess it was a way to look over their vast holdings.

Anyway, Washington had a beautiful home with the Potomac River flowing behind it.image-20

The docents presented a great history of  Washington’s family and their home. However, I have a complaint about Mount Vernon, Monticello and most other plantain home I have ever seen. They still have a hard time dealing with slavery. Obviously, it is a tough subject, but, in these times, they need to go ahead and talk about the reality of it.