GOD AND COUNTRY – CUMBERLAND, MARYLAND – STATION TO STATION
An American Legion abuts the Amtrak stop in Cumberland, Maryland. Veterans sit and drink beer on a deck they built to watch the trains: a morning and evening Capitol Limited between D.C and Pittsburgh, punctuated by the passing of freight cars.
“This is what we do in Cumberland,” said Kevin, an Air Force vet who spent eight years in Iraq. “We look at the trains go by. There’s a t-shirt we’ve got around here… ‘Allegany County – A good place to live if you don’t have to work.’”
It’s dollar Yuenglings at the Legion. Two-twenty-five pitchers. Kevin has a pitcher. Even in his middle age, he is cut like the Cumberland Narrows that surround him—severe hills shaping a low valley.
“I worked corporate intelligence for 25 years—a private eye. I was all over the place. But I got tired getting shot at,” he said.
How many times were you shot?
“Three times. I was born in Cumberland, now I’m hiding out in Cumberland.”
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On the tracks below the deck is what the drinkers say is the only Gulf, Afghanistan and Iraq wars memorial in the United States. (As it turns out, there’s also a similar memorial in Marseilles, Illinois—the “Middle East Conflicts Wall.”) Kim, with a rock as big as the Ritz on her ring finger, sitting on a picnic table next to Kevin, lost her stepson in Iraq. She and her husband, with support from the Legion and the locals, built a memorial to him surrounded by stark black granite tablets engraved with the names of soldiers dead in all these wars.
“Come back to Cumberland this October,” said an older woman smoking mentholated cigarettes in a red, white and blue embroidered sweatshirt. “We’re raising money to add more names and as sad as that is, with the money you give you have a one in 18 chance to win $500 in a raffle.” Telling it all with a smile, she goes on to say that she shared the pot the last time around.
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The train pulls in, the Legion locals wave goodbye and you’re on your way. Looking back, the red brick Legion wall reads, “For God and Country.” And in the Narrows, it is God’s country: the train bends through land lined by creek, rock and homes; mobile homes look like mansions; families play town ball; and an old man in a shotgun house stands proud on display on his porch wearing only a blue Speedo.
Guide note: The Gulf War Memorial is in the form of four black books engraved with the names of all the fallen soldiers in the U.S.’s recent wars. It is located on Gulf Memorial Drive just next to Cumberland’s Amtrak station.
Words: Tom McNamara; Images: Tom McNamara and Erin Chapman
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Erin Chapman and Tom McNamara are co-editors of THE AMERICAN GUIDE.
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THE AMERICAN GUIDE is joining STATION TO STATION for a cross-country train ride. Detour: Cumberland, Maryland.
Follow your guide along the rails and see America. [Track A/G’s trip here]