Our Kids and American History
It's been a very busy holiday weekend at the Daly household, and it doesn't look like things are going to let up for a few more days. So, instead of shutting myself off from my family and coming up with some deep, patriotic thoughts about our great nation on its day of independence, I opted for a throwback column that I believe still fits the occasion.
The below parenting piece was originally published in the Greeley Tribune in June of 2013. Enjoy, and Happy 4th of July, everyone!
As an adult, I occasionally find myself looking back on some of the significant American history that was playing out around me when I was a child, and I can't help but muse over how utterly oblivious I was to it at the time.
Take the Cold War for example. I was certainly aware of it in the 1980s, but only in the broadest of terms. I knew that Americans were the good guys, the Soviets were the bad guys, and our two countries (who were heavily armed with nukes) were the biggest kids on the block. In other words, what I understood of the conflict might have been gathered simply by watching the movie, Rocky 4.
You know, now that I think about it, I'm pretty sure that much of my childhood knowledge of the Vietnam War came from the Rambo movies. I must admit that it's kind of frightening to suddenly realize just how large of a role Sylvester Stallone played in my educational upbringing,
Anyway, it really isn't all that surprising that a child of my age didn't know the specifics of the Cold War. As parents, we don't want our children to have to stress out about the encompassing dangers that come with living on this planet. We don't want them to worry about things they can't control. Besides, we also understand that our kids couldn't possibly wrap their minds around the scope of such topics in the first place. Most of us parents, for example, don't instill their concerns over Islamic terrorism in their young children. Instead, we hope and pray that by the time they reach our age, they'll be looking back on it as a thing of the past.
Perhaps this is all why some of the history I'm most interested in these days is the history I've lived through. So, you can imagine how intrigued I was to learn that there was a retired Atlas-E missile site from the Cold War era sitting just a file miles from my house.
Sure, I'd seen the subtle "Missile Site Park" sign standing for years on the side of the highway leading in and out of Greeley, but I'd figured it was just a name. From the road, all I could see was open space and what looked like a few picnic tables.
In fact, what sits just under the ground there (unbeknownst to most of Greeley's current citizenry) is an elaborate, former federal-government site that used to house a nuclear missile targeted at the Soviet Union. The missile was equipped to be launched within 45 minutes of receiving the big order.
A couple of months ago, I scheduled a tour of the site (which is now a museum) with some friends. We made it a father/son trip, in which we brought our boys along to hopefully give them an idea of the challenges Americans faced when we were their ages.
The caretaker of the site, Ken Robinson, was our tour guide. He's a retired military veteran and one heck of a nice guy. He, along with his two guard-dog companions, walked us through the extensive, underground bunker. Ken proved to be extremely knowledgeable. He peppered us with many facts about the facility and the era, and answered every obscure question we could think to come up with. He even told us some entertaining stories, including one about a group of dooms-dayers that showed up at the site on December 12th, 2012, in hopes of seeking shelter from the "end of the world".
As I'd half-expected, the impressive history of the site was lost on my son and the other boys, but the visual experience of it was stunning for both kids and adults alike.
The long, underground tunnels were a kick to walk through. The feet-thick, steel blast door slowly sliding open and shut made us feel like we were being separated from the rest of the world. Because the facility also serves as a public records archive for Weld County, some of the old living quarters are now filled with tall shelves overflowing with very old books. Some of those thick, stately bindings even date back to the 1800s, a visual which prompted more than one comparison to scenes from the Harry Potter movies.
The sheer size of the site is impressive in itself, with enough concrete in the walls, floors, and ceilings to build a sidewalk from Greeley to Salt Lake City. That's not an exaggeration. It was one of the facts Ken laid on us.
The only disappointment with the site was the knowledge that most people who live just a few miles from it don't even know of its existence. That's a shame.
It's not always easy to compel our kids to care about American history, but I believe that as parents, we have an obligation to at least try. I think it's important that our children learn about our country's past. I think we'd be doing them injustice if we didn't try and teach them how our country has preserved the freedoms we all enjoy today.
With a resource like Missile Site Park right in our own backyard, I can't think of a more convenient visual tool for facilitating one of those conversations.
Note: Ken Robinson (the caretaker) passed away probably a year after this column was originally published. I've included some additional thoughts on him on my website.