The Gospel Truth

A Historical Odyssey | September 19, 2011


Where does a historian go on his birthday?

If he likes American history during the sesquicentennial of the Civil War he goes to Gettysburg.

This was a trip I have been thinking of taking for sometime.

After two inspiring days in Philadelphia where we took in the sites of Independence Hall,  Carpenters’ Hall and all the other historic sites where our nation originated.

I had never seen the Liberty Bell before.

I was struck by the ordinariness of the circumstances.

The desks and the chambers, after allowing for the 18th century architecture, did not look much different from the sameness of American life today.

Yet the events that transpired in those hallowed halls changed the world and left a legacy of freedom and democracy for my generation to monitor.

Later that afternoon, I ran up the stairs of the Art Museum just as one of my movie heroes, Rocky Balboa did over 35 years ago.

Unfortunately the triumphant statue, erected his honor, has been moved to an obscure side of the museum.

The city fathers did not think Rocky was sophisticated enough to warrant its former place of prominence on the top step.


Wasn't there to greet my jog up the steps

I wonder how many people would even go to their museum if it had not been for the free publicity Rocky gave them.

The theme from Sylvester Stallone’s movie, GONNA FLY NOW has had a special meaning for me.

I used it to inspire my baseball team of  nine and ten-year olds to a perfect 12 -0 season in 1977.

My last four years on WGNU radio I used it as bumper music to get my blood flowing and my brain engaged.

After Philadelphia, the next morning–my birthday–September 6th–we were off for lunch with Amish people in Lancaster CO.

Our informative local guide was a Mennonite, which means she dressed normally, could drive and had a college education.

The Amish women are not allowed to do any of these things.

And they had no electricity, except for a bishop dispensation for illness.

We were instructed not to take their picture because they feared that it would damage or even steal their spirit.

I did talk to one young lady at the local store and she kindly wished me a happy birthday.

Later that afternoon we drove to Gettysburg, which was at the top of my list.

It was raining, not very hard but enough to necessitate an umbrella.

Our local guide, Jim Dale, was excellent and I learned what a Minie Ball really is.

First of all, it is not small.

It was named after the eponymous, co-developer, Claude Etienne Minié, inventor of the Minié rifle.

It has about a 54 caliber weight.

The guide also affirmed my question that Napoleon was largely responsible for the Southern defeat in Pennsylvania because the generals, especially Lee, were still using the tactics of the early 19th century, where lines of soldiers marched into deadly cannon fire.

This was perfectly illustrated by Pickett’s Charge on July 3rd, the third and last day of the bloody encounter.

Ironically, my 6th grade text-book, a weathered volume that had probably been around for many years, had an illustration of the charge.

I still have a mental picture.

The Southerner with his sword high over his head is probably Lo Armistead, one of Pickett’sBrigadier Generals and not Pickett as I had thought all these years.

Image Detail

General Lo Armistead leading the charge

The next day we spend three hours, inside at the Gettysburg Museum.

The item that struck me the most was seeing Abner Doubleday’s  hat.

No Mike it wasn’t a baseball cap.

General Doubleday, who was also at the war’s first battle, Fort Sumter, had absolutely nothing personally to do with the origins of America’s national pastime.

In answer to my question, I learned that incoming Union general, George Meade had just relieved him of his command just after the battle began.

That marked the end of his career as a field commander for the rest of the war.

Gettysburg is a charming town.

I wish we had been able to walk its streets for a while.  I would have hopped into Gettysburg Eddie’s restaurant for a peek.

It is named after Hall of Fame pitcher, (1946) Eddie Plank, who finished his career with the old St. Louis Browns.

A young woman, Mary Virginia Wade was surpisingly the opnly civilian fatality during the three-day battle.  She was killed instantly by a stray bullet that went through a kitchen window and struck her in the back.

Next it was on to Williamsburg, Virginia where we spend an entire day visiting the shops and historic exhibits.

I took a brisk walk down to the House of Burgesses, which was the site of the first assembly in the New World.


A brisk walk to see it

That as in 1619, the year the first black slaves and women came to America.

The last two days we spent in Washington, D.C.

Our guide didn’t want us to miss a thing.

He stopped at the small house where Thomas Stonewall Jackson died after being wounded by friendly fire after his tremendous victory at Chancellorsville.

We toured at night as well, seeing the WW II Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial the first night, as well as walking by the Capitol Building with the Washington Monument looming in the far distance.

Due to the earthquake earlier this summer, tourists will probably not be able to climb to its top because the nation is broke.

We stayed at what I call the Eliot Spitzer Memorial Hotel.

Better known as the Mayflower this old hotel was the site of an infamous call girl ring that brought down one of New York’s most aggressive Democratic politicians.

He bounced back as a talk show host.

The next day we went to Mt. Vernon, where I saw the Washington family tomb and the actual bed the first president died in.

The year was 1799 and I think he was 66 years old.

Later that day we went to the Vietnam and Korean wars memorials where the present of SWAT gave us cause to realize that Washington was under a serious alert because the war on terrorism.

Before dinner we walked to the White House by the West Wing and were allowed to approach the gate for the photo op.

Our farewell dinner was at the International Spy Museum where we toured its contents.

I was attracted to the exhibit about spying that dated back to Sun Tse, the Bible and later Cardinal Richelieu in the French court of King Louis XIII.

Knew all about spying

Robert Hanssen was also there.

He was the so-called devout Catholic and member of the Opus Dei, who sold his country out for money.

The movie with Pat Cooper, entitled Breach is one of my favorite flicks.

As a special extra we journeyed to Arlington Cemetery at night to view the memorial to Iwo Jima.

There was some controversy on our bus after our trip to the Marine Museum in Maryland en route to DC that there were only five flag raisers.

I knew there were six, ever since I saw the John Wayne movie in 1949 with my dad when I was six years old.

I must have walked around the monument 20 times trying to count them—trust me it is not easy.

Well after about 20 minutes, I looked up and I did not recognize any of the other tourists.  II had completely lost my focus.

Image Detail

Almost missed the bus

could not find my bus.  Panic started to take hold—it was very dark there.

Fortunately I was looking in the wrong place and they had waited for me.

I wont even mention the lockdown, involving Ollie North at Lambert airport when we travelled back to St. Louis on 9/11 from Dulles airport.

Of the 18 tours I have taken with Tauck, our guide named Mark who was a burly man who reminded me of a cross between HOF football player, Dan Dierdorff and Rodney Dangerfield, added a great deal to my enjoyment because of his enthusiasm and knowledge of history.

He also had read all the Lee Child novels about Jack Rhecter, who has about the same build as Mark…but is not as funny as Rodney.

OI have been to Hawaii where we all learned about the sperm whale and Sonoma where I was taught how rto savor the bouquet of a fine wine.

Most of those went in the one window and out the other one.

This time I had a strong historical foundation, which i could add a few stories to.

What a birthday!

I am already starting to plan my birthday for next year.


NUMBER 50: Meeting and holding the hand of Blessed John Paul. It was an overwhelming experience.  (Joan Sheehan)

NUMBER 51:  Listening to Lito Cortez play the piano at The Don CeSar, St Pete Beach, Florida.  This should have been on my original list. His music is marvelous.  I have all of his six albums. (Debra Petersen)



  1. Happy belated birthday. What a birthday. How can you top a trip like this one??? pax

    Comment by Mary B — September 20, 2011 @ 11:20 pm

  2. A great post, Pop. What a great trip!

    Comment by Matt — September 22, 2011 @ 1:54 pm

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About author

After graduating from Holy Cross, Bill Borst earned an MA in Asian History from St. John's University and a Ph.D in American History from St. Louis University. (1972) A former New Yorker, he taught for many years in the St. Louis area, while also hosting a weekly radio show on WGNU from 1984-2006. He currently is a regular substitute for conservative Phyllis Schlafly on KSIV radio. (1320) He is the author of two books on social history, "Liberalism: Fatal Consequences," and "The Scorpion and the Frog: A Natural Conspiracy." He just retired as the Features editor of the Mindszenty Foundation Monthly Report. In his 11 years from 2003-2013 he wrote nearly 130 essays on Catholic culture and world affairs. Many in St. Louis also know him as the "Baseball Professor," because of a course that he offered at Maryville College from 1973-74. It was arguably the first fully-accredited baseball history course in the Midwest.The author of several short books on the old St. Louis Browns, he started the St. Louis Browns Historical Society in 1984. In 2009 his first two plays were produced on the local stage. "The Last Memory of an Ol' Brownie Fan," ran six performances at the Sound Stage in Crestwood and "A Perfect Choice" ran for two performances at the Rigali Center Theater in Shrewsberry. His third play, "A Moment of Grace," ran six performances at DeSmet High School in January of 2011with First Run Theater in January of 2011. He is currently working on a 4th play, "A Family Way," which is a comedy about a happy dysfunctional family. He can reached at







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