The story below is an excerpt from our May/June 2014 issue. For the rest of this story and more like it subscribe today, view our digital edition or download our FREE iOS app!
courtesy Grandfather Mountain
Director of the National Park Service William Penn Mott, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elizabeth Dole and General William Westmorland.
Two days after the Boston Marathon bombings, The Boston Globe ran an ad for a pressure cooker on sale for $19.99. Ordinarily, this advertisement would have escaped the notice of most of us, but no longer. Now the pressure cooker – like bags of fertilizer and tennis shoes before it – has become a weapon of mass destruction.
It didn’t used to be this way. For many years, a bomb was a few sticks of TNT hooked up to an alarm clock. Sometimes it came with detonator wire. I know, because one summer I was asked to look for one.
I was working at the Carl Sandburg Home National Historic Site in Flat Rock, N.C. at the time, giving tours of the Sandburg Home and talking about Abraham Lincoln. One day, my boss asked me if I would like to make some overtime. The Park Service was putting together a work detail to provide support for a commemorative event to celebrate the completion of the Blue Ridge Parkway in 1987. The road had been started as a works project under the Franklin Delano Roosevelt administration on September 11, 1935.
Fifty-two years later, the 469-mile parkway stretching from Shenandoah National Park in Virginia to The Great Smoky Mountains in North Carolina was finally completed. The last section was an extended section of bridges called the Linn Cove Viaduct built on the side of Grandfather Mountain. As part of the dedication ceremony to be held on September 11, 1987, there was to be a motorcade of automobiles from each of the 53 years of the project, with General William Westmoreland, Commander of U.S. Forces during Vietnam and Army Chief of Staff under President Nixon, riding in the lead car.
The detail began with a full dress rehearsal of the event the day before. In the morning, we were issued two-way radios. Since many of us were interpretive rangers with little or no law enforcement training, we were given a very basic security protocol. If we noticed anything unusual, we were to call it in to the team leader. He would either come himself or send someone to us.