The Liberty Limited

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Jeffrey W. Goble
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The Liberty Limited

Post by Jeffrey W. Goble » Fri Dec 30, 2005 3:05 am

Letter provided by Bud Burchell, CA to all you WWII Submarine Veterans:

This is a great story and so glad it got some publicity, after the fact.
Shows that some of the rich guys are thinking about our troops and willing to help out.
I bet that those troops will never forget that game, not matter what service they are in.
Way to go, Mr. Levin!!
God Bless you all too.

In Thursday's Philadelphia Daily News.

Ronnie Polaneczky | Here's a Yule story that ought to be a movie

AND NOW, in time for the holidays, I bring you the best Christmas story you never heard.
It started last Christmas, when Bennett and Vivian Levin were overwhelmed by sadness
while listening to radio reports of injured American troops.
"We have to let them know we care," Vivian told Bennett.
So they organized a trip to bring soldiers from Walter Reed Army Medical Center and
Bethesda Naval Hospital to the annual Army-Navy football game in Philly, on Dec. 3.
The cool part is, they created their own train line to do it.

Yes, there are people in this country who actually own real trains.
Bennett Levin - native Philly guy, self-made millionaire and irascible former L&I commish
is one of them.
He has three luxury rail cars. Think mahogany paneling, plush seating and white-linen
dining areas. He also has two locomotives, which he stores at his Juniata Park train yard.
One car, the elegant Pennsylvania, carried John F. Kennedy to the Army-Navy game in
1961 and '62. Later, it carried his brother Bobby's body to D.C. for burial.
"That's a lot of history for one car," says Bennett.

He and Vivian wanted to revive a tradition that endured from 1936 to 1975, during which
trains carried Army-Navy spectators from around the country directly to the stadium where
the annual game is played.
The Levins could think of no better passengers to reinstate the ceremonial ride than the
wounded men and women recovering at Walter Reed in D.C and Bethesda, in Maryland.
"We wanted to give them a first-class experience," says Bennett.
"Gourmet meals on board, private transportation from the train to the stadium, perfect seats;
- real hero treatment."
Through the Army War College Foundation, of which he is a trustee, Bennett met with
Walter Reed's commanding general, who loved the idea.
But Bennett had some ground rules first, all designed to keep the focus on the troops alone:
No press on the trip, lest the soldiers' day of pampering devolve into a media circus.
No politicians either, because, says Bennett, "I didn't want some idiot making this trip into
a campaign photo op."
And no Pentagon suits on board, otherwise the soldiers would be too busy saluting
superiors to relax.
The general agreed to the conditions, and Bennett realized he had a problem on his hands.
"I had to actually make this thing happen," he laughs.

Over the next months, he recruited owners of 15 other sumptuous rail cars from around the
country - these people tend to know each other - into lending their vehicles for the day.
The name of their temporary train?
The Liberty Limited.

Amtrak volunteered to transport the cars to D.C. - where they'd be coupled together for the
round-trip ride to Philly - then back to their owners later.
Conrail offered to service the Liberty while it was in Philly. And SEPTA drivers would bus the
disabled soldiers 200 yards from the train to Lincoln Financial Field, for the game.

A benefactor from the War College ponies up 100 seats to the game - on the 50-yard line -
and lunch in a hospitality suite.
And corporate donors filled, for free and without asking for publicity, goodie bags for attendees:
From Woolrich, stadium blankets. From Wal-Mart, digital cameras.
From Nikon, field glasses. From GEAR, down jackets.
There was booty not just for the soldiers, but for their guests, too, since each was allowed to
bring a friend or family member.
The Marines, though, declined the offer. "They voted not to take guests with them, so they could
take more Marines," says Levin, choking up at the memory.

Bennett's an emotional guy, so he was worried about how he'd react to meeting the 88 troops
and guests at D.C.'s Union Station, where the trip originated.
Some GIs were missing limbs. Others were wheelchair-bound or accompanied by medical
personnel for the day.
"They made it easy to be with them," he says. "They were all smiles on the ride to Philly.
Not an ounce of self-pity from any of them. They're so full of life and determination."

At the stadium, the troops reveled in the game, recalls Bennett. Not even Army's lopsided
loss to Navy could deflate the group's rollicking mood.

Afterward, it was back to the train and yet another gourmet meal - heroes get hungry,
says Levin - before returning to Walter Reed and Bethesda.

"The day was spectacular," says Levin. "It was all about these kids. It was awesome to be part of it."
The most poignant moment for the Levins was when 11 Marines hugged them goodbye, then
sang them the Marine Hymn on the platform at Union Station.
"One of the guys was blind, but he said, 'I can't see you, but man, you must be f---ing beautiful!'
says Bennett. "I got a lump so big in my throat, I couldn't even answer him."

It's been three weeks, but the Levins and their guests are still feeling the day's love.
"My Christmas came early," says Levin, who is Jewish and who loves the Christmas season.
"I can't describe the feeling in the air."
Maybe it was hope.
As one guest wrote in a thank-you note to Bennett and Vivian, "The fond memories generated last Saturday will sustain us all - whatever the future may bring."
God bless the Levins.
And bless the troops, every one.

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Keith Holman
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Post by Keith Holman » Fri Dec 30, 2005 2:42 pm

A moving story. I understand the throat lumps as I got a few of them myself just reading.

For reference: the story was published on December 22, 2005, Page 06, Philadelphia Daily News (PA)
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