The Great Lakes Naval Station, north of Chicago, IL is the only place the Navy trains its recruits. I always thought this might be a good place to stay and we were fortunate enough to get a reservation over Memorial Day weekend. In addition to training new recruits the Navy also offers training in specific skills, such as electronics, naval gunnery, communications, gas turbine systems, and damage control, to name a few. The RV park is small, but is a great location for families to stay while visiting their sailors. The park only offers electric hook ups, campers have to fill their fresh water tanks and dump their waste at the marina, about a mile away. The sites are pretty tight, but the view of Lake Michigan makes up for all of these shortfalls.
The Naval Recruit Training Center conducts a graduation every Friday. The area by the visitor center and the Museum of the American Sailor was full of newly graduated recruits and their families. At the Museum we attended a presentation on the USS Cole, its history and the attack by terrorists in the Gulf of Aden. It was especially interesting because the presenter had been an Electronics Warrant Officer on the Cole when the ship was attacked and was able to share her personal story.
The Museum of the American Sailor focused primarily on the Recruit school and, while limited, was quite interesting.
On Saturday we rode the train into downtown Chicago. We took our bikes on the train (you are allowed two bikes in each car) and they made getting around town much easier than walking or taking public transportation. Our first stop was the Shedd Aquarium but we found it to be too expensive and just wandered around the outside. While doing this we saw several art pieces made from plastic that had been salvaged from the ocean. Discarded water bottles, coolers, various plastic containers and more had been used to make these plastic sea creatures. When you see these pictures you will understand why I really, really don’t like it when people use disposable water bottles. I encourage everyone to buy a good water bottle and refill it from the tap.
I took advantage of the mobility of our bikes to pick up several geocaches in the area. it’s a great way to learn some unique things about an area.
We rode back to State Street for the Chicago Memorial Day Parade. We didn’t plan for it, but we ended up right across the street from the Reviewing Stand with all the dignitaries, including Mayor Rahm Emanuel. I was amazed how many Chicago Schools offer Junior ROTC, there was one school after another in the parade!
After the parade we rode to Navy Pier for lunch. We ate at Giordano’s and had authentic Chicago deep dish pizza, a real treat! While we were waiting to be seated and after lunch we explored Navy Pier and took a ride on the Centennial Wheel, which opened in 2016. What a great view! Daniel Burnham, famous architect of the World’s Fair, originally envisioned five piers in his “Master Plan of Chicago,” but Navy Pier was the only one built. The pier was originally built in 1909 and opened for use in 1916 as the Municipal Pier. It was renamed the Navy Pier in 1927 to honor those who served in the Navy in WWI. During WWII Navy Pier was used to train pilots for service on aircraft carriers. In fact, former President George H.W. Bush trained at the Navy Pier before deploying to the South Pacific.
On base at Great Lakes Naval Station they raise the flag every morning at 8:00. At that time we would hear the bugle call “Attention,” followed by the National Anthem. Tradition is that if you are outside when this happens you face the direction of the base headquarters, stand at the position of Attention and salute during the Anthem. Pat and I were often interrupted in our morning walks by this, but what a way to start your day!
On the morning of Memorial Day we rode our bikes on the Robert McClory Bike Path to the small town of Lake Forest for their Memorial Day Ceremony. It reminded us of when we lived in the small town of DeWitt back in Michigan – small town Americana! The short parade was led by the American Legion Honor Guard, followed by the high school marching band, and Scout troops. The ceremony was begun with the Star Spangled Banner, sung by a delightful young singer who did a marvelous job. One of the senior navy officers from Great Lakes told of a WWII veteran that he had gotten to know well and his stories. The Scouts completed the ceremony be raising the Flag from half-mast to full. It was a simple, but moving ceremony and we were happy that we were able to share in it.
On Tuesday we departed to return to Michigan for the summer.