Every month it was a different adventure—Luxembourg, Belgium, Italy and France. To Normandy, where nearly 5,000 Americans gave their lives for European freedom. To Belleau Wood, where the Marines earned the nickname “Devil Dogs” during World War II.
High school teacher Ashley Conley and her 4-year-old son, Shayne, made a veritable history lesson out of Europe over the past two years.
As each new Saturday trip approached, her son’s anticipation for the next trip would become palpable.
“Are you ready to see Paris?” Ashley playfully asked her son before a day-trip they took last year.
“Is daddy coming?”
“Yes, baby, he is.”
Shayne’s smile nearly breached his cheeks. His dad, Andrew, is a Sergeant First Class in the Army stationed in Stuttgart, Germany. Occasionally he was home long enough to join Ashley and Shayne on their tours of Europe booked through the USO.
“All I had to do is come prepared with my son, get on the bus at the designated time, sit back and relax,” said Ashley, ”and then ride back on the bus to Stuttgart. The USO takes care of everything.”
The USO “Express Tour” to Paris leaves Germany about midnight and arrives in the French capital around eight the next morning. As the bus pulls into the city, tour guide Jiri begins pointing out places of interest.
“Military Academy is there, Hotel des Invalides is there,” he announced — volume increased — as if to wake his guests gently.
When the bus finally came to a stop, the Conley’s grabbed their subway passes and hit the streets.
Overall, the city was clean but extremely busy, reported Ashley, for both car and pedestrian traffic.
“There weren’t any of the tall buildings that are typical in American cities or even other European cities,” she said. “Really it seemed like the tallest buildings we saw were the landmarks, such as the Eiffel Tower, Arc de Triomphe and Notre-Dame.”
After walking half way to their first landmark, little Shayne complained he was already tired. His parents knew it would happen, and his dad capitulated early this time.
“C’mon and hop on,” he said, boosting Shayne up to his shoulders. “Where are we going first?”
Shayne pointed to a spot on the map, and the Conley’s headed to the subway, a fairly new experience for Ashley and her son. For Shayne it was like being on a train, the stuff of dreams for a 4-year-old boy.
After grabbing a souvenir for Shayne and taking a family photo at the Eiffel Tower, it was already time to head back to the bus.
“I always have a feeling of disbelief after getting back from one of the USO trips, especially the express trips to another country,” said Ashley. “I just can’t believe that in the course of 24 hours I traveled to another city, in another country, that I previously had only dreamed about.”
It was just what the Conley’s needed right before a seven month deployment.
“We love the USO for helping us capitalize on what liitle family time we get,” said Andrew. “It literally means the world to us.” — By Joseph Andrew Lee, USO Staff Writer