The Official Voice of Vietnam Veterans of America, Inc. ®
An organization chartered by the U.S. Congress
Meet Us In St. Louis: A VVA Visitors Guide
BY MICHAEL KEATING
``Here to be seen [were] the
hectoring, extravagant, bragging boatman of the
the gay, grimacing, singing, good-humored Canadian
voyageurs. Vagrant Indians of
various tribes, loitered about the streets. Now and then a
stark Kentucky hunter, in leathern
hunting-dress, with rifle on shoulder and knife in belt,
trode along. Here and there were rich new
houses and ships, just set up by bustling, driving and
eager men of traffic from the Atlantic
States; while, on the other hand, the old French mansions,
with open casements, still retained the
easy, indolent air of the original colonists.''
-Washington Irving, 1868.
St. Louis has always been a city
of comings and goings. Lewis and Clark used it as the
jumping-off point for the Corps of Discovery. The confluence
of the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers guaranteed that it
would be a port city. It also was the original capital of the
Louisiana Purchase. VVA members and their families
should make the effort to get a flavor of St. Louis, a city
rich in history and saturated in Mississippi musical
The Arch and the Old Courthouse sit on either side of the
Adam's Mark Hotel, site of VVA's 2003 National Convention and
25th anniversary celebration. Designed by Eero Saainen, who
also designed Washington's Dulles Airport, the 630-foot
stainless steel Gateway Arch was begun in 1963 and completed
October 28, 1965. Underground, below the Arch, is the football
field-size Museum of Westward Expansion, which provides an
overview of the Lewis and Clark expedition and houses
artifacts of the American West.
The Gateway Arch rises on the west bank of the Mississippi
River. Two Gateway Arch River boats - the Tom Sawyer and the
Becky Thatcher - dock there. One-hour cruises depart at noon,
1:30, and 3:00.
Visitors also can take a tram to the top of the Gateway Arch.
From small windows on the top, you can view the entire city.
The Arch stands more than twice as high as the Statue of
Of course, there are schedules and fees. The first tram
ascends at 8:20 a.m.; the last trip up is at 9:10 p.m. The
cost is $8 for adults; less for children. Unfortunately there
is no wheelchair access to the top of the Gateway Arch.
Admission to the river boat ride is $10 ($18 if you ride both
the boat and the tram). The Museum of Westward Expansion,
however, is accessible and is open from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Just west of VVA's convention hotel, aligned with the Gateway
Arch, is St. Louis' Old
Courthouse. Begun in 1826, the courthouse was not finished
until 1862 when its cast- and wrought-iron dome was completed.
The Missouri Democrat wrote that William Rumbold's dome
was ``such a piece of beautiful massiveness as will command
the admiration of mankind long after all now living are
Dred and Harriet Scott initated a lawsuit for their freedom in
St. Louis' Old Courthouse in 1846. The court in St. Louis
decided that Dred Scott, his wife, and family should be free
from slavery. The court agreed with previous Missouri doctrine
that ``once free, always free'' if a slave had been held in
bondage in a free state for an extended time.
The decision was appealed, eventually to the U.S. Supreme
Court. Chief Justice Roger B. Taney of Maryland rendered the
famous Dred Scott Decision on March 6, 1857: ``The right of
property in a slave is distinctly and expressly affirmed in
the Constitution. The right of traffic in, like an ordinary
article of merchandise and property, was guaranteed to the
citizens of the United States... and the government is pledged
to protect it in all future time.''
In addition to ruling that African-Americans could not be
citizens and declaring the Missouri Compromise (which
restricted slavery in the Wisconsin Territory)
unconstitutional, the Dred Scott Decision pushed the nation
much closer to war.
Also just a couple blocks from the hotel is Busch Stadium,
home of the St. Louis Cardinals. Unfortunately, the home-town
team is on the road during the VVA Convention. The only home
game VVA visitors may be able to catch is a 12:40 p.m. contest
against Pittsburgh on Monday, July 28. For ticket information,
www.stlcardinals.com or call 314-421-2400. Just northwest
of Busch Stadium is the International Bowling Museum and the
St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.
St. Louis' French-inspired Old Cathedral, built in 1834, sits
in the shadow of the Arch a block from the hotel. A lovely,
serene limestone church, it survived the great fire of 1949.
Above the door are inscriptions in Latin, English, and French.
The church should not be confused with the Cathedral Basilica
of Saint Louis, a Romanesque-Byzantine wonder that contains
the world's most extensive collection of mosaic art. That
church is known as the New Cathedral and is located in St.
Louis' Central West End.
Just barely within walking distance is the Eugene Field House,
an old brick downtown rowhouse crammed with antique toys that
was the childhood home of journalist and children's poet,
Wynken, Blyken, and Nod one night
Sailed off in a wooden shoe--
Sailed on a river of crystal light,
Into a sea of dew.
Ten blocks west of the hotel is
the Soldiers Memorial, a handsome civic mausoleum that houses
an eclectic little war museum. Artifacts have been donated by
the citizens of St. Louis from every war since the Civil War,
including the first Gulf War. Most of the collection is from
WWII. Across the street, immediately south, is the St. Louis
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, which honors the city's war dead.
In the same plaza, casualties from other wars also are
inscribed. Just west of the Soldiers Memorial is an historical
marker that commemorates the birthplace of the American
In the afternoons and evenings, a bus picks up visitors at the
west entrance of the Adam's Mark to take them to the President
Casino, a gambling river boat moored on the St. Louis side of
the Mississippi. The Casino Queen is moored on the Illinois
side. The bus runs through nearby Laclede's Landing, a center
of the St. Louis music scene. There are plenty of bars
featuring a lot of blues. Blues clubs also are scattered
through the Soulard neighborhood, a five-minute drive south of
The 8th and Pine subway stop is about a five-block walk. Like
in Buffalo, N.Y., riders can travel downtown for free. In
fact, you can go as far as Union Station without paying a
fare. You no longer will find working trains there, but
several are on display. The historically significant building
has been converted into a hotel and shopping mall. The other
mall close to the hotel, the shabby America's Center, is well
Taking the train further out brings you to Forest Park, site
of the 1904 World's Fair and home to many municipal
attractions, including the zoo (one of the nation's largest),
the science center and planetarium, and the St. Louis Art
Museum. In addition to a broad and handsome permanent
collection, the museum's special exhibits include ``Threads of
Prosperity: American Domestic Textiles, 1750-1875.'' Admission
is free on Fridays; otherwise, it's $10 for adults. For
information, go to: www.slam.org
By car, you can quickly get to the Anheuser-Busch Brewery,
which regularly conducts tours. You'll even get a free taste
A little further south is the Jefferson Barracks, the first
permanent American military settlement west of the
Mississippi. In its old and lovely military cemetery is buried
Michael Blassie, the Vietnam veteran whose remains were
disinterred from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington in May
To learn more about St. Louis, go to
or write St. Louis Convention and Visitors Commission, One
Metropolitan Square, Suite 1100, St. Louis, MO 63102.
Visit The VVA Veteran
to locate back issues.
E-mail us at TheVeteran@vva.org