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The Best Christmas Story – “Liberty Limited” rolls again for soldiers, sailors…

The Best Christmas Story – Special “Liberty Limited” Train to Army Navy Game – Wounded American Heroes Traveled Aboard Famous Private Railway Cars to the game…

This is a YOUTUBE video of the hero’s train racing to Philadelphia. A little boy watches the train speed pass with total awe. The cars carrying the heroic soldiers aboard classic Pullman private and passenger deluxe equipment from the past. The original Liberty Limited was the Pennsylvania Railroad’s premier passenger train between Washington D.C. and Chicago.

A great holiday and Christmas story celebrating the true spirit of giving happened on December 10th.  Wounded soldiers were honored as they traveled on the “Liberty Limited”!  A special chartered a train transported soldiers from Walter Reed Hospital to the Army Navy Game.  The train was organized by American patriot Bennett Levin.

They traveled in luxury aboard some of the most famous historical private railway Pullman cars still operating in America.  The trip was completely for the soldiers.

Besides the train crew, car owners and staff – only the soldiers were allowed.

Self-aggrandizing Washington DC Politicians were prohibited from taking the train – avoiding their using the event to promote themselves.  The media were barred and no military brass.

Just American heroes!

(Left: This shot captures the beautifully restored former Pennsylvania RR E8A locomotive – owned by Mr. Levin.)

At 1,850 feet—19 private passenger cars and two classic EMD E-8 diesel-electric locomotives in the Pennsylvania Railroad’s famous Tuscan Red/gold pinstripe keystone livery—the Liberty Limited was a sight to behold, roaring up the Northeast Corridor at 90 mph on December 10, on its way from Washington D.C. to the 2010 Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia.

Inside the gleaming private-varnish consist, with Liberty Limited operator Bennett Levin’s Pennsylvania 120 open-platform business/observation car bringing up the markers, were 70 “Wounded Warriors”—U.S. Army, Navy, and Marine Corps personnel from Walter Reed Army Hospital and Bethesda Naval Medical Center. With them were 25 family members and guests, 24 military support staff, 16 car owners (who donated use of their equipment), 42 food preparation and wait staff, 30 crew members and police officers—“and no politicians or media,” according to Levin, who with wife Vivian and son Eric (Conrail’s Superintendent of Motive Power and rebuilder and caretaker of his father’s 1951-vintage E-8s), has operated this special trip three times at the behest of U.S. military.

During the course of the all-day event, there were 225 breakfasts, 160 lunches, and 250 dinners served on board private cars that came from Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Ohio, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, Connecticut, Arizona, and New Jersey. This included ground crews from CSX Transportation and Conrail in Philadelphia, on site security and police escorts, and SEPTA drivers.

The following story is reprinted from the Philadelphia Daily News, written by Ronnie Polanescky.

And now, I bring you the best Christmas story you never heard!

(Left: Bennett Levin) 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.

(Left: One of Mr. Levin’s private cars – the observation car – welcomed American heroes.)

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 Levin.

(The train speeds.  The Chapel Hill – with the yellow stripe – was once owned by cereal heiress Marjorie Merriweather Post.  The wounded heroes lived a moment of  history aboard such cars.)

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.

(Left: The heroes were honored with meals in the deluxe private car dining rooms.) 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 ponied 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.


Those who gave this great gift to our American heroes!

Those who made the 2010 edition of the Liberty Limited possible, or who donated to its operation, included:

• Financial support: Association of American Railroads, American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association, Bachmann Trains, TD Bank, U.S. Army Association, Army War College Foundation, United States Military Academy Graduates Association, JAmerican Association of Private Railroad Car Owners, Juniata Terminal Co., Inc.
• Breakfast: Corner Bakery, Washington, D.C.
• Lunch: Jack’s Deli & Catering, Philadelphia
• Transportation: Amtrak, CSX Transportation
• Train servicing: Amtrak, CSX Transportation, Conrail
• In-patient gifts: Jim Daly
• SEPTA buses: Pat Deon
• Books: Simmons-Boardman Books/Railway Age, Kalmbach Publishing
• Hotel rooms: Grand Hyatt, Washington D.C.
• Giclee prints: Silicon Gallery, Philadelphia
• Beverages: Philadelphia Coca Cola, Ellis Coffee, Mueller Distributing
Previous Liberty Limited trains operated in 2005 and 2006.

An excellent story on the Chapel Hill… one of the private cars… appeared in New York Social Diary. Click here to see the luxurious accommodations these heroes enjoyed on their way to the game.

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