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A Troubadour Pays Homage

"I'm in awe of him," said Tonnie Katz, 59, who retired as editor of the Orange County Register in 2002 and describes herself as "a groupie" on the trip. Her husband, Tad Korn, 63, is the violinist. "To set this goal and to see his vision through -- for anyone to do that, and especially for someone facing death," she said.

Thompson picked all four of the sites for this trip for historical reasons: the McLean House, the Old Salem Church, the Dunker Church at Antietam and the Lutheran Seminary Chapel at Gettysburg, although in March he and Korn went to the dome-shaped Illinois Monument at Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi and recorded some Civil War-era violin solos because of the acoustics in the marble-walled structure.

Kyle Thompson, left, uses a recorder in the foyer of the McLean House at Appomattox national park as violinist Tad Korn waits to accompany his friend. (Preston Keres -- The Washington Post)

Thompson plans to produce the CD on his own and give all proceeds of any sales to the Civil War Preservation Trust, which buys battlefield land to keep it from being developed. According to the Washington-based group, 20 percent of the country's key 384 battlefields already are developed; 17 percent have been protected.

He's also written to the New York Yankees, asking if he could record a song he wrote about Lou Gehrig -- whose fight with ALS attached the ballplayer's name to the disease -- in Yankee Stadium, the proceeds of which he says he'd give for ALS research.

The quietest, most unassuming member of his party, Thompson is also reserving energy for what will be a grueling, if euphoric, week for him. While he doesn't look sick, he said he physically doesn't have good days anymore, as the degenerative disease attacks his brain and spinal cord and such minor chores as drying himself off after a shower can set off a series of cramps and twitches that leave him exhausted. "A bad day a year ago is a good day today," he said with no inflection.

"My view is, we all die of something; all our times are coming. We have to accept it graciously."

And that's what Thompson did about 9 p.m. Saturday, after cutting short his recording session because his throat was tired. He'd just explained his song "A Soldier's Diary," in which a soldier far from home and tired from killing proclaims it "a fine day" because he was paid on time.

"I guess," Thompson said, "every day is a fine day when you're still alive."

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