Friday was Veterans Day, a day to honor the men and women who fought for those rights we hold most dear: Speech. Religion. Democracy.
And the right, God bless America, to ride in a 27-foot-long car shaped like a hot dog.
The Wienermobile puttered up the steep, flag-lined driveway to the American Legion post in Hagerstown, its speakers blaring the "I wish I were an Oscar Mayer wiener" jingle. It was here to pick up Meg Galligan, who had won Oscar Mayer's "Ride of Your Life" contest by writing a short essay. She wrote that if she had the Wienermobile for a day, she would take three friends -- all World War II veterans -- to the World War II Memorial in Washington.
And now the Wienermobile's crew of three, known as the Hotdoggers, spilled out of the mustard-and-ketchup-colored belly of the beast.
"What do you think?" asked the driver, "Sauerkraut" Shaun Hanna.
"This is amazing!" exclaimed Galligan, 60, chair of the Department of Business Administration and Family and Consumer Sciences at Shepherd University in West Virginia.
The three veterans -- David Shaw, Jack Stenger and Peter Lowenhaupt -- waited inside the post, watching the scene unfold. Shaw and Stenger were Army infantrymen in the European theater; Lowenhaupt, 82, was a truck driver for the Army Air Forces in the Pacific. None of them had been to the memorial, nor did they have any particular desire to go there, but nonetheless they were determined to play their part, just as they did in the battles of over 60 years ago.
"Boy, is she on Cloud Nine," said Shaw, 80, looking at Galligan out the window. "And she should be. This is probably the high point of her life."
Soon after, the Hotdoggers, wearing the red-blue-and-yellow jackets of their profession, burst into the room, trailed by a small throng of Wiener-worshipers. They were led by Hanna, who made a point of squeezing a hot dog pun into nearly every sentence.
He is a 22-year-old marketing major from Cedarville University in Ohio, but his true education began, he said, when he was admitted to "Hot Dog High."
"I majored in hotdogology and minored in baloney," he said. "You see Katie over there?" -- he meant "Cold Cut" Katie Schroeder -- "She grabbed top dog." He had studied a three-page list of corporate hot dog jokes, which he took to expanding "with relish."
The Hotdoggers plied everyone with gifts: Oscar Mayer T-shirts, a small stuffed soccer ball and a "wiener whistle," which they insisted that Stenger test. The 79-year-old former sergeant, who had marched with Gen. George S. Patton Jr.'s Third Army, blew weakly on the small, hot dog-shaped whistle.
"Are you ready?" Galligan asked.
"Ready as a well-cooked hot dog!" Hanna replied. "I'm such a ham."
They rolled out. Heads turned all along the route during the two-hour journey. When the Wienermobile slowed for Washington traffic, people leaned out of car windows, eager to snap a picture. One man ran up and knocked on the car door. He was wondering if he could score a free hot dog, but he went away empty-handed.
Finally, the Wienermobile came to a stop at the memorial. Two things happened almost simultaneously: The three men piled out of the car, urgently needing to use the bathroom. A police officer, disconcerted by the incongruity of the corporate kitsch parked illegally in front of a war memorial, ordered them to leave. Hanna circled until officials gave him permission to park. Tourists mobbed the new attraction.
Galligan said the ride "exceeded expectations." The men seemed less impressed.
"That suspension is as rough as a cob," Shaw said. "I probably could have led the rest of my life without doing this. . . . But she says that I inspired her to do this."
They made their way to the memorial, saw the sights, took pictures, then headed home -- to a buffet of hot dogs and baked beans. The dog had had its day.
Staff photographer Bill O'Leary contributed to this report.