The District: Memorial

Quite a few months ago, I decided I was going to go to Washington DC for Memorial Day. I wanted to see the Memorial Day Concert I always recorded. I spend a few weeks trying to figure out what I wanted to do and what I wanted to see. It was going to be a short trip, so I wanted to make every moment count. About a month before I left my Mother decided that she wanted to come with me. I booked a great location at a low-cost hotel with complimentary breakfast, and found the perfect nonstop flights from Milwaukee on Southwest Airlines.

On Saturday morning, we went to the airport and flew to Washington DC. It was a pretty short flight, I was able to watch a few Hawaii Five-0 episodes on it. We waited quite a long time for our bags to come off–yup, I checked bags. Actually, I checked a lawn chair. We took an Uber to DC from Reagan Airport where we were able to see the Capital and the Washington monument and checked into the hotel. We relaxed for a moment and began walking around the area to find a place to eat. We went to eat while we watched the World Cup.

As the weather turned to become humid and drizzly, we took an Uber to Arlington National Cemetery. As we pulled up, it almost felt like you were choking for a second. On tears, on just raw emotions. The weather was hot and damp. It was drizzling on and off all morning. The fact that this was in fact, THE holiday weekend in Washington DC meant there were hundreds of people around trying to see loved ones and friends. It also meant that it was going to be slightly packed. While my Mother and I came close to closing time, we didn’t get to see too much of the Cemetery, but it was just enough on this day. We went into the overly packed visitors center, and for the first time in a long time, I was having a slight anxiety attack over how many people were in one area just crowded around each other. So we moved over to one hallway and then to another.

We spoke to a man at the counter who was “selling” tours, and shuttles to different areas of the Cemetery. Since we were going to a grave site, there was a free Shuttle. Once we got to the grave site, walking through was mushy, and we were sinking into the ground. The driver then said “let’s go the other way,” as well as he said he was going to report that the grounds were not suitable to be walked on with it being so wet. The second way around was much better.

(Above video: There is only a couple of seconds with it being sideways. Not to fear.)

We then made our way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, which was nearby. We got to watch the Changing of the Guard, and it was quite beautiful. You can hear the birds, you can hear the clicking of the shoes, you could hear a pin drop. (Personally, I’ve been trying to get that walk down! He barely moves. Only forward!) You could see how emotional everyone was getting. We even got to watch a wreath laying ceremony as well. It just tugged on you.

The Sentinel does not execute an about face, rather they stop on the 21st step, then turn and face the Tomb for 21 seconds. They then turn to face back down the mat, change the weapon to the outside shoulder, mentally count off 21 seconds, then step off for another 21 step walk down the mat. They face the Tomb at each end of the 21 step walk for 21 seconds. The Sentinel then repeats this over and over until the Guard Change ceremony begins.

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After we stood there and paid our respects (in complete utter silence) we walked over to the USS Maine Memorial, which is going to be renovated for the next couple of years. The memorial contains the Battleship’s original mast and bell.

A massive explosion of unknown origin sinks the battleship USS Maine in Cuba’s Havana harbor, killing 260 of the fewer than 400 American crew members aboard on February 15 1898. The USS Maine explosion started the Spanish American War.

The next time we are in DC, we will go back to Arlington for a full day– to see the Graves of JFK, Brig. Gen. Hazel Johnson-Brown, GySgt John Basilone, Gen. James H Doolittle, and the Eternal Flame, Space Shuttle Challenger Memorial, and tour the Arlington House. (We’re already planning our next visit.)

Next we decided to go and see the White House–I know, I know. We can assure you, we were only there for the historic meaning of that “house”, and not who it currently represents. I was actually really disappointed. There were people across the street that were against the Trump Administration, and were peacefully expressing their opinions. Honestly, it was much smaller than I thought it really was. But then again, I was completely obsessed with the Dwight D Eisenhower Executive Office Building, that was right next door. This unbelievably beautiful building was massive and of French Architecture. which transported me back to France. For a few minutes, I had no idea where I was.

Originally built for the State, War and Navy Departments between 1871 and 1888, the Eisenhower Executive Office Building now houses a majority of offices for White House staff. Designed by Supervising Architect of the Treasury Alfred Mullett, the granite, slate and cast iron exterior makes the EEOB one of America’s best examples of the French Second Empire style of architecture. It took 17 years for Mullett’s masterpiece to finally be completed.

The building continues to house various agencies that comprise the Executive Office of the President, such as the White House Office, the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council.

Absolutely beautiful. I’m just dying to go inside! So I’ll write my Congresswoman a request to tour, between 3 months to 21 days in advanced.

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We sat in Lafayette Square for a little while, people watching. I also watched the Squirrels, who were surprisingly really friendly, and there were soo many. We looked at the statues of Rochambeau and Lafayette cue Hamilton’s “Guns and Ships”.

The next day we began our day of Memorial at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, which I got tickets way ahead of time for our date and time–to make sure we were guaranteed tickets. They do give out free tickets everyday, but it is on a first come first serve basis. So since it was a holiday, I thought ahead and purchased (small fee), to secure our time and date. This was a must for me.

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I’ve had interest since I watched my brother as Honza in “I’ve Never Seen Another Butterfly”. I’ve used their archives and articles for many assignments including my college Senior Thesis. (History Major, woot woot!)

It was awful.

You couldn’t move and/or walk at a normal pace. You also couldn’t read anything.

Since I did come to the Museum on a Holiday, it was unbelievably packed. Every time I could begin reading the exhibited item, there was a head in front of it again; so I couldn’t. You just couldn’t read anything unless you were in the front and covering it from everyone else. It was extremely rough, and I was really disappointed. But the good news with that, I used a lot of the Museum in my Senior thesis, that I had a good idea of most of the exhibits. So I just had to read a little excerpt, and could fill in the blanks.

As we finished the Museum, we were able to see the Ride of the Patriots. This is about 4,000 Harley Davidson riders (woo!) from the Fairfax, Virginia area riding their motorcycles from the Pentagon to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Most of the riders are Veterans themselves, and they join Rolling Thunder–a nonprofit advocacy group that rides to bring attention to the plight of prisoners of war and those missing in action. This year marked their 20 year anniversary coming to DC.

This began as a loosely organized group of bikers focused on bringing Vietnam War vets uniting veterans from wars past and present, according to Stars and Stripes. The more they reached out, more Veterans decided they wanted to “come in and talk to the folks.”

“We feel it’s important to remember all the other vets, not only the ones who came home, but more importantly the ones that didn’t come home,” she said. “That many people coming together for that is awesome.”

You can read this full article here.

It was such a sight to see. Police closed the streets for them to come through–you could not cross the street to save your life for quite a long time. It was a parade. People had flags, everyone was waving, there were even people with signs. Both on and off the bikes.

This was the beginning of the end of the trip. We went back to the hotel to relax and get ready for the big show. The National Memorial Day Concert, which was on the West lawn of the US Capitol Building. To be honest, we had no idea where exactly we were supposed to go for this concert, so my Mother and I called an Uber and had it to the Capitol. Things were already blocked off, so we just got out of the Uber and began walking until we found someone to tell us where to go.

We got to briefly see the outside of The US Supreme Court–which was suuuuper cool! Considering all of the cases that were ruled there that effected us. For example: Brown v Board of Education (1954), Loving v Virginia (1967) Roe v Wade (1973); just to name a few. I joked with my Mother that “Olivia Pope was just here!” (Joke for those that watched the Series Finale of Scandal.)

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Once we did find our way to get to the ceremony, we watched those from Walter Reed, come to the Capitol in such a VIP fashion. We did continue on the path around the Capitol to the one entrance they were allowing us all in. Many gathered with their lawn chairs–which we did bring– and line up through the metall detectors to be on the lawn, where the beautiful concerts that we’ve watched on television for almost 10 years was about to unfold.

We were lucky! We got an AMAZING spot! To the point where the police that were seated behind us cut everyone else off from sitting there. Of course once the concert began, people did seem to come and gather at the area, but they didn’t have chairs or blankets to sit on, so they were easily movable in case of an emergency. (The area became an Emergency Exit, and emergency vehicles needed to fit through.) And when I say prime seating–I really mean, this was prime.

We sat near Vietnam Veterans that began making friends with others nearby, to the point where we found out one Vet was the relief for the others unit. My goodness, it was quite spectacular to listen to their stories. (Okay, we were totally eavesdropping, without shame.)

As the concert began, it began raining, followed shortly after–pouring. And no matter how hard one tried to keep dry, you just had to deal with it. Every time we stood to clap, the water just poured into your seat– I was soaked all the way to my skin–through underwear, socks, bras, and all. It was a beautiful night besides the rain–it was pretty warm, not too humid. And the rain died down to a drizzle before it stopped.

Like always the hosts of the show are Joe Mantegna (Criminal Minds) and Gary Sinise (CSI:NY) with Jack Everly conducting the National Symphony Orchestra. We got to enjoy the US Army Herald Trumpets with the beautiful voices of the US Army Chorus and Army Voices, the US Navy Band Sea Chanters, US Air Force Singing Sergeants, and Soldiers’ Chorus. Performances by Spensha Baker (the Voice), Alfie Boe (Broadway Les Mis as Valjean), Lt. Dan Band, Leona Lewis, Charles Esten (Nashville), Megan Hilty (Broadway Wicked as Glinda),  and Cynthia Erivo (Broadway The Color Purple as Celie). Spoken Words performed by Allison Janney (Mom), Graham Greene (Dances with Wolves), Mary McCormack (In Plain Sight), John Corbett (Sex and the City), and Brian Tee (Chicago Med). And last but not least, of course Colin Powell.

It was a spectacular show. Despite the consistent rain, no one left the concert. Everyone stayed. There were Boy Scouts in the crowd that were handing out American Flags to everyone in their area. They made sure everyone had a flag to wave. The Spoken Words brought the lives, experience, and friendships, of Korean War Veterans Army Medal of Honor Recipient Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura and Silver Star Recipient Joseph Annello , Marine Sgt. Bill Rider from the Vietnam War, and Army National Guard MP SFC Leigh Ann Hester (Silver Star) from the Iraq and Afghanistan War.

Due to this year marking the 70th Anniversary of the Women’s Armed Service Integration Act [which enabled women to serve as permanent, regular members of the armed forces], the concert did take time to honor Women. From the Revolutionary War to Iraq and Afghanistan, and everyone in between. From Debra Samson, to Medal of Honor Recipient Dr. Mary Walker, to 4-Star General Ann Dunwoody. Giving them the recognition, that they don’t always get, and that they deserve.

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“It’s surreal; you say it’s 12-13 years, but my Mom heart, says it was yesterday.” A video is shown on the screen of Gold Star Moms at Section 60 (where those who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan are buried) in Arlington. This is where people were really choking up. “Even if no one remembers, we will.” The power of that phrase, even as I complete writing this a few months later, still chokes me up and brings tears to my eyes. They would be there every year. “For them, every day is Memorial Day.” And then Taps played.

The concert was absolutely beautiful. The musical selections, the speakers, the stories that were shared. I highly recommend finding your way to the US Capitol on Memorial Day. Because, we can’t forget them. And we should never forget what they have done for us. Everybody has known someone in the military.

“Sharing can help all of us heal. It is in our willingness to listen to let them share their grief and their memories that we can make all the difference. If we listen, we will understand what these families need us to know. That their grave marker is not just a number or a name, but a person who loved, and was loved. If we listen, we will understand that grief has no time limit. It is not easy, but remember, tonight is a testimony that they are not alone. There is help and encouragement on the journey. God bless all these families.” -General Colin Powell

Like most things in Washington DC, the concert is completely free (and provided water). I would recommend putting DC for Memorial Day on your list.

If you were not able to see the concert, you are able to watch some of these moments on YouTube by clicking here.

 

 

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