GOD BLESS AMERICA, LAND THAT I LOVE…..
The following is another item in our Epigram series of articles.
GOD BLESS AMERICA, LAND THAT I LOVE…..
by Bobbe Moutray
Thursday, June 9, 2011, a sunny summer day, arrived right on schedule - as did our tour bus with none other than our favorite bus driver, Kevin – YAY! Not only can Kevin maneuver a 54 passenger bus through winding narrow streets as though he were threading a needle, he is extremely accommodating.
To say this was an educational experience is an understatement. One of the first games we played during the drive was trivia about Washington, DC. The winner got 18 answers right – out of 41 questions! How sad is THAT?! Additionally, our tour leaders provided videos of the Virginia, Maryland, and DC areas which were extremely informative. We looked forward with excitement to arriving in our nation’s capital; but not before an overnight stop in Staunton, Virginia for dinner, a long stretch or walk, card playing, and a good night’s sleep. In the morning we’d resume our travel.
Our first tour stop along the way was at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, aka QUANTICO! Oh my, the “scenery” was absolutely outstanding – and the landscaping and structural visuals weren’t bad either.
We had lunch in the Mess Hall (Tun Tavern, where the idea of the Marine Corps was conceptualized, was experiencing a 30-minute wait for seating), toured the buildings and shops, and watched a movie about the dedication of a Marine. And how fortuitous was this: we were about to witness the awarding of the Navy Cross (second only to the Medal of Honor) to two special young men for heroic effort above and beyond the call of duty. Unfortunately the Marines Commandant was “stuck in traffic”. With all the major highway construction going on in DC, wouldn’t you think he could’ve hopped on a Navy helicopter? (We really need more women in the ranks; they would’ve figured this out!) We could wait no longer; we had a schedule to maintain. We called it a day when we arrived at our DC hotel.
On day three we met Kurt, our professional tour guide, who did a most outstanding job – so knowledgeable, so congenial, and a lot of fun! This was likely our most grueling day – not only due to the summery weather, but our schedule was jam-packed with places to go, people to see, things to do. I’m sure we’ve all seen the Marines’ television advertisements looking for “a few good men with the mettle”. Well, they’d need look no further than our group of travelers who would prove their “mettle” in the days to come, battling temperatures near 100 degrees and 100% humidity (these are factual numbers, folks), and keeping up a fast pace as we visited the U.S. Capital, the White House (did you know that the East Wing is not actually a part of the White House, rather a building (wing) on the east side of the original structure). The various flag-bedecked embassies along Embassy Row were inspiring. To know that one can be granted asylum in one of those mansions and not be seized by our own US authorities is thought provoking – we don’t own the land the embassies stand upon. It’s owned by that embassy’s country – just a little scary.
On we rode until arriving at the Washington Monument (Do you know why it’s two different colors? During construction in the 1850’s the Monument Society ran out of money. Work ceased, and didn’t resume until the 1870’s. Stone from a different quarry had to be used for completion despite its not being a match.) Then on to the Lincoln Memorial. Standing at the foot of the statue was truly a humbling experience. It was so HUGE and so appropriate for the man who died in the cause of equality of his country’s people. And to be in such close proximity to the actual flag-bedecked scene of his murder at Ford’s Theater was incredible!
Most people would agree that one memorial or monument was not to be outdone by another. They were spectacular – in their size, their grace, their inspiration…in their silence – particularly in their silence. From Iwo Jima and World War II to Korea to Vietnam. We grieve, reflect and pray for the myriad men and women who so courageously gave their lives to preserve our freedoms. This was very emotional. From the Jefferson Memorial to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Memorial – a huge park in itself with lighted fountains and sculptures.
Of course, no trip to DC would be complete without paying one’s respects at Arlington National Cemetery to all buried beneath the thousands of plain white crosses – and to all members of the Kennedy family. It was an amazing experience to see the eternal flame up close and personal. Upon one of his visits to this cemetery President John F. Kennedy was so taken by the beauty and silence of what was before him that he said, “I could stay here forever.” He was killed in Dallas two months later.
Temperatures rose to near 100 degrees by the time we reached the Tomb of the Unknowns. We jockeyed for positions to record the “Changing of the Guard” on camera. It was so hot that those of us in the front row couldn’t touch the brass rail that held back the crowds. Incredibly, the Old Guard – dressed in formal uniform – never missed a beat in their cadence. Twenty-one slow steps, about face, twenty-one slow steps, about face…. We saw the actual change take place, including the scrupulous inspection of the oncoming guard and his rifle by the Sergeant of the Guard.
On to the Smithsonian and all it holds, Museum of Natural History (where some of us salivated at the sight of the Hope Diamond), and the Museum of American History. Being in the same room with the ORIGINAL Star Spangled Banner, tattered and torn with pieces missing, tugged at our hearts and brought tears to our eyes. After this point some of us went one way, some another, and some still another (after much effort to escort a few of the ladies away from the Hope Diamond exhibit). Eventually we all gathered for the ride back to our hotel for dinner and some great dancing to a very versatile trio of musicians. Some folks retired early; others not so much.
Our final day began with a visit to George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate and Gardens. WOW! What a step back in history! Beautiful! Enormous amount of property! We visited the tomb of George and Martha – it was incredible to know that we were looking at the crypts of such “bigger than life” people. By the way, did you know that while Washington was known as the Father of our Country, that’s the only kind of father he was? He fathered no children of his own. Martha brought her four children from a previous marriage into theirs. Also, another little known fact. Did you know that there is only one state named after a United States president? Yup! In the northwest corner of our country – it’s George, Washington.
And so we boarded our bus for the last leg of our journey home – needless to say, a much more subdued group than when we started out on this adventure. We came home more knowledgeable, more humbled, more grateful for the experience - and weary.
Coming up – San Antonio, TX, y’all - in April, 2012. On the road again, just can’t wait to get on the road again……………………..