Friday, July 16, 2010

More in Washington, D.C.

This is part of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers.

Ok, so we've been in Florida for a couple of days now, and I still have to catch up with the rest of D.C. ... If you read, "The Reunion, Part II," you know that we stayed at my brother's house for an extra night; pushed everything back one night so that we could revisit D.C. Spend more time on the exhibits, the museums, the monuments. The people. But once again, I get ahead of myself.

I promised a few posts ago that I would give Arlington Cemetery its due. Wednesday, July 6: We walked to the cemetery the right way this time (we'd been going in a round about way, wasting lots of foot power). When you enter Arlington Cemetery (AC), the first thing you notice is the grave markers, as far as the eye can see. Up one hill, down the next. For a while, they are all the same size, then you get to the special ones -- officers, generals... more important people. You have to just stop for a minute, feel the presence. (At this point, I feel like I have to apologize for the lack of pictures. Most pictures were taken with Rachel's camera -- and she does not have her pluggie guy to put into the computer -- it's at home. If you remember, I discovered my camera was broken when I first arrived in Philadelphia, so I've been using my phone. Sometimes Rachel uses her phone, but it just so happens that for Arlington, all pictures are on Rachel's camera. Sorry. Look for a link soon to a Shutterfly account with all pictures. Soon, like, end of July? Maybe.)

Back to feel the presence. If you are very quiet, if you concentrate on listening (and not to the voices in your head), just close your eyes... you can hear them talking, feel the rumble underfoot, the soldiers marching. It's as hot here as it was in Vietnam; you can feel their sweat -- sweat with them. The markers have dates, and sometimes they are similar dates of death; like a few rows of soldiers who died in the same year -- 1864, for instance, was a popular year for death. On one side of the marker is the soldier; on the other, "His Wife, __________." Some have more than one wife, usually because wife #1 died earlier than he. Very few vehicles are in this reverent place, other than for maintenance and tour buses. We see one, we see some soldiers, we see some people.

We witness a 21-gun salute. Can you feel it? I had to stop and take a deep breath. I felt their pain for a minute. How can you put into words?... You see seven soldiers, dressed in the Dress Uniforms. They have guns. They stand in a line. Guns at their sides. Now guns up. Cock and load. Like mirrors of each other, not one movement without the others. Shoot. Can you hear it? Can you feel it? Guns down. Now guns up. Cock and load. Shoot. Guns down. Now guns up. Cock and load. Shoot. Three shots, seven soldiers. The music in the background. Now quiet again.

We move on. Try to find the Tomb of the Unknowns. Tombstones start to get bigger, fancier. We are headed in the right direction. Text my brother, where is it? Top of the hill, highest you can go. Great. Ok, now we start to see signs. This Way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers; This Way to JFK Gravesite. Sorry, Rachel, gotta go This Way first. There are signs as you come to really important gravesites: Respect. Quiet. And the people listen. They whisper. They don't throw coins into the water. Even children are quiet. Like they know. They just know. As you walk up the hill to JFK Gravesite, there is a plain marker, a surface marker. Can't make out the name; it's too far, people are held away by ropes. Who is it? There's another one. We think they are the brothers, Bobby and Ted. Rachel can read one of them, Yes, it's Robert. A moment of silence. Do you remember?

Up the stairs. It's very quiet. I feel like I should stop breathing for a minute, out of respect. There is an eternal flame. I want to kneel. I can see his face. There are only a few people (famous people) whose deaths really affected me: President Kennedy was one of them. John Lennon another. I remember where I was, what I was doing. I remember crying. I remember all of the people around me, crying. Sobbing. I feel a tear welling up right now. Jackie is right next to him. And there is another grave marker: "Girl" Nothing else, "Girl." President and Mrs. Kennedy had a stillborn daughter in 1956; I never knew that. Then I think -- where is John? His ashes, along with his wife's and sister-in-law's, were scattered from the Navy ship USS Briscoe off the coast of Martha's Vineyard. But Patrick, who was only two days old when he died, is there. This is a quiet time for me. I just listen, breathe, I can hear my heart beating. Rachel takes pictures. I can't.

On to the Tomb of the Unknowns. We stay to watch a Changing of the Guard. It's over 100 degrees, humid. They are in Dress Uniforms. It's hot. If they can do it, so can we. We stand, in extreme reverence, for more than ten minutes. That's how long it takes for the entire ceremony. They do it once every half hour.

There is a memorial to Robert E. Lee. Wasn't he the confederate general? Yup. But he was so much more. The house we enter is actually his house! They are renovating it right now, so you can't see too much. Did you know that Robert E. Lee married into George Washington's family? I didn't.

We leave D.C. at 6:30 p.m., get to New Orleans at 7:30 p.m. the following day. That post has already been written, "The 26 Hour Train," and then New Orleans follows. Then there's "The Reunion, Part II," so we're caught up; sort of. There's all the stuff about my brother and what he does, but did I mention that he's also an excellent tour guide???

Sunday, July 11. I'll start where I left off, "It takes about an hour to get from my brother's house in MD to D.C." It's so nice to have a car to go to the different sites instead of walking. He takes us to all the biggies -- Lincoln Memorial, FDR Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Washington Memorial. We went to the Vietnam Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial. We went to a couple of museums: the Natural History Museum and the US History Museum. We also ventured into the National Archives and saw the actual Declaration of Independence!
We were driving from one place to the next when -- all of a sudden -- a police car (marked Secret Service) blocks the intersection. Ooooouweee -- another motorcade! Remember we saw one the first time we ventured into Georgetown. (Ooouuh, and BTW, we found out that one was the President cuz he had an ambulance accompanying him!) So the cop (SS) blocks the intersection, and Raymond says, "Go ahead, I'll open the sun roof, stand up, stick your head out, take a picture!" So I do. The SS police guy, well he doesn't look too happy. But it's a short motorcade; probably not the Prez cuz there's no ambulance. Aw, shucks.
We move on. Onto the White House! We get as close as possible, try to take a picture of a (really cute) SS cop, but he won't pose. Says he's not supposed to. Raymond is the one to ask him (he says it's "for the girls") so he says to Raymond, "If you wanted a picture with me, why didn't you just say so?" Ha Ha.
As we're walking around the park area surrounding the White House, we see a very unique-looking man. He is very dark with white dreds. Looks very Aborigines. Very striking. I ask him if I can take his picture. He allows me to, and then he tells me to look him up online. He says his name is Elijah the ___________ -- I forgot! I try to look him up, but I can't find him. He said "the Wanderer" or "the Conqueror" or something. I can't find him. But I did take a picture. Unfortunately, it's on Rachel's camera, and Rachel doesn't have the pluggy guy to put into the computer -- so pictures later, as I said, on Shutterfly.
That was about it for this trip. It's long, and I know most of you will be tired from reading all of it; I'm tired from writing it. I am so glad I hooked up with my brother. I am so glad he took us in for the night. I am so glad he agreed to be our tour guide.
Thank you for the experience, Ray. I love you.

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