Monday, October 4, 2010

Visiting Arlington - ("Honor" - part III)

This is, as you can see, the 3rd part in a series of posts about my day helping with Honor Flight, to see the first post, start here. Otherwise, I invite you to read on as we visit Arlington Cemetery with our World War II veterans!

When last we met in post 2, the vets and their Guardians were finishing up an hour-and-a-half at the WWII Memorial. We were fighting off protesters ("Anti-Tea Party") as they moved in great waves through, by and around the Monument.... Sorry - I did promise that for a later, non-Honor Flight related post! We'll get to those protestors later on.

Several of the veterans had on ball caps, old uniform jackets (they still fit fifty years later. Impressive!), old uniform hats or rank patches from their days in the service. With my own three vets, I had the pleasure of a five-minute discussion about whether or not the Navy uniforms still have bell bottoms on the pants. They asked questions about what various medals and awards indicated on the uniforms; they were moved by the PBS documentary that was shown about the building of the Monument while we were on the buses.

One thing I didn't know about the WWII Monument, though it doesn't surprise me to find out, is that Kilroy is on the side of the Monument that faces the Lincoln Memorial. So I will definitely have to check that out next time I am down there!

At 1:30, we mustered back up at the buses to load up for Arlington Cemetery and the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. We boarded the bus and the vets received their free boxed Arby's lunches (sandwich, chips, fruit cup and yet another ice cold water and home made cookies), and we were on our way. Our previously broken down bus had returned so we were glad to be rid of the five blue shuttles, though having them earlier in the day had been a blessing - the alternative was to miss the day altogether!

The original plan had been to see Iwo Jima first - in the end, I was grateful that we came back to it. When we circled around Iwo Jima, another Honor Flight group (there were three in town) was already there snapping pictures and seeing the sights. I'll get to why it was better to be last later on. For now, on to Arlington - finally!

When we reached Arlington, our bus/group leader gave us some of the history of the Cemetery and the buildings we saw around us. He told us a great story about General Lee, the way that his house was taken over and the fact that he was the great-, great- nephew of General Lee. He then told us, as Paul Harvey would say, "the rest of the story," but so as to avoid butchering a really well told, funny tale from his family history, I will encourage you to join the Honor Flight for their ride into the city so you can hear the story in full from his own mouth.

We drove on up and unloaded across the street from Audey Murphey's grave. We crossed the street to see the grave of the Most Decorated War Hero of WWII. After taking pictures of that, we headed over to see the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. First my vet, his name was Chuck, needed to use the restroom. As we had about fifteen minutes left, we decided we had plenty of time. The only problem was that the restroom was on the right side of the amphitheater while the most available space to view the guards was on the left. Once Chuck emerged, we decided we could speed-walk to the other side and settle in. We had just over five minutes to the ceremony. Chuck really wanted to make sure he was there to see it so boy did I walk fast with that wheelchair! Being pregnant with number five, and worried too about tripping the chair on an uneven bit of pavement, I didn't go so fast as to be running, but we moved quickly and made it just in time.

The guard marked off his steps - 21 in all - twice before his replacement appeared at the far end of the guard area. The replacement guard stood through his inspection and the Sergeant came to the front center of the steps and in a loud voice announced his name and the all should remain silent, respectful and standing during the duration of the ceremony to follow. My vet struggled to his feet and stood as long as he could, as did several others of our 80- and 90-year old companions. Though a few took pictures, our vets were all silent, many doffed their hats; they were respectful and, as always, the ceremony was intensely moving to watch.

Each step marked off, 21 in all, day in, day out - even during a hurricane several years ago, when the men were told that they could stand down if they wished. All elected to remain at their posts.

(I hope you'll continue on with me in part IV, but this seems the best place to end Part III... so I shall.)

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