Sunday, June 23, 2013

Philly Trip: Day 5....Greatest Military on Earth

Thursday, May 30th

Before we left on our trip, the Jedi had emailed a long time friend from childhood and beyond who is now a Lt. Col. in the AirForce and is stationed in DC. The Jedi said that we would be in D.C for a few days and that we would love to get together with him and his family at some point if they were available. The Lt. Col emailed back that they'd love to see us and oh, by the way, would we like a private tour of the Pentagon?


Yesterday, while we were in Gettysburg, the Lt. Col emailed the Jedi to tell us that he would be at our hotel at O Nine Hundred. I asked the Jedi to warn the Lt Col that I didn't do any times that started with O- anything, especially in the morning and that, in fact, all my times ended in "-ish". The Jedi gave me a *look* and I don't think that tidbit got passed along.

The Lt. Col did indeed show up at 0900. We were almost ready. I count that as a victory.

The Lt. Col was last stationed in Alaska, so we immediately got an Alaskan license plate. Then, in the staff parking lot for the Pentagon, we managed to find almost every other state that we still needed, including 2 from Hawaii!

It was supposed to be a really hot day, so we visited the outdoor 911 first.

That was more powerful and more moving than I was prepared for. The designer for the memorial was inspired. Located on the exact site where the plane struck, the memorial contains 184 "bench" monuments, one for each life that was lost there. These are arranged on time lines according to the year of the individuals birth.

Under each small monument is a reflecting pool, which create rippling movements of light and shadow on the metal underside of each monument. The orientation of the monument indicates whether the person was in the Pentagon or on the plane when the tragedy occured.

The person's name is inscribed on the end of their marker. Standing at the end of the marker, reading the name and facing the Pentagon indicates the person was in the Pentagon. Standing at the end of the marker, reading the name, and facing away from the Pentagon indicates the person had been on the plane. The lines that all the bench monument make indicates the direction of the incoming plane.

It was so sobering to walk through the field of markers, knowing that these were lives lost and destinies forever entwined in a single, tragic moment of time.

Cameras are not permitted inside the Pentagon.  So, no pictures for my blog!

The Pentagon itself is just immense. It contains 7 floors and 5 concentric rings along its five sides to make 17.5 miles of corridors. Each corridor that we walked down (and we walked down a LOT of corridors), was its own museum. Each hallway told the story of an aspect of a branch of our military. There is way too much for me to list it all, so I'll highlight what really stood out to each of us.

  • Toa of Boy--two wall display of models of all the airforce vehicles from the Wright brothers flyer to modern day. Also, Tos of Boy bought an attack helicopter in the huge gift shop. It has a moving gun on its bottom, and it lights up and makes noises.
  • Sweetling--also was impressed by the model plane display. She also enjoyed the walls upon walls of military themed paintings created by service men and women. The hallway denoting a few of the humanitarian missions of the military was really cool as well.
  • Me--The 911 memorial was so profound. I also appreciated the photos and accounts of the bravery of medal of honor recipiants. One of the airforce hallways had a wall for "outstanding airmen", where each year 12 enlisted men and women from many different departments are selected to be honored for their excellence in carrying out the day to day jobs of the air force.
  • The Jedi, of course, was all about the historical displays, but he also really appreciated those that emphazed what our ground forces hve gone through.
We had lunch in the center courtyard cafe at the Pentagon. That was a Bucket List moment for the Jedi.

From the Pentagon, we rode the Metro over to Arlington Cemetary. This was my first experience with a subway (and Toa's). We had a lesson, which we reviewed often, about what to do if anyone got separated from the family on the subway.

Things we wish we knew about Arlington ahead of time....water bottles are permitted. Bring them. Hats are a good idea. I saw some women with sun umbrellas. That was a brilliant idea on their part.

At Arlington, we paid our respects at the tomb of the unknown soldier

and were fortunate enough to witness several ceremonial presentations of wreaths.

And, since we were visiting on the anniversary of the original "Decoration Day", which later bacame Memorial Day, we went to the first part of a Decoration Day Ceremony held in the old ampitheater, which was constructed just for that purpose and has been the location of Decoration Day Ceremony every May 30th for the past 145 years.

From the ampitheater we walked to the nearby Tomb of the Unknown Civil War soldier. The inscription on the monument read,
 "Beneath this stone repose the bones of two thousand one hundred and eleven unknown soldiers gathered after the war from the fields of Bull Run and the route to the Rappahannook. Their remains could not be identified, but their names and deaths are recorded in teh archives of their country; and its grateful citizens honor them as of their noble army of martyrs: May they rest in peace."

Three things impressed us most about Arlington. It's sheer size is on a scale that is difficult to imagine. It is like the Grand Canyon. The mind can only absorb a part of it through pictures, its another thing entirely to be there....and then to know that you have only seen a small portion of it.

See the white fields in the distance of the photo? Those are more headstones.

Second, the amount of reverence and respect demonstrated at the Tomb of the Unknown is just ........ That is another thing that a person must be present in order to fully appreciate.

Lastly, and most touching, was the number of graves with personal momentos recently placed on them. Flowers across the top of the headstones were common. Also common were small rocks, some with written words like "hero", placed and balanced on top of the grave stones. At one grave, a woman knelt and made a rubbing of the gravestone of a loved one or a family member.

After Arlington, everyone was quiet. Not only were we hot and tired, but the experience was a sobering one. We Metro'd back to the hotel. The Jedi went down the hall, got ice, and filled up everyone's waterbottle. Then he went out and got Chinese and brought it back to the hotel for us.

We showered and crashed for the night.

(Read from the beginning of this trip.)
(Go back to day four.)

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