Edgerton's had secured the Marriott Westfields Hotel in D.C. for the first three nights. After a night of rest, the excitement was evident as we prepared for three unforgettable days of seeing D.C., including premium seats to the Cherry Blossom Parade. On the morning of Friday April 9th, we met walk-on tour guide Jim Heegeman. Jim is a native of Wisconsin. He served in the Navy and worked at The Pentagon for many years. A bundle of energy, his ability to know everything about D.C. and walk like the Energizer Bunny would have us hopping! As a certified master guide, his depth of knowledge inspired much of the writing below. Edgerton's always makes sure to get tremendous guides on trips. That makes a world of difference, when you have someone like Jim that sets the stage for each part of the visit.
Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery
He told me his wife had once wanted to put up his war medals on display. He couldn't let her because there were too many bad memories. He said he had been able to exercise most of his demons, but that so many came back as "walking dead." He said the Vet Center in Fort Wayne had been so important for him because it was a place he could go and talk. Rodger said he could not have dealt with Vietnam had it not been for his wife Patricia, who was on this trip along with their son, Alan.
It is an unforgettable experience to go through Arlington National Cemetery and see the rows of markers. To this day there are 27-30 burials a day. Jim, our guide, said the major criteria to be buried there is to have died on active duty or to have high honor or to have served honorably for at least 20 years. Rodger qualified to be buried there. When I asked him if he would be, he said no. He wanted his ashes to be scattered on the river he has canoed so much in his life.
Edgerton's arranged for us to experience the Tomb of the Unknowns. We arrived at the Memorial Amphitheater and watched as impeccably dressed sentinels marched with precision. We saw the Changing of the Guard, a time honored ritual, executed with great precision and filled with American pride. I took the picture below of the Changing that we were able to witness.
We also saw the where President Kennedy was laid to rest. For the gravesite, the family selected irregular Cape Cod granite paving stones, which had been quarried in 1817 from near the president's home. The Eternal Flame burns on over the grave.
We visited Arlington House, where the view of the city is spectacular. We saw the statue of U.S. Army officer Phillip Kearney, who fought in the Mexican-American War and the Civil War. In a calvary charge in the War with Mexico, he suffered a grapeshot wound and had to have his left arm amputated.
In the Civil War, he led his Union troops onto the field shouting, "I'm a one-armed Jersey son-of-a-gun, follow me!" He led the charge with his sword in hand and reins in his teeth. He used to inspire his troops by saying, "Don't worry, men, they'll all be firing at me!"
In the Battle of Chantilly in 1862 he went to check on a part of the line, despite warnings of danger. He said the Confederates had yet to mold a bullet that could kill him. Sadly, he rode into Confederate troops and ignored their demand to surrender. A single bullet in his spine killed him.
He is laid to rest at Arlington. His statue is one of just two equestrian ones on the grounds.
As a young man, Kearny inherited over 1 million dollars in 1836. He could have led a life of luxury. Instead, he joined the military to serve his country, ultimately giving his arm and then his life. Seeing statues like that and learning his story makes a visit to Arlington life changing. You come away so appreciative. As Jimmy V said, it makes you think.
Upon getting back on the motor coach, we asked all our veterans to rise, and honored them with applause. In a reflective state, we were driven to the Smithsonian Museums. Our guide Jim said that visitors from Europe are often surprised to learn the Smithsonian Museums have free admission. They are used to paying to enter their Museums over there. Jim said the Air and Space Museum and the Natural History one vie to be the most visited Museums in the world.
As we came up on the National Mall, Jim shared a funny story. He often guides 8th graders around D.C. One time he said they were coming up on the National Mall. He said the teen girls shrieked, "Mall!? There's a Mall!!? Where!?"
Everyone had time to visit the Museums of their choice. I went into the Natural History one. There was a line out front so I went around back and was able to go right in and spend a couple of hours looking around. I was able to see the Hope Diamond and made a mental note to myself to purchase something similar for my wife when I got back home.
Edgerton's then had us driven to the Washington National Cathedral.
A photo of the interior is below. The first stone was laid in 1907. It took 83 years to build. In Europe, it takes hundreds of years to build a Cathedral. You know how we are in the U.S.! We have to be fast!! By golly, get it done in 83 years! None of this 200 year business!
"What do you mean?" the Bishop asked.
"Oh, my wife had asked to be cremated. She was, and then I took her ashes and mixed them in with the mortar here. So, she is buried here. Have a nice day, Bishop."
The cost of the Cathedral ended up being much higher than expected. Some people had issues with that, but Master Mason Billy Cleland sized it up this way: "What does a Stealth Bomber cost? In 20 years, it would be obsolete. This Cathedral will stand for 2000 years."
He is right. To walk through the Cathedral, the 2nd largest in the U.S. and the 6th largest in the world, is an indescribable experience. The Cathedral has conducted funerals or memorial services for ten of the fourteen presidents who have died. The Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr preached his final Sunday sermon there. Billy Graham preached there.
Saturday April 10th was a gorgeous day. Edgerton's had arranged the weather and premium seating for the Cherry Blossom Parade
These were the best seats in the parade! The TV announcers booth was across the street. All the floats stopped in front of us to perform for the TV cameras. I took the photo below from our vantage point. Getting seats like these shows that Tom Edgerton is truly the John Wayne of Travel Service.
Giant balloons included Kermit the Frog, Elmo, Veggie Tales, cherry blossoms, and Japanese lanterns. The Youth Choir and All-Star Tap Team showcased the talent of approximately 750 and 350 youths from around the country, respectively.
So many of our travellers commented on all the hard working young people in the Parade. The News today is so negative, that you don't realize how many good kids there are out there.
The military was in the parade. There were classic Mustangs. All in all, a first class event! The photo I took below shows the nicest smile that came our way.
The Shriner's Clowns arrived, and a man in the bleachers next to us said, "Here come the current members of Congress!" That got a big laugh.
After the Parade, Edgerton's had it arranged for us to tour the Capitol Building. I took the photo below as we approached the entrance. Look at that blue sky! I had not been to D.C. in decades, and had forgotten just how big the Capitol is there at the end of the National Mall! This dome, completed during the Civil War at a cost slightly more than one million dollars and composed of 8,909,200 pounds of cast iron, is a marvel of architectural engineering.
Inside, the Rotunda is so big that the Statue of Liberty could fit in it with 30 feet still to spare. Construction on the Capitol was begun in 1793. The British burned it down in 1814. It has been rebuilt, extended, and restored over the years. To walk inside it is to truly feel the history in the hallways. We saw the area where President John Quincy Adams suffered a stroke while speaking to the House of Representatives.
Next, our guide Jim took us on a brisk walk to the Library of Congress. Then, it was over to the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and dinner. The wind was still fairly strong. As we drove past the Washington Monument, Jim told us of the time an 8th grader asked him how they were able to get all the U.S. flags to fly in the same direction at the same time.
8th graders may ask an occasional goofy question, but it was so good to see so many of them in the city during our trip. 8th grade is the year U.S. History is taught. My son Jack and daughter Abby went to D.C. in May of their 8th grade years with Grissom Middle School. I went on many of their school trips but there was no way in you know where that I was going to be on a bus for several days with a slew of 8th graders (!).
We then visited the White House. I took the photo below of our travellers as we made our way along Pennsylvania Avenue. You can see the Washington Monument in the background.
Along the way on the entire trip, I shared "Presidential Trivia" with the travellers. For example:
President Grover Cleveland personally answered the White House phone. Can you imagine calling there today and getting the President on the line?!
When England's Prince of Wales visited the White House in 1860, so many guests came with him that President James Buchanan had to sleep in the hall.
To set a good example for the country, President Rutherford B. Hayes banished liquor and wine from the White House.
President Benjamin Harrison was the first president to use electricity in the White House (1889 - 1893). After he got an electrical shock, his family often refused to touch the light switches and sometimes would go to bed with the lights on.
Theodore Roosevelt was the first to call it the White House, in 1901. Before, it was called the Executive Mansion or the President's House.
During Woodrow Wilson's presidency a flock of sheep was raised on the White House lawn. The wool was used to raise money for the Red Cross during World War I.
President Calvin Coolidge refused to use the phone while in office in the 1920's. I doubt he would take well to Tweeting and Texting today.
Harry Truman used to get up 2 hours early there to practice the piano.
Richard Nixon talked to astronauts on the moon from the White House by radio-telephone on July 21, 1969.
Standing there, all that history catches up to you. To be able to look at the West Wing and the Oval Office and think about all of the decisions made there is quite the experience.
With the sun going down, Jim guided us to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. On the way, Jim told us of the origin of the Wall, and the criteria that went into the design:
There were four:
1. be reflective and contemplative in character;
2. harmonize with its surroundings;
3. contain the names of those who had died in the conflict or who were still missing;
4. make no political statement about the war.
By the deadline of March 31, 1981, 1,421 design entries had been submitted.
The Memorial (wall) was designed by an undergraduate at Yale University, Maya Ying Lin, born in Athens, Ohio in 1959. Her parents fled from China in 1949 when Mao-Tse-tung took control of China, and she is a native-born American citizen. She was 21 years old. Jim said. She learned of the opportunity to enter her design when she was in a Funerary Art class at Yale. Her Professor entered as well. She won. He lost. She ended up with a B + in his class.
The Wall has been very healing for many who served in Vietnam. While there, Jim helped our Rodger find the name of a fellow soldier who had died in Vietnam.
At night, we went on an enchanting drive of D.C. We went past a Hotel where former President and Civil War hero U.S. Grant used to visit. It is said Grant used to escape from the White House and visit the Willard Hotel, at which he would smoke cigars and drink whisky. People seeking jobs, contracts, and particular positions in legislation would approach Grant in the lobby of the Willard. Grant is said to have referred to them as "those damned lobbyists" So, you can attribute that word to him!
One of the most vivid memories of the trip would be that night when we crossed the Memorial Bridge in pitch darkness. You could see the Eternal Flame way up ahead on the hill below Arlington House. I had no idea the flame stood out that clearly.
One of the reasons the explosion was so terrible was that there was so much jet fuel, since it had just taken off. That caused most of the damage.
The Pentagon Memorial park consists of 184 memorial units (photo below), each of which are dedicated to an individual victim by its unique placement within the collective field. The field is organized as a timeline of the victims' ages, spanning from the youngest, three-year-old Dana Falkenberg, to the oldest, 71-year-old John D. Yamnicky.
The memorial units representing the 59 lives lost on Flight 77 face so that when reading the name of the victim to whom that unit is dedicated, the visitor to the memorial park faces the sky. When standing at a memorial unit dedicated to a victim who was inside the Pentagon, the visitor will see the victim's name and the Pentagon in the same view.
I can't emphasize enough how touching it was to visit these Memorials on this very special trip, especially when you have such a good walk-on guide like Jim. As Jimmy V had said earlier in the speech we watched on the motorcoach, we should try to laugh, think and cry each day. No doubt, on this trip we spent a lot of time in reflection, and hardly any of us had a day where we didn't cry when we visited Memorials like this one.
From there, Edgerton's had it arranged where we visited the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial (photo below), often referred to as the Iwo Jima. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775.
The island contained 3 airstrips that the Japanese had been using for their Kamikaze attacks. As Jim told us, Iwo Jima was one of the bloodiest battles in WWII. There were 26,000 U.S. casualties, including over 6000 dead. The toll was deep, but taking Iwo Jima was instrumental in ending the war. Strategically the island of Iwo Jima was crucial to continue B-29 raid on mainland Japan.
One of the most famous photos ever taken was that of the 5 Marines and 1 Navy Corpsman planting the flag at Mt. Suribachi after taking control of it.
The photograph by Joe Rosenthal became the only photograph to win the Pulitzer Prize for Photography in the same year as its publication.
Of the six men, three did not survive Iwo Jima. Mike Strank was among three of the men who later died there. He was hit by a mortar as he was diagramming a plan in the sand for his boys. Strank is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, not far from this Memorial.
Franklin Sousley was one of the flag-raisers to later die on Iwo Jima He was just 19. When word reached his mother in Kentucky that Franklin was dead it was said that you could hear her screaming clear across the fields at the neighbor's farm.
That is what is so sobering and important about this Cherry Blossom trip. We have been constantly reminded of the brave souls that laid down their lives to help build and defend our nation.
Next, Edgerton's had it arranged for us to visit the
World World II Memorial.
This has been a fairly recent Memorial, dedicated on Memorial Day of 2004. As Jim explained to us, after the Vietnam Memorial was so successful as well as the Korea Memorial, the WWII vets said, "What about us? What about the Big One?" Fundraising started and almost 200 million dollars were raised. Tom Hanks and Senator Bob Dole were among those leading the way.
Jim said over 16 1/2 Americans were in uniform in WWII. We lost over 400,000. They are honored at this Memorial, which is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.
A field of 4,000 sculpted gold stars on the Freedom Wall commemorate the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives.
There are two large pavilions, one dedicated to the Atlantic Theater and the other to the Pacific. We saw the bronze ropes that are symbolic of connecting all the states together.
What can you say about a Memorial to a man born in a log cabin in Kentucky that went on to keep our nation together after the Civil War and that issued the Emancipation Proclamation? To walk in there and reflect on his accomplishments is a powerful experience. Two of Lincoln's best known speeches are inscribed within. The Lincoln Memorial has been immortalized by great men and speeches, made at the site. These include '"I Have a Dream" by Martin Luther King Jr.in August of 1963.
Edgerton's had secured tickets for us to attend a performance at
Lincoln was assassinated there on Friday, April 14, 1865 - Good Friday. We sat there and looked up at the balcony where the tragedy took place. What a time of High and Low in our country. The Civil War had ended days before. Lincoln was so happy. Then, an unreal Low, as he was shot. He died the next day across the street at the Peterson House. There has been no sadder event in Washington D.C. history.
As this unforgettable day continued, we visited the
It was completed in 1943. President Franklin Roosevelt had come to the Dedication, which was on the 200th anniversary of Jefferson's birthday. President Roosevelt even had large trees cut down so that he could see the Jefferson Memorial from the White House. Jefferson had helped to design the White House.
"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, that His justice cannot sleep forever." Thomas Jefferson
From there, it was over to see the FDR Memorial. Many forget that he was President during the Depression and WWII, and his Memorial reflects that lengthy time (term limits came after him). There are many waterfalls, reflecting his time in the Navy and his love of water. He often got relief from his polio by going to Warm Springs, Georgia.
His wife Eleanor has a statue at the Memorial. She is the only First Lady to have such a statue. Their dog Falla also has one.
Next, a real treat awaited. Edgerton's had us taken to the Potomac River for a brunchtime cruise on The Odyssey III Cruise Ship. The photo below was taken as we boarded.
We then took the short trip to Colonial Williamsburg, where we felt we were back in time just before the Revolution. To visit the Governor's Palace and the Capital Building is to feel the energy of a time when our nation was determined to take shape. Well, not quite everyone was on board. They said at that time 1/3 wanted independence, 1/3 wanted to remain loyal to England, and 1/3 were set to go with the winner!
After a short stop there, we were driven up to the Shenandoah Valley and Winchester, Virginia for a night at the historic George Washington Hotel. Edgerton's had arranged a dinner at the nearby Piccadilly Public House. Tom Edgerton made sure complimentary wine was waiting for the travellers as a special 'thank you' for going with Edgerton's.
Winchester is where George Washington spent his formative years. The George Washington Hotel was yet another example of the kind of unique places Edgerton's finds for travellers to stay on group travel experiences.
The GW Hotel has welcomed Presidents John F. Kennedy and Harry S. Truman, film star Joan Blondell, big band leader Harry James, Explorer Admiral Byrd and the Beatles. Some of our travellers stayed in a room once occupied by Lucille Ball.
"We were moved by the changing of the guard as well as witnessing one of our group finding a war buddy's name on the Vietnam memorial. Ron as a student of history greatly appreciated visiting the various historical sites especially Jamestown and Monticello."
Ron and Willa Henry
"We were very pleased with the guides we had on the trip. Their depth of knowledge about American history and the sacrifices made to keep it glorious were outstanding. Linda and I were very touched at each of the war memorials especially and also the Arlington experience with it's silent message to all Americans. Truly a tribute to those that have gone before us preserving the liberty we enjoy, sometimes without a second thought. EVERY American should see these treasures of valor. Thanks for the Histories of the Presidents you shared with us on the trip."
Bob and Linda Horvath
I hope you have enjoyed this Journal of a remarkable experience. Edgerton's manages a trip to D.C. for the Cherry Blossom Festival each April.