Wednesday, our first tour day, dawned clear and chilly. A beautiful blue sky gave an indication of what kind of day it would be. We gathered at the community center for a continental breakfast and an overview of what the day would hold. Soon it was time for the buses to arrive, and then a few minutes past time, and then the actual arrival, loading, and departure of one of the buses, and then th...e arrival of the other. (Good idea, DOT guys, to use the peak tourist season in DC to decide to hold unannounced bus inspections first thing in the morning!)
Despite the delay, there was a good sign when we saw that Jerry, one of our drivers – make that motor coach operators – from last year was with us again. Jerry had taken Cindy, or “Mama FROG” as he called her, under his wing last year, and we had requested him for this year. Soon both buses had arrived and had been loaded with lunches and coolers of drinks, and we set off down the Baltimore / Washington Expressway en route to the city.
As we entered the city, Hank, the guide on my bus, gave an extremely interesting running commentary. Approaching and traversing Capitol Hill, circling the Capitol (or as close as one can approach it these days), and traveling along the National Mall, Hank identified landmarks and lesser known locations, discussed the history of the city and of many of the buildings and neighborhoods, and answered questions along the way.
Our first stop was on the west end of the Reflecting Pool, capped by the Lincoln Memorial and cradled on either side by the Vietnam and Korean War Memorials. Despite the constant hustle and activity of the city, there is a quiet reverence that envelopes each of these memorials, and one can’t help be touched by having been there. The monumental statue of Lincoln, flanked by the immortal words of his Gettysburg Address and Second Inaugural Address speak volumes about the times in which he lived.
Lincoln’s hope and intent for the nation was summed up in the last sentence of his Second Inaugural Address. “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.” Five weeks later, the Civil War would end. Less than a week after that, Lincoln would be dead.
Walking the path alongside the Vietnam Wall is a somber experience. The names of 58,000 Americans killed or missing in the war are carved into the wall. The oldest died at age 68. The youngest lied about his age to enlist in the Marine Corps, and died at 15. Eight women are listed on the wall. Wreaths, notes, photos, and various mementos are tucked along the way. Across the mall, the figures of American soldiers slogging through a Korean rice paddy put faces and an image to that conflict.
Returning the length of the Mall, we stopped at the U.S. Capitol. Thanks to the office of Indiana Senator Dan Coats we were able to bypass the long ticket lines and enter the theater and tour rather quickly. FROGs enjoyed seeing the Rotunda and its elaborate inner dome and paintings. We visited the Crypt under the dome, intended as a burial location for George Washington and declined by his family in favor of entombment at his beloved Mount Vernon. A stop in the original House of Representatives chamber, now Statuary Hall, and a demonstration of the whispering spots in the room proved quite interesting. We capped off the tour with a visit to the Gallery of the House of Representatives, but time and endurance didn’t allow for a parallel visit to the Senate Gallery.
Following a bountiful lunch of roast beef, ham and cheese, or turkey sandwiches and sides, we split up to visit the Museums of American History and Natural History, two of the massive array of museums that make up the Smithsonian Institution. In just these two locations, “the nation’s attic” houses everything from Archie Bunker’s chair to the original Star-Spangled Banner, and from dinosaur fossils to the Hope Diamond, all part of a collection of tens of millions of artifacts.
As the day wound down, we returned to the buses to lean back and enjoy the return ride to the campground. Later, about twenty of us would gather at a nearby café that we’d found last year to enjoy dinner and a visit. That night, everyone settled down for a well-earned rest.
More to come…