February 3, 2005 at 6:59 a.m.
Details were sketchy at first but began coming together. Things like picture IDs with social security numbers and actual background checks to gain admittance to the inauguration fell into place thanks to the organizational skills and experience of Mrs. Welch-Doubek, the school librarian and tour organizer. Most details were handled at the school but some of grandpa’s clearances required e-mails and phone calls.
Things fell into place nicely, Johnson said. Newly-elected Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid’s office got tickets for the inauguration, parade and inauguration ball. Unfortunately, the parade date was cancelled due to the frigid weather and the ball date became so snarled (dark business suits for males and semi-formal attire for the ladies) it too was passed-by.
The trip started uneventfully with a 10:45 p.m. departure from Las Vegas. Upon arrival in Atlanta at 6:30 a.m. EST, it was learned the connecting flight to Baltimore-Washington International Airport had been cancelled. The Delta agent assured Mrs. Welch-Doubek that things were “all taken care of” which wasn’t exactly true, Johnson recalls. The truth was that all 49 of the group were booked on flights to BWI (to arrive at 7:30 p.m. local time). Unfortunately, the tour bus was at that time very near to BWI expecting to pick up the group. At 8 a.m. the Delta passenger service office opened and Mrs. Welch-Doubek got to work. As it turned out the hungry, tired group was rebooked on two flights to Dulles International in Washington, D.C. arriving by 10:30 a.m. The bus was easily able to make the trip and met the group. Unfortunately, half of the group’s luggage went to Baltimore. After recovering from the shock of losing their luggage (some which contained their heavy clothing) and the low 20 degree temperature with gusting winds, the group made a quick stop at a fast-food court. The full stomach, lack-of-sleep syndrome did little to offset the tour guide’s running comments.
Due to the late arrival, the schedule was revised. The first stop was at the Spy Museum, a non-government museum filled with “artifacts and scenes from spying since its inception.” Interesting but somewhat out-of-date, the excellent coverage of code breaking and its effect on World War II was probably the highlight. Back on the bus in by now twilight with quick trudges through the Korean War Memorial and an inky Vietnam Memorial. Back on the bus for stops at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials now nearly deserted and chilly before reboarding the bus for the trip back past the capitol mall to the hotel with a stop at the newly remodeled Washington D.C. Union Station food court for dinner. Back on the bus and arrival at the hotel brought huge sighs of relief as the wayward luggage had arrived.
Days two and three continued with tours of the Pentagon, White House, Nation’s Capitol, Mount Vernon and a sobering two hour visit to the Holocaust Museum, finishing up the days with dinner and a “ghost tour of old Arlington, Virginia, originally scheduled as a walking tour, but wisely became a bus tour due to cold weather and snow. There were self-guided tours of Ford’s Theater and the Peterson House, where Lincoln was assassinated and died and a noisy dinner at The Hard Rock Cafe that were high points. The early end to day three allowed time for swimming back at the hotel. Unfortunately somebody forgot to mention the swimming pool was outside and required a hike on a snow covered walk to use. A few actually did go swimming, among them Kris.
Back in the hotel room Kris and grandpa were relaxing and getting ready for the early breakfast next day to go to the inauguration ceremony when the fire alarm went off and Mrs. Welch-Doubek knocked “loudly” on every door and told all to get out. Kris escaped in his swim trunks and a towel, grandpa grabbed jeans and didn’t stop for shoes since it was smokey in the hallway when we opened the door. The group gathered in the lobby and resisted urges to get outside since most were not dressed to stand in the snow and the smoke was only on the third floor. After the firemen arrived and determined the problem was a bag of popcorn in a microwave in the room, one of the kids sheepishly admitted to putting the popcorn in the microwave for eight minutes.
Inauguration day started early. The group was divided in half for the metro ride to the Capitol security area. The first group left at 7 a.m. and arrived at the security checkpoint where they stood in line and were among the first to enter the Capitol lawn area. The second group that Kris and grandpa were in left at 9 a.m. and arrived in the block long waiting area at a little after 10. It was a half mile walk from the metro station to the security checkpoint.
Johnson says, security was everywhere. Buildings in the Capitol area and along the parade route had snipers on every rooftop and every other officer seemed to be carrying machine guns with extra ammunition. “Senior Army NCOs at the Pentagon told us they had guard duty on Inauguration Day along the parade route and their orders were if anybody jumps the fence, shoot them,” Johnson recalled.
The group passed security and was admitted to the Capitol grounds at about 11:43. The ceremony started at 11:45 and only a few more people got in. Due to the cold weather, a large barrier surrounded the stand but two giant television screens and an immense sound system aired the swearing in of Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush. “Protesters behaved extremely well but we did see five young women removed for waving an over-sized banner in the VIP seating area,” said Johnson.
The crush of security totally separated many in the group but Kris and grandpa stayed together and due to the foresight of Mrs. Welch-Doubek, arrangements were made to meet at the Health and Human Services (Hubert Humphrey) building about a block away if separated. All quickly got back together, ate lunches and made their way back to the metro.
Local media said that normal metro use was 600,000 with 1.2 million expected Inauguration Day. This was later updated to 1.8 million.
All arrived at the bus and after a stop at the Iwo Jima monument, went the short ride to Arlington National Cemetery. Mrs. Welch-Doubek took Kris and the others who were picked to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns, to the briefing area, while the rest of the group took a bus to the Kennedy family grave site with its eternal flame and several other viewing areas before coming to the Tomb of the Unknowns (formerly the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers). After viewing the hourly changing of the guard, the Sergeant of the Guard slowly marched up to Kris and his three classmates, all smartly dressed in matching black slacks, turtlenecks and shined shoes, at the head of the steps leading to the Tomb, and without cracking a smile told them, “relax, I’m here to help you.” They were given the wreath and accompanied solemnly down the steps to the tomb. They stopped and a bugler marched out. The guard presented arms and the sergeant saluted while the bugler played taps.
One of the Mannion group took the wreath and gently set it on the support. After taps finished, the guards relaxed and the sergeant marched the group to the top of the stairs and warm coats. The completion of this once-in-a-lifetime experience took Kris and grandpa a while to recover from.
Passing the graves of over 77,000 buried here added even further to the impact of the occasion. After the group returned to the hotel, they were given the choice of ESPN/Zone for dinner and video games.
Grandpa and Kris were still taken by the impact of the wreath laying and grandpa offered Kris his choice of dinner. (By this time they were both a little tired of fast food.) Kris opted for Dave and Busters, which of course grandpa had never heard of. It turned out to be a great choice as “Dave and Busters” turned out to be an immense video arcade and good restaurant taking up the entire top floor of a building in nearby Maryland. Riding the metro Inauguration Day evening turned out to be a veritable fashion revue as many partygoers in their tuxedos and formal gowns rode the metro from party to party.
The last day in DC started with packing, breakfast and boarding the bus for a stop at the newly opened World War II Memorial, now ice covered but never-the-less spectacular, a daytime stroll through the Vietnam Wall and a tour of downtown DC with a “step on guide” (a resident) followed by a stop at the Supreme Court building. Court was not in session but Kris and his grandpa did view the courtroom and justices’ chambers.
Johnson said, “After a breezy hike to the north Capitol steps for a picture with Senator Reid, we left for the trip to BWI and home with a stop for lunch at the Arundel, Maryland Mall, which just happened to be next to the National Security Agency home, Fort Meade.” On the way out of DC, Kris asked grandpa for a favor –– “Will you promise to bring me back to visit when we have time to really look at things?” “Of course,” grandpa promised.
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