As a kid in school I aced history. Not because I actually absorbed it but because I had a photographic memory and could just spit out what I needed to to ace tests and quizzes. As I wandered around Washington, DC yesterday how I wished I’d retained more of that info than I had!
I came to DC with the “standard” list of places to see. You know – the ones we see on TV? The Washington Monument from Forrest Gump… “Jenny? Jenny!” Lincoln. The White House. Along with the Arlington National Cemetery with Trace Atkins’ “Arlington” echoing in my head and visions of my husband crying every time he heard it. Every. Single. Time.
I also came conflicted about the trip due to things going on at home. My heart heavy and unsure if sightseeing was what I wanted to do.
When we left the car rental place and I started catching glimpses of things I had only seen on TV as Amy navigated DC roads (so thankful she drove so I could gawk), the air felt different. To me anyway. When we parked and walked up to the Washington Monument encircled with American flags at half mast I felt the same charge in the air that I felt previously at the 9/11 memorial in NYC. I knew other people were there but, for me anyway, I could feel the men who weren’t there. Those the monument represents. Our founding fathers that built this great country.
From there we walked into the WWII memorial. A lot to take in. Each pillar represents one of the 56 US states and territories. Then there is the wall of gold stars. That one got me. Each gold star represents 100 American military deaths…and there are 4,048 stars. So many lives given in service to our country.
It was a long walk to Lincoln. I was unprepared for how LARGE he is in person. It never looked like that on TV. It was really cool how deeply respectful people were inside the covered area near him. That is just something not seen very often anymore. The other thing I noted through all three places is there wasn’t the usual hocking of souvenir merchandise! No vendors in your face. It was hallowed ground.
Walking into the Korean War memorial…my grandpa served in Korea. I felt my gut clench and my heart ache. I miss my grandpa so. How I wish he had been there to tell me all the things I knew he could have told me. I heard a lady telling her kids as they walked by “their feet were never dry…” that I am sure was part of a larger story. I’m sure some of the nostalgia is the recognition that yet another part of my history in my grandma, and the stories that go with her, is about to pass but man….
Next stop in our day was back to the White House for me to actually take pictures. We had driven by that morning but I didn’t expect to want to do more than that. Somewhere in the mornings’ activity I realized it was the freakin’ White House and regardless of political views I was here and needed to do more than just drive by. 😬
We had a loop planned from here. We went to the National Cathedral. We couldn’t go in but what a beautiful building. We went to Georgetown for lunch. Hello crab dip and crab cakes. Ironically landed at the sister restaurant of our breakfast stop without meaning to (highly recommend both).
Then the cemetery. Anxious about this one because I knew it would be sobering but also something I really really wanted to see. We somehow managed to time it where we got to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of The Unknown Soldier. If you do nothing else on a trip to DC? Do that. It brings the honor and respect all our military deserves right to the forefront of your mind. Side note: was super excited to see one of the guards on the change out be a female.
We also saw a horse drawn carriage with soldiers in full uniform taking a casket through the cemetery to a service. No words. Simply no words.
Winding our way through the hills of headstones, the quiet air in the cemetery reminding you it’s sacred space, just weighs your heart down. For me the repetitive thought was “every person here died for the freedom to do this”. How do I honor that? How do I repay that debt?
Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the USA” has always been one of my favorite songs. I can remember almost blowing out a speaker after 9/11 playing it on an endless loop. My favorite part of the song?
“And I’m proud to be an American
Where at least I know I’m free
And I won’t forget the men who died
Who gave that right to me
And I’d gladly stand up next to you
And defend Her still today
‘Cause there ain’t no doubt
I love this land
God Bless the U.S.A.”
What I felt so strongly yesterday was if every American could feel what I felt yesterday there would be no division in this great land. We all bleed the same. There is no race or ethnicity under that sea of headstones in that sacred space. We are all simply bound by the ideas of some amazing men who foresaw what this country could be and worked to make it so. We have a rich history and amazing freedoms others aren’t lucky enough to have. THAT makes me proud to be an American. 🇺🇸