In the fall of 2004 my family took a trip to D.C. At the time we didn’t know that it would be one of our last family vacations. Dad has Parkinson’s and it was shortly after that when he became unable to handle the long trips.
We had been the perfect tourists. We jumped on a trolley at Union Station and went on a night tour of the monuments (highly recommend this, by the way). We went to the recently opened WWII monument and looked up the name of my mom’s brother, L.V. Hammack, who was killed fighting for this country on Iwo Jima. We visited the Air and Space Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Museum of American History. We visited the National Gallery of Art (well, they all did – I could not find a parking place anywhere within three miles of the Washington Mall that day so I drove for hours and then picked everyone up at the door).
We visited Georgetown and we ate at some wonderful restaurants and drank some good wine. We went to the Capitol and the Russell Senate office building and the Canon House office building. We had a car but rode the Metro once simply because I wanted them all to have the complete D.C. experience. We cried at the memorials and laughed at the joy of just being a family.
But nothing, and I mean nothing, topped our visit to Arlington Cemetery. We reached the cemetery in early afternoon and took our time visiting the gravesites of President Kennedy and his family members who are buried near him as well as paying respects to his brother, Bobby. We reflected over the 1000’s of men and women buried there and their service to this country. We stood quietly in respect as a horse drawn carriage carried the body of one of this country’s fallen heroes.
We reached the Tomb of the Unknown and the Changing of the Guard just as the ceremony was completing. Because the guards were operating on the winter schedule it was another hour until the next ceremony. Having come this far we decided to wait. But, Pop was just plain tired. I walked over to a man in uniform, not a soldier but maybe a park service employee, and asked if there was any way I could get a wheel chair for my Dad. He did not hesitate but said, “Wait here”. He returned within minutes not only with a wheelchair but also with a young soldier. I am sorry to say that I do not remember his name; he was from Oregon and he took charge of my dad from that moment until the next changing of the guard was complete along with a wreath laying ceremony that we were fortunate enough to be able to see. As I said earlier, my Dad, SFC Barnett, is an Army veteran. He was enlisted from 1953-1955 and he served in the Army reserves for 6 years after that.
When the ceremony began, Pop and another veteran (WWII I believe) were rolled into a place of honor at the end of the ceremonial site so they had a perfect view. As family we were allowed to stand with them. The actual Changing of the Guard was heartwarming as always but the moment that brought tears to my eyes and to those of many of the spectators was at the wreath laying. Pop and the other gentleman had been seated throughout the event but when the wreath was laid, these two proud Army Veterans slowly and with some difficulty stood and placed their hands over their hearts in honor of those who have died for our freedom. It was a moment where time stopped for me. I will never forget the feeling I had at that moment and how proud I felt to be an American citizen —– but mostly how proud I felt to be my father’s daughter.
So today, and every day, remember to send some “knee mail” and thank God for all the Veterans of all services who have defended this country so that you are free to live and worship as you please.
For more information on Arlington Cemetery visit http://www.arlingtoncemetery.mil/.