“Grandpa would have liked this posting a great deal, coming from you.”
I never really got the chance to know my grandfather; he passed away when I was one. A Facebook post of our adventure in Washington D.C. on the 70th anniversary of D-Day elicited this response from my uncle and it made my heart smile.
This past weekend Mathew and I drove to Baltimore to visit my brother and sister-in-law. On Friday, we took the train to Washington, D.C. to spend the day. It just so happened to be the 6th of June.
On any day, Washington D.C. explodes with living history. As we exit Union Station the sunshine lights up the green space before us while the top of the Capitol building glimmers through the trees. It already feels like we are stepping through the pages of history and we’ve only just arrived. We wander with no specific plans for the day. The Capitol building, museum row and the gardens of the White House are on our path. The architecture is stunning from one building to the next and the well-signed area posts point us in the right direction.
As it is the 6th of June, we head directly to the WWII Memorial before continuing down the mall. As we approach, the ceremony marking the 70th anniversary of D-Day is under way and hundreds of people are on site. You can hear a pin drop. Beside the pond are over a dozen WWII veterans, wreaths, and ribbons along with those in military dress and the leaders of the ceremony.
The dedications have just finished and the Army Brass Quintet is playing the music associated with each facet of the military. As the anthems play, audience members who have served or are serving currently rise to their feet, remove their caps and smile proudly as the crowd recognizes them. The mood is both somber and celebratory. When the ceremony ends, guests are invited to meet the veterans and shake hands with these individuals of the Greatest Generation. Through a sea of uniformed officers and dignitaries, we slowly make our way to the front and reach out our hands to one elderly man assisted by aforementioned military. We make eye contact, shake his trembling hand and say thank you. The honor sends tingles down both of our spines and brings tears to our eyes. This is no typical Friday.
Touched by the events of the past few minutes, we linger a little longer at the memorial site before trudging ahead. A photo stop at the Washington Monument and a short walk takes us past the reflecting pool. A walk up the iconic staircase leads to a chat with Mr. Lincoln and a translation of the Gettysburg Address. Although our feet are screaming to rest, we know we only have one day to take in as much of the city as we can…so over the bridge into Virginia we go.
About fifteen minutes from the other side of the bridge is the serene space of hallowed ground, Arlington National Cemetery. Somber, eerie, pensive and heartfelt are words we hear in conversation by the many strolling through the grounds. It’s rare that you find a place where all are respectful-but here we witness respect through both words and actions. Along the pathways are school children on field trips, families bringing the gifts of travel to their youngest members, and visitors taking in the history exuded by even the trees. Up a few hills and lengthy staircases take us to the Eternal Flame and the grave of President John F. Kennedy. Amidst famous quotes of one of the country’s most beloved leaders visitors pay their respects with silence and tears as they capture the moment on the many iPhones in their midst.
As we approach the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, we spot them. Tucked beneath the trees in the one shaded spot atop the hill is the group of WWII veterans. We stop. After a moment we hear it. A bellowing voice of a uniformed soldier announces the ceremony we are about to witness is the Changing of the Guard. Seriously, we have again arrived just in time to share another event with these amazing heroes. Travel is incredible!
Click, clack, click. First comes the sound of the tapped shoes snapping together as the officers change directions. Clack, click, clack. Next, the sound of the superior officer checking and engaging the weapon held by the incoming guard of the tomb. Silence. Adults and children watch in awe as this ceremonial spectacle unfolds. As the sun beats down and tank-top clad visitors drip with sweat, these officers in full dress uniform are as cool as can be. Impressive is an understatement.
The rest of the day is a blur. Hopping the metro (easily following the color-coded system) we head to the Washington Navy Yard. Allowed in only with a military ID, we take some photos and are about to head off when the federal police officer mentions that there are free tours from the museum and he has the number if we want to call. Dial, chat, wait…enter. A young girl walks up and takes us on an actual tour of the Navy Yard. She points out administrative buildings, the place where the NCIS building sat (before it was moved to Quantico) and shows us the museum. We thought we were nuts to want a photo of the building where Leroy Jethro Gibbs allegedly works, but she said that one woman actually brought a life size cardboard cut out and carried him around the entire Navy Yard. Guess we may not be that crazy after all! It is amazing to see the museum, read some of the naval history and catch a glimpse of one of the incredible ships situated right outside. This is one special day.
Just two blocks from the 6th street entrance takes us to Eastern Market; an area that years ago would have had many less visitors but today is filled with markets, outdoor restaurants and bars. As we walk up from the Navy Yard, we pass the oldest active Marine barracks in the country and are greeted with a ‘hello ma’am, hello sir’ by a marine in full dress uniform. We are even invited to a parade tonight by a plain clothed marine who stops us as we pass. Apparently, this event will bring over 5,000 people to the post. If only the MARC trains back to Baltimore ran later than 10:30pm!
A drink with a former student (now 29 years old), a wander around the chic streets of Georgetown and then through DuPont Circle’s hipster area and we are completely exhausted! Exactly twelve hours after we left Penn Station in Baltimore, we board a train at Washington’s Union Station to return. Spent, starving and proud owners of achy feet, neither of us would change one bit of the day.
Just before my head hits the pillow, I pop a post on Facebook so my mom would know we are alive and safe on our adventure.
“Absolutely incredible day in DC. Shook hands with a WWII veteran
at D-Day ceremony, watched the changing of the guard at the Tomb of
the Unknown Soldier and got a tour of the NAVY Yard. Along with
catching up with a former student, wandering the neighborhoods of DC,
a view of the White House and complete sunshine…this was an absolutely
I expect, perhaps, a like and maybe even a ‘glad you’re safe’ remark from mom, but my uncle’s comment moves us both. As a former high school social studies teacher, this day has been filled with history. As a traveler, this day has been filled with humanity, respect, kindness and vision. But, as a niece and daughter who has always heard stories of the incredible man (and WWII veteran) my grandfather was, knowing he would be proud touched my heart more than anything.
(A special thank you to all those who have served and continue to serve-especially those in my own family. It’s both an honour and privilege to know and support you.)