Thursday, October 8, 2009


Mike and I took a tour into Washington, DC while Lana and Barry walked the battlefields as Barry has a keen interest in the Civil War. The traffic was horendous going into Washington and we passed many BMW and Lexus vehicles with 1 driver clogging up the highways. This happens every work day here. What surprised me was that Washington, while I knew it was a District, is not in any state (hence "taxation without representation"). I understand one of the reasons is that the Capital was supposed to be an unbiased spot.
We stopped at the US Marine Corps War Memorial which depicts the moment when Marines raised the flag over Mount Suribachi on Iwo Jima during World War II.
Nearby we entered Arlington National Cemetary which is America's "most sacred military shrine". Its 624 acres contain over 340,000 service men and women, veterans from every war and major conflict in US history. We walked up a marble walkway and stairs to visit the grave of John F. Kennedy with the eternal flame beside it. Also buried next to him are his wife Jackie and their 2 enfants. His brother Robert Kennedy lies nearby. Words from his inaugural address "ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country" are carved in stone close by.
The Arlington House sits high on the hill above JFK's gravesite. It is fascinating that this was the home of Robert E. Lee who had married well and his wife had inherited this property. They lived here for 30 years and had slaves on the property. When the Civil War broke out he resigned his commission from the US Army and vacated the property to join the Confederates. The property was then used as headquarters for federal troops. In 1863 Freedman's Village was established on the estate to assist refugee slaves in transition to freedom. In 1864 Washington DC was flooded with wounded and dead soldiers from the North and South and at the end of the Civil War there were nearly 16,000 dead buried on the old plantation. Ultimately the Lees were compensated for the loss of their property by the Supreme Court.
Columbia Memorial to the 7 astronauts who died when the Columbia exploded after lift-off. There are many memorials and monuments interspersed with the graves. We also saw Audie Murphy's grave who was one of the most decorated WW2 war heroes. At one time the cemetary was divided by race and religion.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is a memorial to those killed in service to their country and was established in 1921. A sentinel of the 3rd US Infantry maintains vigil around the clock. The sentinel paces 21 steps alongside the tomb, pauses 21 seconds, then returns and at each end clicks his heels and changes shoulder position for the gun. The words written on the tomb are "Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God". The impact of being here is immense and the respect and vigil of the Honour Guard has a profound impact on every visitor. The hard reality also hit us when we passed a procession of 2 military personnel on horses followed by 6 horses carrying a caisson with a flag-draped coffin.There are 30 burials here each week at the cemetary and you could hear gun salutes in the background while flags are flown at half staff while burials are underway.
The changing of the guard takes place every hour or half hour. These guards practice and prepare 6 hours each day, everything must be absolutely perfect for the Sargent-At-Arms inspection before the new guard takes over. We were told at one time when there were hurrican forces they were asked to stand down for safety reasons but refused and kept the vigil. Arlington Cemetary and the Honor Guard is something I will never forget and you can see some of the changing of the guard in this video.
Crossing the Arlington Memorial Bridge over the Potomac River, our guide pointed out that airplanes must follow the river as they are not allowed anywhere else in Washington airspace since 9/11. It was interesting to see the planes travel the route all day. On the other side of the bridge there is a direct line between the Lincoln Memorial, Reflecting Pool, WW2 Memorial, Washington Memorial and the US Capital building. This view is facing from the Lincoln Memorial. This is also the area where Forest Gump and Jenny met in the movie. It is a beautiful setting.
This view is turning the other way towards Lincoln Memorial which was designed in style of a classic Greek temple.

Climbing the 56 steps that represented Lincoln's age when he was assasinated, the huge statue of Lincoln faces the Capital. On one side of the statue the huge wall has the entire Gettysburg Address.
View from the top step of the memorial looking back.

Off to the left of the Reflecting Pool is the Vietnam Veterans Memorial which lists the names of service personnel who died in the conflict or who remain missing. It is a long wall sloped into the side of a hill and people may etch a name onto paper.
The WW2 Memorial has twin Atlantic and Pacific pavilions which symbolize a war fought across two oceans. There are many monuments and statues through Washington, each one having historical significance or being a gift of thanks from other countries. We also passed by Ford Theatre, Mayflower and Watergate Hotels, FBI and embassies from all over the world (the Iran embassy shaped like a mosque was interesting and many other countries also reflected their culture into the architecture of their embassy).
This is the Smithsonian Castle which houses the administration. The museums of the Smithsonian line both sides of "The Mall", an open area between the Washington Monument and the Capital, and is used for the public to freely assemble to play, attend events or petition for government change. Today there were teams from all over the world constructing solar structures. We stopped and spoke to a team who were from Alberta.
Though we were limited in time and there is so much to see at all the museums, we did stop to see the Hope Diamond. It is huge and beautiful!
At the American History Museum we saw Archie and Edith Bunker's chairs and Archie's hat.
Dorothy's red ruby shoes from Wizard of Oz worn by Judy Garland when she was 16 and in the MGM film.
At the"First Ladies" Exhibit we got to see 14 dresses worn by first ladies back to Mary Todd Lincoln and other memorabilia such as Jackie's faux pearls. On left is gown worn by Jackie Kennedy.

Fun to see Julia Child's kitchen, they even had the wall where her pots and skillets were hung, each one outlined with felt pen so she knew what was missing. Julia and her husband Paul began work on their Massachusetts kitchen in 1961, adapting it to the many quirks of the famous chef, who donated the room's entire contents to the museum in 2001.
At the Air and Space Museum, they have encased the actual Apollo II command module that carried Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins to the moon in 1969. The inside was tiny and must have been very uncomfortable. On display were also Hubble Space Telescope test vehicle (looks like something you could put together in your garage!) Got to touch a small slice of a piece of moon rock - it was smooth and black and it was very popular with everyone.
Suspended from the ceiling is the "Spirit of St. Louis", the plane that Charles Lindbergh piloted for the 1st solo nonstop transatlantic flight.
This is the Wright 1903 flyer (only the material has been replaced) used by Wilbur and Orville for the first flight. There was a large exhibit which showed how they solved the problems of flight and changed the world.
The west front of the Capital looks towards the Mall in a series of arcades, steps and terraces. At its base are the Ulysses S. Grant Memorial and Capital Reflecting Pool.
The White House sits a couple of blocks across from the Washington Monument and designed in the style of a 1700's manor house. It was burned down in 1814 during the War of 1812 and rebuilt in 1817. This was as close as we got to it - no invitation from Barrack and Michelle.
Wow - was this ever a busy day. We left at 6 am and returned at 7:30 pm but we were glad we did it!


  1. No wonder Barrack and Michelle didn't invite you in, don't you know it was the Canadians that burned the White House, what did you expect?....Rose

  2. Hey, you met us - we're pretty charming! Maybe he was afraid we'd set off the White House alarm, we have a habit of doing that!