Haley Goes to Washington - Day Three

In other instance of poor travel planning, Abel booked his flight on Sunday for 6:00 am, so for my last day in D.C., it was going to be just me and Katie. The original plan was to go visit the Smithsonian American Art Museum with Katie's friend Melanie, in order to see the current exhibit on art of the New Deal era. However, something came up for Melanie, and she had to cancel, and Katie was coming down with a cold, from which she had been suffering the night before, so I opted to let her stay home and get some rest. With no one else to worry about, I decided to spend my morning at Arlington National Cemetery.

I have always had a slightly macabre interest in cemeteries, over which I bonded with Katherine and Scott when we were in college. Having never seen Arlington (arguably the most important cemetery in the country) was slowly eating away at me, so I decided to rectify the situation.

When I arrived, I had the option of taking a $7.50 guided tour via trolley, or trying to make my way on foot. Because my time was limited, and the guided tour was supposed to take a minimum of 40 minutes of driving time, not including stops at important grave sites and monuments, I decided it was in my best interest to hoof it.

The graves stretch on as far as the eye can see in every direction. It is truly humbling to think of all the people who have been willing to make the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

On first impression, there was not much to distinguish Arlington from Camp Butler National Cemetery in Springfield, where Paw-Paw is buried, other than sheer scale. However, the further you went into the grounds, the more variety of monuments there were. Generals and other high-ranking officials generally had larger, grander headstones. And of course, there were the memorials to various VIPs, such as President Kennedy.

The eternal flame marking the final resting place of JFK and Jaqueline Kennedy Onasis.

In fact, I think it was my interest in John F. Kennedy that initially sparked my interest to visit Arlington, back when I did a school project on him in seventh grade. At the time, I had selected him as my president of choice because he died in office, and I wouldn't have to do as much work as students who had two-term presidents, and a full post-presidency life to research. Despite my less-than-honorable intentions in choosing him, I was soon intrigued by his oratory, his glamorous image, his liberal social policies, and his actions during the Cuban Missile Crisis. Indeed, that project introduced me to a whole era of American history that we had never studied in school up to that point, and which would take a permanent hold on my imagination. To this day, Kennedy is my second favorite American president, after FDR.

Adjacent to Kennedy's memorial was a plaza dedicated to his brother, Robert F. Kennedy. My dad is particularly fond of historical "what if?" scenarios, and one has to wonder what America would look like today if Bobby hadn't been assassinated, and had become president instead of Richard Nixon. Would we have greater faith in our institutions of government today, if there had been no Watergate scandal? If the Vietnam War hadn't been prolonged another seven years? The world will never know, but I think everyone can agree that the death of RFK was a tragedy, not just for his family, but for all Americans.

Bobby Kennedy's memorial plaza is not quite as impressive as his brother's, but he was just as capable of delivering memorable speeches. His loss was truly a blow to our nation.

After paying homage to the Kennedys, I pressed onward to find the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. I followed the signs, trekking up and downhill for a seemingly great distance in the noon heat. I could practically feel myself getting a sunburn -- it was such a pity that we got such a crappy, overcast day when we were out doing the lion's share of our sightseeing the day before!

On the way to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, I came across this memorial to the NASA crew lost in the 1986 Challenger disaster.

The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Fellow tourists were swarming the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and at that point, I was running short on time before I had to be back at Katie's apartment to meet her for lunch, so I took a hurried tour of the monument. It is profoundly sad to ponder the fact that someone's family is out there who never got closure over what happened to their loved one, but whoever is buried there gets the constant vigil of one of his brothers in arms, as well as the respect and tribute of the millions of visitors to his grave site. His identity may be known "but to God," but his sacrifice will always be remembered and appreciated.

Upon finishing there, I had to hustle back to the cemetery's dedicated Metro station, where I was seriously delayed by track maintenance. By the time I made it back, there was only time for the briefest of meals, so Katie and I stopped at the Corner Bakery next to the Courthouse Metro station, where we got to enjoy a little girl-talk, before hustling back to her apartment, where her incredibly generous friend Melanie was already waiting for us to give me a ride back to Dulles. Seriously, I can't proper articulate how thankful I was to have a ride to the airport!

I was approximately three hours early for the flight, but when air travel is concerned, I consider it far better to be early than late! Dulles is so enormous, I had to take a shuttle and walk a very long distance to get to my gate, even for a domestic flight. In keeping with my travel-related luck for this trip, my flight was delayed twice due to bad weather in Colorado, where the flight had originated for the day. It was no matter -- I had my book to keep me entertained. The flight itself was rather turbulent due to bad weather, but with the blissfully short wait at the baggage claim, and the equally brief journey home on the Orange Line, I was soon back to my stifling apartment (a comedy of errors had occurred in the effort to replace our air conditioning the week before, and we were still without one when I returned.) Still, it was good to be back.

All in all, I'm very glad I was able to make the trip. It was great to see Katie, of whom I am totally in awe. If I were in her shoes, I can't imagine that I would have made the same progress that she has. Her journey is going to be long, but I have every confidence, given her level of determination, that she will emerge triumphant. It was also good to have a chance to see Abel. So far, we're on pace to see each other every six months or so, which is more than I can say about any of my other Japan-based friends. I'm not sure I'll ever be able to fully come to terms with being so far away from my pals, but that only makes it all the more special when I eventually do get to see them. To paraphrase Abel, the chance to hang out with my friends was the main focus of the whole adventure, all the rest of the trip was just gravy.

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