Arlington National Cemetery and the Netherlands Carillon in December 2012
This arti­cle is part 8 of 17 in the series The D.C. Reunion

L.T. and I spent sev­er­al hours wan­der­ing through a beau­ti­ful green land­scape pock­marked with glis­ten­ing white head­stones arranged in neat rows like they were stand­ing in ranks, con­tin­u­ous­ly answer­ing the call to attention.

We end­ed our tour at the Marine Corps Iwo Jima memo­r­i­al, a giant bronze recog­ni­tion of the val­or of a group of men and a huge flotil­la of ships on a very small island sev­er­al decades ago.  Gazing up at huge met­al hands reach­ing des­per­ate­ly to dri­ve a flag­pole into rocky ground, I could­n’t help but be moved by the ded­i­ca­tion that so many have shown to their fel­low man.

“Three of those six guys nev­er got off that island alive,” L.T. said soft­ly, inter­rupt­ing my reverie.

“I hope that what we have to do in the next few days won’t have to be as heroic.”

L.T. was on his cell phone.  “I’ve got my dri­ver com­ing over to get us,” he said.  “I’ll drop you off at the hotel.  Unless you’d rather go some­where else.”

“No.  That’s fine.”

We walked from the area to the wait­ing car.  I glanced back over my shoul­der at the huge clus­ter of war­riors, out­lined by a sun slow­ly work­ing its way down to the hori­zon.  I won­der if I’d ever have that kind of courage? I asked myself as we entered the car and pulled away.

The car pulled up in front of the Hay Adams.  As the hotel door­man held the door open, I turned to L.T. and thanked him for the tour and the lunch. 

“I may not see you in the next few days,” I com­ment­ed.  “I’ll spend some of the time going over the plan to see if there are any holes.  We can keep in touch if any­thing new comes up. I’ll prob­a­bly head out to the air­port once to look over the con­cours­es and see where I’m like­ly to be encoun­ter­ing Panghurst. Other than that, I’m going to relax as much as pos­si­ble and see some more sights. I want to take in some of the muse­ums and get over to the Mall.”

“Okay, I’ll leave you alone as much as pos­si­ble.  Maybe you can get a bit of enjoy­ment out of the next few days.  Let me know if you need anything.”

“Will do.”  We shook hands. I exit­ed the car and watched it pull away. I won­dered when we’d see each oth­er again.

With L.T., one nev­er knew.

The next day I walked over to the Mall to vis­it the memo­ri­als there: the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and along the reflect­ing pool to the World War II Memorial.  Then it was on past the Washington Monument to the muse­um row for a vis­it to the Natural History Museum and the Air and Space Museum, along with some time in the old Smithsonian Building. 

I lunched on a sand­wich and soft drink on the grass medi­an that sep­a­rates the rows of muse­ums and enjoyed a mild, most­ly sun­ny day, not giv­ing much thought to the rea­son I was in Washington.  It was a relief to just take it easy for a while and for­get what lay ahead.

Sitting out­side the Natural History Museum and con­tem­plat­ing my walk back to the hotel, it sud­den­ly occurred to me that this coun­try erects an awful lot of memo­ri­als to war.  Of course, there are some great memo­ri­als here ded­i­cat­ed strict­ly to some great men: Lincoln, Washington, Jefferson, and Roosevelt — but even three of these four found great­ness through war.  Even the Air and Space Museum would be a vast, most­ly vacant hall if it weren’t for the air­craft dis­played there direct­ly con­nect­ed with war.  Seems like every­where I go, the con­cept of war crops up, and the Punchbowl and Arlington vivid­ly illus­trate the final out­come of those wars.  Even what I would be doing there in Washington was, in some respects, war­fare.  There’s a strange dichoto­my between all these paeans to war and the peace­ful sur­round­ings of a tree-filled park and peo­ple gai­ly going about their business. 

By the time I got back to the Hay Adams, it was get­ting on to 5:00 p.m. and the streets were becom­ing clogged with the traf­fic of thou­sands of gov­ern­ment work­ers strug­gling to get to the city’s out­ly­ing sub­urbs, only to turn around tomor­row morn­ing and strug­gle back in.

Just the walk­ing between memo­ri­als and muse­ums had prob­a­bly con­sumed sev­en or eight miles and that did­n’t count the dis­tances of just “walk­ing around” inside the build­ings and amongst the memo­ri­als. So I was pret­ty tired when I head­ed up to my room, where I splashed some cool water on my face, tow­el dried, doffed my shirt and trousers, and threw myself onto the bed for a short nap before dinner.

It was sev­en o’clock when I awoke and shuf­fled into the bath­room for a hot show­er, a change of clothes, and a quick touch-up shave.

Dressing casu­al­ly, I head­ed down to the Lafayette Room for din­ner.  Normally I might have gone out on the street to look for some local din­ing estab­lish­ment to try, but I had done about all the walk­ing I cared to do for one day.

The maitre’ d showed me to a small table, once again by one of the win­dows. I ordered up a din­ner of Black Angus Tenderloin with a bot­tle of Château Petrus Merlot, a nice fruity red wine.

Sated and still slight­ly tired from the day’s trek, I signed the din­ner chit, left the restau­rant, and picked up a copy of The Washington Post to look over when I got back to the room.

It did­n’t take long to get through the paper, sit­ting in a nice com­fort­able plush chair with my shoes kicked off. Much of the con­tent was polit­i­cal in nature, a sub­ject in which I had no cur­rent interest.

I had near­ly nod­ded off to sleep once again in the chair before I recov­ered, got up, stripped down to my skivvies, and set­tled into bed, dial­ing some low-vol­ume clas­si­cal music on the room’s radio.  It has always been eas­i­er for me to drift off to sleep with soft music in the background.

I must have slept sound­ly and peace­ful­ly since the bed was not bad­ly rum­pled when I awoke at 6:45 with day­light stream­ing through the win­dow, whose drapes I had failed to close the night before.

  • Chuck Witt

    Chuck is a retired archi­tect, a for­mer news­pa­per colum­nist, and a life­long res­i­dent of Winchester.

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