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.