It was seven in the morning. Steven and I were rushing to WalMart to finish our packing for our week-long trip to our nation’s capital. Our flight left Tampa International Airport in about 2 hours, and we both needed the “little things” before departing. We’re both very last-minute and I think we get a rush of adrenaline waiting until the last minute, but that day seemed different.
We arrived at Dulles, and hopped on the SuperShuttle to take us to our hotel. After a short half-hour drive, we arrived to the Willard Intercontinental Hotel. To our amazement, it was practically next door to the White House. Not fitting in to our surroundings at all, Steven and I walked into this five-star hotel wearing our jeans and t-shirts, dragging luggage behind us. Walking into the hotel felt as though we took a leap back in time. The hotel, we learned, was built in 1818 and has been a political landmark since the mid-1800s. I learned Martin Luther King wrote his “I Have A Dream” speech while staying at the Willard and also learned the term ‘lobbyist’ was coined in this very hotel. Realizing we were standing in such a historic part of our nation’s capital was exhilarating. We stood in the lobby and admired the historic detailing in the columns in the lobby. Even the concierge desk had the cubbies for individual rooms to receive mail. If this was our first impression of Washington D.C., we were in for one exciting week.
The Washington Monument was a block away from the hotel. It was our first stop on our adventure around D.C. Completed on February 21, 1885, the monument is 125 years old and commemorates George Washington. Steven and I learned the first cornerstone for this monument was laid in 1848, however due to the civil war, the monument was put on hold for 36 years. Following this was a hike to the Lincoln Memorial, and the World War 2 Memorial. The Lincoln Memorial was larger than either of us thought possible and the detail in the statue of Abraham Lincoln was beyond belief. The World War 2 Memorial, we learned, honored over 16 million individuals who served during the war as well as the 400,000 who died in the war. One inscription caught my attention;
Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln,
One the eighteenth century father and the other the
Nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor
Those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle
During the second world war and made the sacrifices to
Perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us:
A nation conceived in Liberty and Justice.
Arlington National Cemetery was our next stop. At a first look, the cemetery was full of cherry blossoms in bloom. It’s a beautifully kept cemetery and with over 300,000 people buried there, the white headstones seem to go on forever. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers was a sight. We watched the Changing of the Guards and were blown away by the performance of the soldiers. Learning the process these soldiers go through to serve and finding out these soldiers are volunteers was truly remarkable. My main reason for visiting Arlington National Cemetery was a little different, however. On June 1st, 2005, my best friend, Louis Niedermeier, was killed in Ramadi, Iraq. On June 15th, 2005, Louis reached his final resting place in section 60, plot 8188 in Arlington National Cemetery. I vividly remember searching for my friend. I remember trying to think of everything I wanted to say to him once I found him, and I remember worrying that I was just going to cry uncontrollably. Section by section, row by row, Steven and I walked, looking for Louis. Patiently at first, then as I knew we were getting closer, our pace started getting faster.
Then it happened. I was four plots away and I saw the ‘8188’ engraved on the back of my best friend’s grave-site. I stood there for a few moments. I couldn’t find the courage to walk around the headstone and see his name. I wanted to tell myself his name wasn’t going to be there and that Louis was actually okay. I remember there was a family visiting their loved one just a few plots away from me, and I remember Steven stood there so patiently. I finally convinced myself to see his name. I didn’t cry, in fact, I didn’t say anything at all. I stood there staring at his name. I couldn’t tell you what I was thinking about at that moment, because everything around me just seemed to stop like in a movie. I felt numb. Slowly, my senses started coming back to me. I heard the family a few feet away from me speaking to each other. I saw a bird fly from a tree just in front of Louis’s grave, and I could feel my legs and my arms. I turned to Steven and motioned that we could go.
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