August 13- 16 Pennsylvania and Washington D.C.

After leaving the bustle of Jersey City, we spent the afternoon with one of Bob’s school chums, Julian and his wife Mary Ellen in Lancaster.  The heat had broken, and we were experiencing more tolerable temps, with a cooling breeze coming from the woods and river surrounding their property.  They even have a well with a bunker – you have to wonder if this wasn’t built in the fifties due to the threat of nuclear war back then.  Again, retired friends with the same idea as us – to transition to the “quiet life.”  I’ll take the well, but am intrigued by the bunker.  

Julian, Mary Ellen and Bob

After bidding farewell, we journeyed through the lush, green landscapes of Amish Country, kept verdant by passing thunderstorms.  We meandered through Gettysburg, thinking about the age of some of the buildings and then pushed our way through the more heavily touristed parts of town; it’s all very nice now, but what was it like back in the day?  

We were staying at the Gettysburg KOA set in the deep woods, with lovely, level sites.  We could have stayed here for a few days if time had allowed, and if we had been better informed of its tranquil and wooded nature.  Here families play and enjoy all the amenities that upscale camping has to offer.  I pause to think about the horrors that no doubt prevailed during the Civil War in these very woods.  We are not far from the major battle sites, and as we all know too well, wars don’t always favor boundaries.  

It was in the high 50’s early in the morning, a temperature we haven’t seen in quite a while and there was a slight hint of fall in the air. It was promising to be a beautiful day.  

We decided to take the auto tour of the battlefields; it’s a $10.00 app you can download and is quite useful.  We drove past fields of August corn, cannons serving as totems, showing us the way through what looked like, on the surface, simply Pennsylvania farmland. 

The August Corn of Gettysburg

Underneath this innocuous landscape, on a beautiful summer day, lie the relics of liberation, soaked in blood of thousands, their names forgotten, their memories buried in unmarked graves. The north wanted to liberate the black slaves and the south wouldn’t have it; so noble men took up the cause and made the ultimate sacrifice.  

So many dedicated souls maintain the sites so we can ponder our history and hopefully take in the significance of the sacrifices that were made here.  Gettysburg…a sobering segue to the memorials that awaited us in D.C.  

Demonstrations on how weapons were used back in the day
Never Forget

The cicadas bid us farewell, humbling us as we left Gettysburg; the voices of the visitors in the fields remained low out of respect, and eventually faded as we made our way down the road.  

We headed to D.C., excited about our stay at the Holiday Inn in Ballston.   After months in the RV with unpredictable sites and technology, we will be able to spread our wings a bit and had plenty of parking for the rig. As funny as it may seem to some, we have come to appreciate these little luxuries that we used to take for granted.  As a Hilton member we have wracked up enough points from all that expensive diesel we’ve consumed that we are now getting free hotel stays😍

The Washington subway was close to the hotel with our first stop at Arlington National Cemetery. It’s sobering going from one memorial to another.   As we wandered through endless grave sites, we saw a Navy burial going on in the background: The area was blocked off from the public, but saw the casket being pulled by a carriage, accompanied by the full regalia of Navy personnel. Then followed taps and the firing of the guns. The experience was as overwhelming as the cemetery itself.

The endless rows of grave stones at Arlington

Bob was feeling a bit under the weather so I went to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and stumbled upon the changing of the guard. I don’t know how they manage to endure the heat or cold:  But they do.  

Arlington National Cemetery – the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

We walked across the mighty Potomac. Fortunately there had been rain and it was cloudy, though the humidity was a bit high but at least it wasn’t hot. We dropped off at a cafe for a respite.

We visited the inspiring Lincoln and WWII Memorials – the latter showing reliefs of the places my father had been during the war in the Pacific.  The scale of Washington D.C. is mind boggling.

By this time we had done 15,000 steps and decided to head back to the comfy confines of our hotel room. Thankfully the metro is super easy to navigate. 

The following day we went back to the Mall and visited the Botanical Gardens as our first stop. I loved the misty and warm tropical garden; it was such a soothing experience.

The Botanical Gardens

We then took a tour of the Capital that gave us a great perspective of the seat of our nation. The capital and the surrounding structures are just so impressive – it reminds me of Rome, which would make sense since that architecture inspired most of the Mall. 

The Capital and Rotunda

I then visited the U.S. Navy Memorial that is set across from the National Archives; I came here to pay homage and in a sense it gave me final closure now that all of my father’s letters, photos, artifacts and now his trombone are in the US Navy Fleet Band archives❤️🎼 While not at the same scale as the other sites, it is just as lovingly sculpted as the more popular memorials. Thank you dad, and all the other Navy personnel for your service and sacrifice 🙏⚓️

U.S. Navy Memorial

We then met Julian and Mary Ellen who decided to come to D.C. for the afternoon and headed out to the Natural History Museum.  While the dinosaur action was cool, the mineral and gemstone displays were off the charts; seriously impressive and mesmerizing.  It doesn’t help that I can’t resist bling in general.  It took us a few hours to get through that exhibit, and we stopped for coffee before they took off back to Lancaster with mutual commitments to meet up in France.

Bob and I realized it was getting late so we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian and were blown away by the Preston Singletary – Raven and the Box of Daylight exhibit.  This artist is Tlingit (First Nations) and from the Teslin area of the Yukon.  We had visited the Tlingit Cultural Center while in the area – it was an eye-opening cultural connection.  We had timed our visit just right; when we were just wrapping up our tour the museum announced it was closing!  It was a superb ending to another busy day.  

My experience over the last few days has given me pause: 

Freedom is not free – seeing this engraved in bold lettering at the Korean Memorial should be echoed from Gettysburg throughout the stately sentinels that line the Mall.  Freedom is not free… should be the signature text on every monument and museum as a reminder of centuries of sacrifice that has been made to maintain our liberty.  We live in a great nation that has overcome monumental obstacles to maintain our liberties that we all to easily take for granted.

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