The US Capitol Building is at one end of the National Mall
Come October things will return to some kind of home-town reality.
For us the whole experience has been remarkable, no more so than in our exploration of the nation’s capital. Two days may have been little enough to do it justice but Washington DC left a deep impression.
America knows how to honour its founding fathers, its chequered history, its great leaders and the thousands of its service personnel lost in conflicts around the world. Most of this panorama is contained within the park lands of the National Mall, defined at one end by the Lincoln Memorial and at the other by the iconic US Capitol building.
The freedom to wander this landscaped 300 acres is in itself a tribute to the country, both reverential and liberated. Here and there bands played, wedding parties – we saw three – posed for photos and there were picnics on the grass. Our ‘walking tour’ covered many a mile and many an hour with map in hand.
A first stop was alongside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a black granite wall inscribed with all the 58,267 names of those who died. It extends for some 250 feet beginning and ending low to the ground, rising to a midpoint height of 10 feet. Its very simplicity only added to its poignancy. Not far off was the Korea War Memorial, comprised of statues of war-weary soldiers in combat gear moving through a garden setting. Close by a service was in progress which drew us in. The hymn being sung was particularly emotional on a personal family level as my brother’s son is a Marine who has served in both Iraq and Afghanistan and is now deployed in South Korea and our son is in the Royal Navy, currently serving in Scotland.
Away from The Mall and across the Arlington Memorial Bridge is the renowned Arlington National Cemetery.
Thousands of simple white grave stones dot this hillside shrine, honouring the names of service personnel from the Second World War onwards.
A special area has been set aside for John F Kennedy and his brother Robert, both cut down in the prime of their lives.
We climbed to the highest point to seek out the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. A daily vigil is kept here throughout the year with a solitary soldier marching from side to side in front of the tomb, pausing briefly at each end of his march before turning. We were lucky enough to arrive just before the ‘changing of the guard’ took place with a time-honoured ritual.
Other highlights of our Washington experience were visits to a couple of museums from amongst many along The Mall which are all free to enter.
I must share with you the absolute thrill of entering the Aero-Space Museum and seeing the actual space capsule which orbited the moon back in 1969. How could something so relatively small have contained three spacemen on that amazing ‘voyage of discovery’ I wondered.
I hope these reflections from a fortnight’s experience of a somewhat different way of life have proved diverting. Now to pack our bags and head for the airport in Newark and the flight home to Heathrow.