Saturday, April 24, 2010

Honoring the Fallen

Things have certainly been busy in the world of park Guide ranger Garrett in Washington DC of late. The visitors continue to come to the mall and keep expecting me to awe them with amazing interpretation and inform them of the wonders of this city and it's memorials. I am kept quite busy nearly every day when I am working these days.

The last two days have provided significant and special opportunities to speak to veterans at both the Korean and WWII memorials. Far more significantly, they have also afforded me with the chance to both bear witness to and be a part of some truly special moments.  I worked at Korea yesterday and ended up giving most of the talks, generally to groups of 10-15 people. But when I went out at 11:00 I found quite the crowd waiting for me and ended up giving a full-scale much longer talk to a group of at least 30 people. When I finished my talk I was approached by a man who told me that he had served in Korea. I immediately grew nervous, thinking that he was going to find fault with what I had said, but he actually thanked me and told me how much he appreciated me being out there, caring for the memorial, and representing "his war" to the visitors. He went on to tell me about his experience while in Korea and as he spoke a crowd gathered around us to listen to what he had to say. He asked me if he could recite a poem that he had composed about the war and upon my affirmation he proceeded to do so from memory, relating a powerful picture of what the war had been like from the perspective of a soldier on the front lines. As he spoke my eyes filled with tears on several occasions and I had to work very hard to hold it together. When he concluded the poem he raised his hand in salute to his comrades and the crowd was completely silent for several moments before beginning to clap and offer him their hands in thanks for his service.  

Today I found myself stationed at the WWII Memorial during the visits of 9 different Honor Flight groups. These groups consisted of as many as 190 WWII veterans (in each group) who had made the journey together, often with their children, to visit the memorial and pay their respects to those who had fallen. It was amazing simply to bear witness to the way these men interacted with the memorial and with each other, many of them seeing it for the first time and bearing mementos of friends and brothers who were unable to make the journey. Seeing the way their faces would light up when people approached them to shake their hands, offer them a salute, and thank them for their service made me cry on several occasions. Many of these men thanked me for my service, for being there to protect and watch over their memorial. It really made me realize, once again, the wonderful gift that I have been given here in this job.

 I was privileged to speak to many of the men throughout the day and sustain a brief glimpse into their world during the war. One 91 year old man had landed just west of Casablanca in Operation Torch and fought in a tank division in every engagement in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy. He was still in Italy when Germany surrendered in May, 1945. Another man came into France shortly after D-day, was wounded, and spent 14 months being transferred from hospital to hospital through Europe before making it back home once again. I approached two men sitting together in their wheelchairs and in speaking to them discovered that one had landed in Normandy and the other at Iwo Jima. They told me about Patton and his drive to push his men forward, and about MacArthur and how much of a pompous fool he really was. History was coming alive before my eyes.

I stood at full salute with many of the veterans as one man sang the Star Spangled Banner in a special ceremony to honor their fallen comrades. I watched as Colin Powell spontaneously showed up and greeted the veterans, shaking hands and posing for pictures. I saw one man approach another brandishing his certificate of service declaring that he had just had it signed by Colonel Powell. I listened as one of the leaders of the Honor Flight spoke to a group about how they had saved the world and provided freedom to so many. It was really a series of one emotionally gripping moment following another. And it was my job to be there!

I have also been able to take part in a series of unique adventures in recent days. On Monday I attended the show "little shop of horrors" at Ford's Theater, sitting in the shadow of the box where Lincoln had been shot 145 years and 5 days previously, along with five girls I met when I arrived at the theater. On Tuesday I explored the wilderness of Prince William Forest Park while seeking to avoid unexploded ordinance left over from OSS training during WWII and then joined my uncle in sampling some excellent Spanish Paella. On Wednesday I visited the navy yard courtesy of my roommate who works for the navy, spoke to several naval historians, got several free books, and visited the national navy museum, which includes such artifacts as the Trieste, the only manned vessel that has ever gone into the Mariana Trench.  

On Thursday, whilst eating Thai food with a friend, a man calling himself "Teddy" approached our table and proceeded to ask us to name random countries so that he might tell us what he knew about them. It was one of the most creative methods of panhandling that I have ever encountered and we talked to him for quite a while. Last night I joined five other friends in cheering on the Washington Nationals as they successfully defeated the Dodgers. The two exciting home runs sent over the fence by first basemen Adam Dunn helped redeem an earlier play in which he neglected to keep his foot on the bag, allowing a base hit that should have been as easy out. Following the game we ended up in the perfect spot to watch the special Friday night fireworks show over the Anacostia river.

The opportunities in this city and in this job are constantly affirming my decision to come here. I continue to seek to live my life to the fullest in every moment, making the most of this life that I have been given.

Living always in dangerous wonder...

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