Thursday, June 30, 2016

Hop-On Hop-Off Bus Tour of Washington, D. C.

I booked passes for Hans, William and me to ride the Hop-On Hop-Off Bus to see some of the sights of Washington after touring the Pentagon. We had to walk a little ways to the first bus stop. After boarding the double decker vehicle, we stayed on the bus until we had passed the Washington Monument and then got off so we could visit the Korean War Veterans Memorial.

This is a very impressive sight! There are 19 stainless steel statues that are a little larger than life-size. They are dressed in full combat gear. It was interesting to hear Hans point out the various weapons the men were carrying. Apparently there had a been a ceremony of sorts prior to our arrival as workers were carting away white folding chairs. Wreaths from various countries remained around the perimeter of the statues. There is also a wall of black granite, on which there is a mural of the land, sea and air troops. The names of those killed are on this wall. I thought this memorial was excellent!

Next we walked past the Lincoln Memorial (on our left) and the Reflecting Pool (on our right). This entire historical part of Washington, D. C., is so well plotted out. There were some ducks swimming in the pond. One tourist overheard me tell Hans the pool reminded me of "Forrest Gump," and started yelling, "Jenny, Jenny!"

Just ahead we came to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I told Hans that one of his dad's high school classmates had died in that war and looked up his name in the directory they provided. The names of the deceased are listed in the order of when they were killed. I was able to find Scott Richardson's name. You'll see it here:

This statue is at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

The National World War II Memorial was up ahead, but by the time we had seen the Vietnam memorial, I was running out of steam and needed to rest. I decided I could see it another time. So we made our way to our next bus stop and boarded it to go into the city center to see the Ford Theater. This ride took us past The White House, The Bureau of Engraving, The National Archives Building, and other Federal Buildings. We got off at the bus stop nearest the Ford Theater.

After crossing the street and walking to the next block, Hans noticed the long line outside the Ford Theater. And then we saw the sign "Must have tickets to enter theater," so I put that on my list for "next time," too. Rather than waiting for 20 to 30 minutes for the next bus, Hans decided to use Uber. This was a new and fun experience for me. He stepped away from me and William for a minute, and when he returned he said, "There will be a black Cadillac, license number ***, coming for us in about six minutes. He is here right now." Sure enough, his location appeared on Hans' phone. Well, he was a welcome sight! We piled into the big, back seat of his air-conditioned car and it felt heavenly. What a relief from the heat! He drove us to the closest spot to Arlington National Cemetery.

Tourists on the steps watching the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

At the Information building of the cemetery, we bought tickets to the tram which gives a guided tour of the cemetery—pointing out graves of famous people. We got off at the stop for the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. There were many people already assembled on the steps that face the tomb, but it wasn't crowded by any means. I felt so sorry for the soldier who was walking back and forth, in full dress wool uniform, but I learned more about them and their desire to perform,

Here is what I learned about the guards' walks:

There is a meticulous routine that the guard follows when watching over the graves.
The Tomb Guard:
  1. Marches 21 steps south down the black mat laid across the Tomb.
  2. Turns and faces east, toward the Tomb, for 21 seconds.
  3. Turns and faces north, changes weapon to outside shoulder, and waits 21 seconds.
  4. Marches 21 steps down the mat.
  5. Turns and faces east for 21 seconds.
  6. Turns and faces south, changes weapon to outside shoulder, and waits 21 seconds.
  7. Repeats the routine until the soldier is relieved of duty at the Changing of the Guard.
After each turn, the Guard executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the Guard stands between the Tomb and any possible threat.
Twenty-one was chosen because it symbolizes the highest military honor that can be bestowed—the 21-gun salute.
The mat is usually replaced twice per year: before Memorial Day and before Veterans Day. This is required because of the wear on the rubber mat by the special shoes worn by Tomb Guards. The sentinels have metal plates built into the soles and inner parts of their shoes to allow for a more rugged sole and to give the signature click of the heel during maneuvers. The sentinels wear sunglasses because of the bright reflection from the marble surrounding the Tomb and the Memorial Amphitheater.
On the ground not covered by the mat, a wear pattern in the tile can be seen that corresponds to the precise steps taken during the changing of the guard. On the mat itself, footprints worn in by standing guard are also visible.
At the completion of the tram ride, we opted to call Uber again for a ride back to our car. It was a full, exhilarating day. I loved all of it!

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