Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Scenes From The Inauguration. . .


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To say that yesterday's Inauguration of President Barack Obama was an event not soon to be forgotten would be an exercise in understatement. Historians of this and future generations will long speak of its significance and many, many years from now people will still ask "Where were you when. . . ." Truly, it was a proud and defining moment in our nation's history. As I sit here this afternoon, composing this post and trying to recover from what was a long day, I still have a hard time believing that I was actually there, wrapped up in the sheer pageantry and history of it all. Yet as the weeks, months, and years pass by, this realization will no doubt become all the more apparent, and I will proudly state I was, indeed, there to witness this historic moment firsthand.

As far as my involvement goes, it began late Monday night when the van carrying the contingent of Antietam rangers arrived at our "quarters," an indoor tennis court filled with cots. They told us it was heated, but, as my colleague Mannie stated, it was "just marginally better than camping outdoors." No matter. I was thrilled to be there, and eager to go exploring what was happening downtown, on the Mall in anticipation of the event. After claiming our cots, we set out on foot, bundled up, for temps were in the low teens. Much to my surprise, we found the Mall empty. It was eerily quiet as we visited the Jefferson, F.D.R., and Lincoln Memorials. And it was so cold. So cold, in fact, that it completely drained the battery in my camera. (I am most thankful that I picked up an extra battery, just in case). My friend and fellow ranger Brian Baracz's camera fared better than mine that cold night, and he was able to capture some great images, including this one:

After putting in several miles, we returned to the "bubble" around 2:30 a.m. in the expectation of getting perhaps a few hours of sleep before the official start of our work shifts. Yet such was my eagerness for the Inauguration, and so uncomfortable were the cots and so chilly was the "heated" arena, that any notion of sleep, at least far as I was concerned, was quickly laid to rest. I got, perhaps, a good hour and fifteen minutes of rest before I realized the futility of it all and went out to find that Brian did not sleep a wink. It was shortly after 4:00 in the morning. Buses already were lined up, one after the next, for miles on the bridges into the city, which would continue long after daylight. . .


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Finally, we went "on the clock." At a briefing held early Tuesday morning, we were told what to expect and what our duties would be. The Mall, they said, was already overcrowded with people. We then got our assignments: Ranger Alann Schmidt, at the World War II Memorial; Ranger Baracz, at the Thomas Jefferson; and Ranger Mannie, at the F.D.R. I felt, and still feel, awfully for them. . .to be there on Inauguration Day, and yet assigned to locations far, far away. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to the Lincoln Memorial/Vietnam Veteran's Monument.

Hopping on a shuttle bus, without even a cup of coffee, for none had been provided, we all set out.

What I saw when arriving was that, yes, the Mall was already filled, even at this early hour. But yet, the crowds would continue to just pour in. . .It was absolutely remarkable how many people turned out to witness this event and be a part of history. . .

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Long lines of eager visitors continued to arrive throughout the morning hours, everyone heading toward to Capitol, hoping to get a good vantage point. . . yet everywhere, it was crowded.

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The Lincoln Memorial is a good two miles from the steps of the Capitol, where President Obama took his Oath of Office. Still, its steps were filled as were both sides of the Reflecting Pool. . .

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Literally, as far as eye could see, it was a veritable ocean of people. . .Jumbo-screen televisions were stationed at various places along the Mall, including the one below, behind the Korean War Memorial, where I was able to watch the historic swearing-in. . .
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The mood of the crowd, even as far away as the Lincoln Memorial, was, in a word, electrical. The cheers from all along the Mall were almost continuous and at times deafening; I have never heard anything quite like it. Everyone there was jubilant. I have to admit, there were several times when a chill ran through my body, those not brought on by the cold. . .There were handshakes and hugs all around; tears streamed down the cheeks of many as they watched Obama take the Oath; parents propped up their young children for a better view of the jumbo-trons; and everyone, it seemed, captured the day in photographs or on video. It is difficult, if not impossible to capture this mood in words. . .
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Events transpired with almost lightning speed, and before I knew it, it was over; the inauguration now history. The crowd began departing, and I was amazed at how quickly the Mall was cleared. (No doubt the frigid, bitter cold put an extra spring in the steps of many). By the time darkness covered the Mall, it was, like the night before, empty. I was on duty until officially until 8:00 p.m. I don't know how many miles I walked or how many times I convinced myself that I would surely walk away from this event with frostbite, but, believe me, it was cold and I was utterly exhausted by day's end. The blisters on my feet yet remain. . .
Throughout the late afternoon and early evening, I watched the Inaugural Parade on the screens and listened to it from a distance. Finally, at 8:00, I "clocked out," and returned to the "bubble," our home away from home, only to find it entirely deserted except by Rangers Brian and Mannie, their disappointment at their assignments noticeable. Because other rangers from Antietam were on duty until midnight, we were forced to wait. After a good dinner, we climbed back on the Antietam van, picked everyone at, and began the journey home, Ranger Allan doing a remarkable job in getting us out of the city quickly and back home in a safe manner, despite him being utterly exhausted.
We were all exhausted. By the time I got back to the bubble after my shift, I was on the literal brink of collapse. And even today, I am still beat. . .
Yet, in the end, despite the cold and despite the blisters, I have no complaints. I just cannot help but feel bad for my colleagues who were far removed from the Mall.
It was a remarkable day, and I still have a hard time believing that I was there, a part of it all.
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President Bush leaving office on Marine One.


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I wonder what President Lincoln would be thinking. . .

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6 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great pictures and a great post. Too bad about Mannie and Brian. Still all of you will have a day that you will remember for the rest of your lives. Did Allan take any pictures?

John C. Nicholas

11 days until moving day.

Mannie Gentile said...

John,

I figured something was going on over there.

I did manage to capture the sound of it:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YpFSEtQZ83w

Mannie

John David Hoptak said...

John
Thanks. He did, indeed, and I am looking forward to seeing them.

Mannie
Awesome movie; it was, in the end, a fun day. . .

Jared Frederick said...

How exciting, John!

Glad you got relatively close to the historic event!

How cold was it?

John David Hoptak said...

Jared
Thanks. Highs that day were still below freezing, while lows were, well, low! Brrr

Anonymous said...

Dear John,
I ran across your blog doing research on my Great Great Grandfather John M. Brown who was in Co. K of the 48TH. How fun to read your account of Tuesday's activities! Thanks,Bonnie