We arrived at Fort Belvoir on Friday, April 22nd. Fort Belvoir is a nice looking post, with many old, but well maintained buildings. The RV park is on the shore of the Potomac River and has great views. The sites are all level, paved, with full hookups. Fort Belvoir’s major advantage is being close to Washington, DC. It is a short ten-mile drive to the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, and from there it is a forty-five minute ride to the National Mall.
Our son, Dave, flew in from Michigan to join us in touring our nation’s capital. While all of us wanted to see the Air and Space Museum, it was closed for a major renovation. Consequently, we opted to start our sightseeing at the Museum of American History. We began our tour on the upper floors where the displays are changed periodically.
We planned to see the monuments at the west end of the Mall in the afternoon, but we were able to get some last minute timed entry tickets to the Holocaust Museum and changed our plans. One of the first things you do upon entering the museum is pick up an ID folder that describes a victim of the Holocaust. This puts a face on the experience. The museum describes the pre-World War II situation the Jewish population faced, how they were marginalized, and later collected and sent to the concentration camps. It wasn’t only the Jews that suffered under this policy. Homosexuals, Roma (Gypsies), religious clergy, and other minority groups were also victims. The victims of the Holocaust were segregated into groups of the strong (those who would be literally worked to death) and the weak (women, children, the ill and elderly). The latter group was murdered and their corpses destroyed. The living conditions were, at best, horrendous, with people sleeping on top of each other on wooden bunks and not fed enough to sustain life.
As we toured the museum, I was struck by the silence around me. Everyone was impacted by the callous way these victims were treated.
On Monday, we took the Metro and walked to One Massachusetts Avenue to tour the National Guard Museum. I had always wanted to see this, but this was my first time. As a National Guardsman, it had a special meaning to me.
We had made arrangements to tour the Capital Building with Senator Mike Rounds (R-SD). We met Savannah, one of Senator Rounds’ staff outside the Hart Senate Office Building. Here we joined a group from the offices of Senator John Thune (R-SD) who is the Senate Minority Whip and Representative Dusty Johnson (R-SD). Due to COVID-19 the Capital Visitor Center was closed and there were no tours from there. This was nice as we didn’t have the multitudes of visitors we had seen on previous visits. In addition to the normal tour, we were able to see the offices of all three Congressmen and Senator Thune’s Whip office. Talk about feeling like VIPs!
We explored the Lincoln Memorial. I was impressed once more by the strength of this man. The challenges he faced through his life and during his Presidency would have ruined a lesser man.
Our next stop was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The controversy that surrounded the design has been well documented. Every time I visit the Memorial, I am struck by how the noise of the surrounding area disappears as you approach the wall. It feels like you are leaving one world to visit another. It creates the level of somberness appropriate to this place.
From there we visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Looking at the figures, I could see the strain of combat on their faces and the beginnings of the “Thousand Yard Stare.”
The Martin Luther King Memorial was our next stop. The message of Dr. King is clear to me and the way the Memorial shows him in a section of a wall that has been separated, opening up a passage for all to use reinforces that message.
Our final stop that day was the World War II Memorial. This memorial is simple, but impactful. My dad served in the Pacific in the Marianas Islands and Kwajalein and that makes it personal to me.
Tuesday, we drove to the Manassas Battlefield to tour the battles of the First and Second Manassas, or Bull Run depending whether you wore blue or gray. The first Battle of Manassas was the first actual ground combat of the Civil War and was a rude awakening to the horror of war. Both sides thought it would be the first and last battle and they soon realized they had several years of combat ahead of them.
The Smithsonian Air and Space Museum on the National Mall may have been closed but the annex, the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center near Dulles Airport was open. None of us had ever toured this site before. The Smithsonian has a unique place in the pecking order of aviation museums. Dave commented that other museums would have a B-29 Superfortress, but only the Smithsonian would be able to acquire the “Enola Gay,” the B-29 that dropped the first atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan. If you are into aviation history, this is a “must see” museum for you!
On Wednesday, we began our day by viewing the White House. It’s a shame visitors can’t get very close any more, but it is the new normal. From the White House we walked to the Washington Monument. Like many of the museums and memorials, we had to get timed entry tickets. The first time I visited the Washington Monument as a kid, you could climb to the top, now you have to take the elevator. Apparently, that makes it easier for everyone, visitors and staff. What a great view of the District of Columbia! The skies were clear and the visibility was unlimited. One new fact I learned was that groups and states contributed memorial blocks to be used in the construction of the monument.
After the Washington Monument, we returned to the Museum of American History to tour the permanent exhibits on the ground floor. This is my third visit to this museum and I am still impressed with how much I continue to discover. My favorite exhibits were those about transportation.
Our next stop was the Library of Congress. While it is first a research library, it is also a museum about learning. The walls and the ceilings tell as much of a story as the books on the shelves.
The Library was destroyed by the British Army during the War of 1812 and Thomas Jefferson sold them his entire book collection for $23,950 to begin the rebuilding. His personal collection is on display in the Library.
Thursday, we rode the Metro to the Arlington Cemetery. Thousands of service members and dignitaries, such as Supreme Court Justices, Members of Congress, and former Presidents are buried here. The U.S. Army Third Infantry Regiment, the Old Guard, performs ceremonial duties for the cemetery. They are most well known for guarding the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. In the Cemetery Visitor Center we learned the story of how the Unknown Soldiers were selected from World War I and II and the Korean War. There was an unknown soldier from Vietnam, but due to advances in DNA technology he was identified and re-interned in his own grave.
The Guard of the Unknown Soldier is changed every half-hour and the public can observe this solemn ceremony.
Friday Pat and Dave practiced the fine art of doing nothing while I had some maintenance done on our truck. On Saturday Dave flew back to Michigan. Pat and I attended worship services at the Post Chapel on Sunday, and that afternoon I visited the National Museum of the Army. I wasn’t sure how it could cover the Army’s history in a way that I hadn’t already experienced at the Infantry Museum and others. However, I was impressed, the exhibits were very professional and took a different approach that made the history I was familiar with interesting.
Monday, May 2nd we drove north to the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Maryland.