There’s no prurient interest post today. In January of this year a young friend of mine died from combat injuries sustained several years ago, so this year’s commemoration events are especially poignant for me.
Memorial Day weekend activities in the Washington DC area are cranked up to a blistering volume, of course. Rolling Thunder, an MIA/POW organization whose motto is “We Will Not Forget”, sponsors a motorcycle run from the Pentagon (adjacent to Arlington National Cemetery) along a route to war memorials throughout the city and back to the Lincoln Memorial. This year is the 30th anniversary of the motorcycle run that honors veterans.
Thousands upon thousands of motorcyclists wait in silence (some since 7:00 a.m.) at the Pentagon parking lots and start their engines in unison at noon on Sunday, the day before Memorial Day. That roar is a sound I will never forget. Many more thousands of flag waving supporters crowd the sidewalks along the motorcyclists’ route. It is an event that deserves the description, “awesome.”
It is nearly overwhelming to look out over 624 acres blanketed by more than 265,000 identical white tombstones, each graced by an American flag. For more than 60 years, the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard) has honored America's fallen heroes by placing flags before each tombstone at Arlington National Cemetery just prior to the Memorial Day weekend (Thursday this year).
Every available regimental soldier of the Old Guard participates in this tribute, which takes more than four hours to complete. This tradition is known as “Flags In,” and it is a lump-in-the-throat tribute to witness. All flags are removed after Memorial Day, before the cemetery opens to the public the next morning.
Also on Sunday is a free concert on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol building at 8 p.m. Hosts Joe Mantegna and Laurence Fishburne will introduce Gen. Colin Powell, Gary Sinise, Five for Fighting, Scotty McCreery, Vanessa Williams, Renée Fleming, John Ortiz, Christopher Jackson (“Hamilton”), Auli’i Cravalho (“Moana”) and the National Symphony Orchestra. The West Lawn of the capitol will be packed should-to-shoulder, but those who cannot be there in person (that would be me) can watch the entire event on PBS television.
On Memorial Day itself there is a wreath laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery followed by an early afternoon parade through the city of Washington. While we locals are fortunate to be able to avail ourselves of these meaningful events, every year we have to hold our tongues in an effort not to carp about the road closures, many of which are in place the entire weekend. On the other hand, it’s a great opportunity to walk (and use public transportation).
Come back Tuesday for the photos and stuff you're looking for.