Sunday, October 9, 2011

Trip to Washington DC - Day Two

We started our day today by attending church with the Alexandria 3rd ward.  It was right down the street from the home of George Washington at Mount Vernon here in Alexandria.  From there we went back to our hotel to visit the monument right across the street, the George Washington Masonic National Memorial.  Here we are on the steps...
What is the significance of this memorial?  It is a memorial to honor and perpetuate the memory, character and virtues of the man who best exemplifies what Freemasons are and ought to be, Brother George Washington.

What is a freemason?  Freemasonry calls itself the world's oldest and largest fraternity. Freemasonry and Masonry are interchangeable words for the same organization, which has its roots in the medieval trade guilds of stonemasons. In fact, the most widely used symbols of Freemasonry are the tools of the stonemason -- a square and compass. The organization was formally created in London in 1717, and quickly spread to the American colonies and across Europe. Today, there are probably four to six million men in the fraternity worldwide.
The mission of Masonry is: "to teach a man the duty he owes to God, his neighbor, and himself." Charity work and community involvement are important parts of Masonic life. Freemasonry is not affiliated with any religious group, but members are required to profess belief in a supreme being.
There are many notable Freemasons. Composer Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, astronaut Edwin E. "Buzz" Aldrin, writer Leo Tolstoy, comedian Richard Pryor, Walt Disney, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and at least 14 U.S. presidents (including George Washington) are just a few famous Masons.

We ate lunch in Washington DC at Zed Ethiopian Cuisine.  This was a restaurant Rachael Ray reviewed (among others).  Part of the fun of traveling is trying out great restaurants!  Zed's was a lot of fun.  There were no utensils, which our kids thought was great, and the food was very flavorful.  I'm so proud of my kids.  They are willing and excited to try just about anything.  They have pretty adventurous pallets!

After lunch we drove over to Arlington National Cemetery.  What a beautiful and humbling place.  So many soldiers who have fought for the freedoms we now enjoy are buried here.

While at the cemetery we went to see The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

The Tomb of the Unknowns is also known as the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and has never been officially named. The Tomb of the Unknowns stands atop a hill overlooking Washington, D.C. On March 4, 1921, Congress approved the burial of an unidentified American soldier from World War I in the plaza of the new Memorial Amphitheater.

The white marble sarcophagus has a flat-faced form and is relieved at the corners and along the sides by neo-classic pilasters, or columns, set into the surface. Sculpted into the east panel which faces Washington, D.C., are three Greek figures representing Peace, Victory, and Valor. The six wreaths, three sculpted on each side, represent the six major campaigns of World War I. Inscribed on the back of the Tomb are the words:

Here rests in honored glory
an American soldier known but to God

The Tomb sarcophagus was placed above the grave of the Unknown Soldier of World War I. West of the World War I Unknown are the crypts of unknowns from World War II, Korea and Vietnam. Those three graves are marked with white marble slabs flush with the plaza.

A little more information about the Sentinels of the Tomb of the Unknowns:

The Tomb is guarded 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and in any weather by Tomb Guard sentinels. Sentinels, all volunteers, are considered to be the best of the elite 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), headquartered at Fort Myer, Va.

After members of the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment become ceremonially qualified, they are eligible to volunteer for duty as sentinels at the Tomb. If accepted, they are assigned to Company E of The Old Guard. Each soldier must be in superb physical condition, possess an unblemished military record and be between 5 feet, 10 inches and 6 feet, 4 inches tall, with a proportionate weight and build. An interview and a two-week trial to determine a volunteer's capability to train as a tomb guard is required.

During the trial phase, would-be sentinels memorize seven pages of Arlington National Cemetery history. This information must be recited verbatim in order to earn a "walk." A walk occurs between guard changes. A daytime walk is one-half hour in the summer and one hour in the winter. All night walks are one hour.
If a soldier passes the first training phase, "new-soldier" training begins. New sentinels learn the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the grave locations of nearly 300 veterans. They learn the guard-change ceremony and the manual of arms that takes place during the inspection portion of the Changing of the Guard. Sentinels learn to keep their uniforms and weapons in immaculate condition.

The sentinels will be tested to earn the privilege of wearing the silver Tomb Guard Identification Badge after several months of serving. First, they are tested on their manual of arms, uniform preparation and their walks. Then, the Badge Test is given. The test is 100 randomly selected questions of the 300 items memorized during training on the history of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknowns. The would-be badge holder must get more than 95 percent correct to succeed. Only 400 Tomb Guard Badges have been awarded since it was created in February 1958.

The Tomb Guard Identification Badge is a temporary award until the badge-holding sentinel has honorably served at the Tomb of the Unknowns for nine months. At that time, the award can be made a permanent badge, which may then be worn for the rest of a military career. The silver badge is an upside-down, laurel-leaf wreath surrounding a depiction of the front face of the Tomb. Peace, Victory and Valor are portrayed as Greek figures. The words "Honor Guard" are shown below the Tomb on the badge.

There are three reliefs, each having one relief commander and about six sentinels. The three reliefs are divided by height so that those in each guard change ceremony look similar. The sentinels rotate walks every hour in the winter and at night, and every half-hour in the day during the summer. The Tomb Guard Quarters is staffed using a rotating Kelly system. Each relief has the following schedule: first day on, one day off, second day on, one day off, third day on, four days off. Then, their schedule repeats.

While at the Tomb of the Unknowns we were able to witness the Changing of the Guard Ritual.
The guard is changed every hour on the hour Oct. 1 to March 31 in an elaborate ritual. From April 1 through September 30, there are more than double the opportunities to view the change because another change is added on the half hour and the cemetery closing time moves from 5 to 7 p.m.

An impeccably uniformed relief commander appears on the plaza to announce the Changing of the Guard. Soon the new sentinel leaves the Quarters and unlocks the bolt of his or her M-14 rifle to signal to the relief commander to start the ceremony. The relief commander walks out to the Tomb and salutes, then faces the spectators and asks them to stand and stay silent during the ceremony.

The relief commander conducts a detailed white-glove inspection of the weapon, checking each part of the rifle once. 

Then, the relief commander and the relieving sentinel meet the retiring sentinel at the center of the matted path in front of the Tomb. 

All three salute the Unknowns who have been symbolically given the Medal of Honor. Then the relief commander orders the relieved sentinel, "Pass on your orders." The current sentinel commands, "Post and orders, remain as directed." 
The newly posted sentinel replies, "Orders acknowledged," and steps into position on the black mat. When the relief commander passes by, the new sentinel begins walking at a cadence of 90 steps per minute.

The Tomb Guard marches 21 steps down the black mat behind the Tomb, turns, faces east for 21 seconds, turns and faces north for 21 seconds, then takes 21 steps down the mat and repeats the process. After the turn, the sentinel executes a sharp "shoulder-arms" movement to place the weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors to signify that the sentinel 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.
Duty time when not "walking" is spent in the Tomb Guard Quarters below the Memorial Display Room of the Memorial Amphitheater where they study Cemetery "knowledge," clean their weapons and help the rest of their relief prepare for the Changing of the Guard. The guards also train on their days off.
The Guards of Honor at the Tomb of the Unknowns are highly motivated and are proud to honor all American service members who are "Known But to God."       

Right after the changing of the guard there was a special ceremony for the family of a soldier killed in action.  He was honored by having a wreath placed in front of the tomb.  His family is pictured below.

I admire these men and what they represent so much!

This is the Memorial Amphitheater right next to the Tomb of the Unknowns.

The space shuttle Challenger memorial.  I was in the 5th grade when this happened.  I remember watching it on TV and how sad we were as a nation.

The space shuttle Columbia memorial is right next to the Challenger one.  We were living in Texas at the time this happened (over Texas).

These soldiers were there touring the cemetery also.  My kids were so excited to meet them and the soldiers were so cute as they talked with them.

From here you could see the Washington Monument and the U.S. Capitol building.

When we walked a little further up the path we could also see the Lincoln Memorial building AND the Washington Monument AND the Capitol.  Quite the impressive view!

This is Kennedy's grave alongside an eternal flame in his memory.

Just outside the cemetery is the Iwo Jima Monument.  This was an amazing monument.  The detail on the men's faces is extraordinary.  It really pulls at your heartstrings and makes you proud to be an American.  It was much larger than I had assumed it was in pictures.  I love our country!

From the Iwo Jima Monument we had this view...spectacular.

We left the Iwo Jima Monument, walking back through the cemetery as the sun was going down.  It is so peaceful and beautiful in the shade of these huge trees branching out over the headstones.

From the cemetery we drove to Ben's Chili Bowl in an older area of Washington DC.  It's been around a long time and has a lot of history.  It's kind of in a scary part of town (especially after dark, like we were!).  It was really fun though.  The history is part of what makes it such an experience:

It was the summer of 1958. Eisenhower was president. Federal troops were ordered into Little Rock, Arkansas to aid in the integration of public schools. Explorer I was launched, as was NASA. The first-ever Grammy Awards were given, and Ella Fitzgerald won two of them.

That same year, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. published his first book, Stride Toward Freedom. Griffith Stadium was home to the Washington Senators, and 30% of D.C.'s black population owned homes. Nelson Mandela wed Winnie. And, in 1958, newlyweds Ben and Virginia Ali gave birth to a new enterprise.  Ben’s Chili Bowl was born. It was an exciting time on the U Street corridor, which was then known as "Black Broadway." Top performers could be found playing sets in clubs along the corridor, as well as eating and just "hanging out" at Ben’s. It was not uncommon to see such luminaries as Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx, Dick Gregory, Martin Luther King Jr., Donny Hathaway, Roy Ayers or Bill Cosby at "The Bowl."

In 1968, the assassination of Dr. King lit a fuse of rage. Riots ensued. Most of the city closed down; Ben’s remained open. Stokely Carmichael of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), which was located across the street, obtained special police permission to allow Ben’s to stay open after curfew to provide food and shelter for activists, firefighters and public servants desperately trying to restore order. After the riots, the area was in shambles. Businesses shut down. But there was some glimmer of hope in the neighborhood as the concept of "Black is Beautiful" emerged. Ben’s continued to serve an eclectic crowd of Regulars.

In September of 1985, Bill Cosby --who in fact courted his wife Camille here in the early 60’s--held a national press conference at Ben’s Chili Bowl to celebrate his number one rated The Cosby Show, thrusting Ben’s into the national limelight. Business improved and things were looking up.  Bill Cosby and hundreds of others attended its 45th anniversary in August 2003. Mr. Cosby emceed and Roberta Flack performed at Ben’s 50th anniversary at the Lincoln Theatre in 2008.  And on January 10, 2009, Barack Obama visited and ate lunch at Ben’s just 10 days before his inauguration.  Just recently, President Sarkozy of France and his family had lunch at Ben’s.

Throughout the years, Ben’s has also been blessed with many awards and accolades: In 1999, Councilmember Jim Graham named the alley adjacent to Ben’s 'Ben Ali Way;' Ben and Virginia were inducted into the D.C. Hall of Fame (May 2001); in 2004, Ben’s won the prestigious Gallo of Sonoma 'America's Classics' Restaurant Award from the James Beard Foundation; and in 2008 Mayor Adrian Fenty gave Ben & Virginia Ali the key to the city. Add to these immense press coverage, including segments on CNN , Oprah, Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, CBS Sunday Morning, Good Morning America, PBS, the Food Network, the Today Show, the Travel Channel, Man vs. Food, and stories in Washingtonian, Gourmet, Southern Living, The Washington Post, Politico and The New York Times, Ben’s has become recognized world-wide as the “must go” place to eat when visiting Washington.  Since President Obama came, the line may have gotten longer but the look and feel of Ben’s will never change.

One of the funniest things we saw in this place was a sign in the restaurant that read, "Who eats free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. The Obama Family."  Apparently it used to read, "Who eats free at Ben's: Bill Cosby. No one else."

After dinner we drove to the Washington DC temple.  This temple is so beautiful, but especially so at night.

Another amazing day!

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