Civil Air Patrol. It's my dad's career. He was a cadet as a child and has spent most of his adult life involved in one way or another. My nephew joined as early as he could and Simon has since joined the ranks. I wasn't entirely convinced that it's not just a gigantic waste of time on Monday evenings. Until now...
They had the opportunity to be involved in the Wreaths Across America at Arlington National Cemetery. Their squadron chose not to participate in favor of a local 5K. Hm, a local race that they have every other minute? Or a nationally recognized event in which they'd have a chance to serve in AMAZING ways and meet the National Commander?
So I drove them. They were supposed to be there at 5. "A.M.?" I asked. It's a 3 hour drive. We got there at 9 and I was feeling pretty generous about that. One Senior member made a snarky remark about us being a "day late and a dollar short." I wanted to punch him in the face a little bit. As it turns out, being late worked in our favor.
Aside from the fact that it took us 45 minutes to get on base and find a parking spot...
I knew Arlington was big, but I had no idea it was this big. 400,000 graves! I got one good look and couldn't hold the tears back.
There were probably...50+ big rigs full of wreaths, parked throughout the cemetery. Anybody could place wreaths. The lines were 100 deep at each truck. SO MANY PEOPLE. They hand out the wreaths two at a time and ask you to stay in certain areas to make sure each headstone gets a wreath. It was pretty amazing. The trucks were empty within an hour.
After placing my wreaths and taking a bazillion pictures, I decided to head to Georgetown for some Christmas shopping as the boys were still tied up with CAP stuff. My nephew and Simon were part of communications. My nephew is something special with his HAM radio skills, so this was right up his alley. He and Simon were both communicating with and directing the tractor trailers. Pretty cool.
Once I got back from a mad dash around Georgetown, the boys and I wandered around Arlington a bit more.
I mean, really. Tears and tears and tears.
& a few more tears. All those soldiers. And the fact that the boys were so reverent without my having to tell them to be. They grasp the heaviness of Arlington. Something about 400,000 reminders of your own mortality has a way of humbling most.
We wound up at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
We were able to see two changing of the guard ceremonies. The third one is what we'd been waiting for. The National Commander of the Civil Air Patrol was to place a wreath. We hadn't been sure the event was even still on because we didn't see many cadets. Isaac spied the Commander in the crowd and realized it was still a go. How do you know a kid is super involved in CAP? He's able to pick the top dog out of a crowd.
So we got our spot at the rail and waited. One small group of cadets had just moved to get a better view of the ceremony. Not five minutes later, Isaac heard someone whispering, "Psst! Hey, Cadet!" They plucked Isaac and Simon from the crowd. We were all shocked. A woman came up to me, "Was that planned?" I replied, "No, but that guy just made their entire lives!"
Not only did they get to hold the door for their Regional Commander and National Commander, they were invited to the Sentinel's Quarters and given a tour! They got to speak to one of the Sentinels and ask him questions. Talk about geeking out. I was so stinking excited for them. It was the biggest deal.
I didn't get a picture of them with the National Commander, but I did get one of them with this guy. I think he's the Regional Commander? He walked with us back to our car and we got to chat it up quite a bit. He knows my dad. I didn't know my dad was such a big deal. :) According to my nephew, "Anybody who is anybody knows Grandpa." Well then!
What an amazing amazing day. I am so glad we went. And I'm even more glad that Sean kept the others here so I could focus on these two guys. Going places with teenagers is so much easier than going places with wild banshee toddlers. The people who attempted to bring toddlers to the Tomb...crazy! Even worse, the people who brought their dogs into Arlington. I personally saw two dogs crap on graves. Apparently they don't usually allow animals in. I'd say that's a good rule. What could be more disrespectful? The dogs were just being dogs, but shame on their owners.
If you're ever in DC, make it a point to go to Arlington. We never went when we lived here, so I'm glad we had the opportunity. My heart if full, my patriotism is way up there. What a day!