Last year, I had a great time at my first major living history event playing baseball and shooting the cannon on Memorial Day. Now at the National Mall, with all our war memorials, the idyllic summer day of barbecue and baseball was replaced with a little more hustle, bustle, pomp, and circumstance.
My day started off like usual, an early train ride into the city with some reading and crossword puzzles, arriving in time to enjoy the cool basement of Survey Lodge before starting the day. Typically, we have our morning briefing before heading out, but with urgency, I was sent with several other rangers a couple minutes early to the World War II Memorial to help run the ceremony just getting ready to begin there.
We cleared the memorial plaza in time to have all the guests seated including actors Gary Sinise and Joe Mantegna and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen. A volunteer arrived just in time with a bottle of water to refresh me, as the heat was starting to rise. After remarks from several of the guests, the event proceeded to the laying of wreaths for each of the branches of service. I had to turn away at least one WWII vet from the area from which I was ordered to exclude the public. I got cussed at a bit, but also got an apology.
After the ceremony, I took a spot down on the plaza just to be on hand for any other emergencies and to look official. I was also hoping the lady who was doing the wreath coordinating - who had borrowed my special Fort Larned pen before the event - would reappear and return my pen. To my relief, she did, and she even picked me out of the crowd to get it back to me.
I had little time to gather my bag and get a chug of water before heading off to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, my assigned duty station for the day. I checked on the various tents in Constitution Gardens, whose permits I had already verified back on Saturday, then took a short break to eat. No time to rest, though, for we had to again clear the area of people, this time so the US Park Police could bring in bomb-sniffing dogs to search the area prior to the ceremony.
At the last minute, we found that we needed an Honor Guard to escort some of the wreaths during the ceremony. Luckily, I had been tipped off to shine my boots ahead of time (for the record, they were already shined!) and had thought something of the sort might occur. Four of us got instructions for where and how to stand, and when we would move. I volunteered to go first, and got to carry the National Park Service wreath into the center of the memorial at the appointed time.
We waited in the shade of a tree while the first few speakers presented. By now the heat was a withering 95 with high humidity. Tolerable, but enough to make a ranger have sweat dripping down his face even while resting in the shade. I was starting to worry about all the people in the seats with the sun beating on them.
At the prescribed time, we moved the wreaths into position ceremoniously, camera shutters clicking all around. One of the guests of honor next to me took my elbow, feeling faint. She soldiered on and we all got through the ceremony without any mishaps.
For everything that went on, I was actually most excited at the sight of a black-crowned night heron flying over WW2 in the morning. I was so excited about that, that by the end of the day, I forgot I had gotten to meet Adm. Mullen way back at the beginning of the day. I figured the heat was getting to me.
All weekend, interesting items were left at the wall. I picked up a few leather biker jackets, among other things. One vet told me a story of a buddy listed on the wall who had grown up with him in a Boys Ranch. He summarized his frustration, "To come through all that, and then get killed over there, damn it." He also had good stories of his own from the war. All part of why I enjoy working there.
On my way out at the end of the day, I rewarded myself with an Italian ice cup from the concession stand. Frozen lemonade never tasted so good.