"Liberty's too precious a thing to be buried in books, Miss Saunders. Men should hold it up in front of them every single day of their lives and say: I'm free to think and to speak. My ancestors couldn't, I can, and my children will. Boys ought to grow up remembering that" ~ Jefferson Smith, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, 1939.
Nothing, and I do mean nothing, is more fun than an expedition to Washington, D.C., in the dead of winter with one hundred eighth graders. Especially Florida eighth graders not used to sub freezing temperatures, snow and ice on the ground. The Potomac River froze over and we were there to see it. Does it get any better than this?
From the halls of the Capitol....
......to the stacks at the Library of Congress, from the feet of ‘Honest Abe’......
....to the Thomas Jefferson Memorial (modeled after the Pantheon of Rome), we traversed the streets of this great city soaking in the sights and sounds.
What could go wrong, did go wrong, and went wrong more than once. Buses breaking down, buses stuck in the snow, reservations lost, appointments missed, engagements cancelled, activities rescheduled, fevers, vomiting, fainting in the White House.
Through it all our fearless leader, Miss Chessum, history teacher extraordinaire, sallied forth and carried on. It was through her courage and perseverance we survived the week, intact.
Miss Chessum and some of her boys
Not to say giving up didn’t cross our minds, it did. On the day we visited Arlington Cemetery and participated in the wreath ceremony, there were moments I felt I could not go on. The water in my water bottle turned to slush and my feet ceased to exist. My fingers tingled and my face was raw, but still we pressed on. Our doggedness was honored by our group being able to witness a special wreath laying ceremony, complete with cannon fire, military honor guard and band. What a wonderful experience!
The Army puts on a good show.
Am I happy I went? You bet. The journey was an amazing, challenging, thought provoking experience. Once again I was reminded of how much I love this great country, its history, its achievements, its faults, its failures. I am reminded our forefathers were people just like you and me – human beings with feet of clay who made mistakes, but carried on, never giving up and never giving in.
My girls at Iwo Jima, the first day of snow.
Daron sees her reflection in the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial.
My dear Heidi, since Daron and I made hundreds of pictures, this could go on and on, but I won't bore you, only leave you with one final thought. From the Vietnam Veterans War Memorial, which never ceases to amaze me, the words of a soldier imploring us to never forget the sacrifices it took to make this country what it is today, flaws and all. Not just the brave soldiers who lost their lives in Vietnam, but all soldiers, men and women, from all wars, who have gone on before us.
"If you are able, save for them a place inside of you and save one backward glance when you are leaving for the places they can no longer go.
Be not ashamed to say you loved them, though you may or may not have always. Take what they have taught you with their dying and keep it with your own.
And in that time when men decide and feel safe to call the war insane, take one moment to embrace those gentle heroes you left behind. "
Major Michael Davis O'Donnell
January 1, 1970
Dak To, Vietnam
Listed as KIA February 7, 1978
Come home soon, Heidi, we miss you.