Sunday, January 6, 2013

Washington DC Winter Break 2012

During winter vacation from school, my family decided to take a road trip.  After a lot of brainstorming about where we should go, I thought that it would be  interesting to visit Washington D.C.  I had been to Washington D.C. only once before when I was much younger, so I knew this would be the perfect spot for site seeing and history.

After a several hour ride, we arrived to the city as the sun was setting.  We checked into the Willard InterContinental Hotel which was located on Pennsylvania Avenue, the same street as the White House.  The Willard has a pretty distinguished history. It was host to almost every president since Franklin Pierce (1853).

Abraham Lincoln stayed at The Willard a few days before his inauguration.  A little known fact is that previous to his assassination at the Ford Theater, Lincoln was the target of an earlier assassination plot. In an effort to protect him from this  first attempt, he was smuggled into the Willard Hotel.

Sheva Apelbaum Willard InterContinental Hotel
The Willard Hotel Lobby

Interestingly enough, the term “lobbyist” originated at the Willard hotel as well and is attributed to president Grant.  The terms is traced to the regulars who frequented the hotel.  Grant would come over to smoke cigars by the fireplace and used to get annoyed by the unending crowds of people hanging around the lobby attempting to talk to him and influence him.   Some of the other distinguished Willard visitors included Charles Dickens and  Emily Dickenson.

Once settled in, we set out to explore the town and our first stop was the National Archives. I especially wanted to see the National Archives because it is there that the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are kept.  There we also found several interesting exhibits including one about the Cuban missile crisis and another highlighting American Presidents.

In one alcove, there was a display outlining how documents are preserved and stored with several actual letters displayed on the walls. One in particular was especially fascinating, it was a letter from the then 12 year old Fidel Castro written to President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. In it, Castro apologized a few times for his poor English and then asked Roosevelt to send him a ten dollar bill, “green American”, because he had never seen such a bill before. We got a good chuckle out of that (and we’re guessing Castro has since had a chance to even handle one or two)!

Sheva Apelbaum National Archives Building
National Archive Building

Sheva Apelbaum National Archives Hall
Rotunda for the Charters of Freedom

Then finally we came upon what I had been so anxious see. In a dark, domed ceiling rotunda designed to allow for maximum preservation and security, there sat the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Each had been placed in special glass top viewing boxes.  The physical Declaration of Independence in particular was very familiar to me as I’ve been working to memorize it over the past year.  I was shocked to see that the actual document itself was so faded that it was difficult to read. Of all of the signatures at the bottom of the document, it was only John Hancock’s which I could make out with any certainty. This makes a lot of sense, as Hancock had signed his name right in the middle at the top of the signatures and  in larger and darker letters than all of the rest of the signers. The size and flamboyance of his signature here is the reason why we use the term “John Hancock” in common parlance to refer to a person’s signature.

On the way out, I also discovered that the Archives has an real copy of the Magna Carta (on of only four surviving copies), England’s 13th century predecessor to our Constitution.


The Magna Carta

Next on the agenda – Capitol Hill. I always wanted to go to there to sit in and listen to Congress and Senate sessions.  Well, this was my lucky day!  It just happens that both were in sessions and because of the proximately to Christmas, there were almost no visitors on site, so we managed to get in.

Sheva Apelbaum Congress Pass
Entry ticket to Congress

Sheva Apelbaum Senate Pass
Entry ticket to the Senate

The particular Congress session turned out to be a pro forma session so there was no voting or debating, but it was still so amazing to witness a congressional session. The Senate session, on the other hand, was much more productive. While we were there, they debated the extension of the FISA bill.  Some senators argued that it was important to extend the bill to allow the various intelligence agencies to do their work effectively; others argued that without the proper checks and balances, the NSA could potentially spy on American citizens without court warrants. I got to hear both sides of the argument, which I found fascinating. The senators were compelling, articulate, and persuasive.  Also during the session, we got to see vice president Joseph Biden and senator Brian Schatz, a new Senator from Hawaii, who was just sworn into Senate.

Sheva Apelbaum Capital Building
Capital building

Sheva Apelbaum Congress House Sheva Apelbaum Senate House
The Senate and Congress chambers

Sheva Apelbaum Senate Seating Arrangements 2012
Seating arrangements for the Senate chamber

On the last night in Washington D.C, we visited the Lincoln Memorial.  It was a cold, clear evening and we walked there from Capitol Hill.  It is hard to describe this beautiful structure.  The colossal and majestic statue of Lincoln, one of the most influential people in American History, towered authoritatively over us.

Sheva Apelbaum Lincoln Memorial 1 The Lincoln Memorial

Sheva Apelbaum Lincoln Memorial 2  Lincoln Statue

Standing inside the colonnade, I looked directly across the mall and saw the Washington Monument.  It was a white and tall structure that rose magnificently over the dark moonlit sky. The view was breathtaking!

Sheva Apelbaum the Washington Needle
The Washington Monument

On the last day in Washington, we decided to stop at Arlington National Cemetery to visit the tomb of the Unknown soldier.  On the way there, my dad took us to a tomb of a “Friend” and a personal hero of his, Orde Wingate. Wingate was a Major-General  in the British Army who with his friend, General Joseph Stillwell—(the author of the Peanut poem), pioneered the long range penetration, jungle warfare, and commando tactics. 

Wingate was killed along with eight other crew members when their B25 crashed during a storm into a mountainside in present day Manipur, India. All nine men were originally buried in India, but all were eventually exhumed and brought to Arlington where they are buried together in a collective grave.

Sheva Apelbaum Orde Charles Wingate Tomb
Orde Wingate’s tomb

I was puzzled by the fact that there were two civilians on the flight.  My dad didn’t know who they were, but suggested that I do some research to find out.  After digging around for a while, I discovered that the two civilians were war correspondents who had been covering allied operations in Burma. 

The crew and passengers were:

  1. Orde Charles Wingate – Major General, DSO (British Army
  2. George Henry Borrow – Captain, British Army (Aide-de-camp to Major-General Wingate)
  3. Stuart Emeny – British Civilian (War correspondents of the London News-Chronicle)
  4. Stanly Willis – British Civilian (War correspondents of the London Daily Herald)
  5. James Walton Hickey – Technical Sargent, Air Corps (Radio-Gunner)
  6. Brian Floyd Hodges – 1st Lieutenant, Air Corps (B25 Pilot)
  7. Stephan Albert Wanderer – 2nd Lieutenant, Air Corps (B25 Copilot)
  8. Vernon A McIninch – Staff Sargent, Air Corps (Aerial Gunner)
  9. Frank Sadoski – Technical Sargent, Air Corps (Engineer-Gunner)

The last stop before hitting the road back home was the Tomb of the Unknown.  The Tomb of the Unknown is guarded 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.  Weather doesn’t stop the guards from their duties—we heard that even during the recent hurricane Sandy, the guards remained at their post.

While watching the ceremony of the changing of the guards, there was a fly-over of four F18 Hornets.  They weren’t related to the actual guard ceremony, rather they flew in honor of a US Navy Admiral who was buried earlier that day.  They appeared out of nowhere and cruised over us.  They were sleek and beautiful; then, one of them broke formation and gracefully claimed straight up.  I felt their engines roar and just as suddenly as they had appeared, they were gone. (I’ve got to find a way to ride one of these beauties!)

On the way home I thought about all the great sites we visited and how amazing it was to witness first hand the legislative process in action.  And all this, just a few hours away from home! Who said that you need to fly to the other side of the world to have fun?

Sources:
C.B.I Roundup Vol. II No. 30 Reg. No. L5015 Delhi, Thursday April 6, 1944.
SEAC Souvenir, The Service’s newspaper of South East Asia Command.

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