Touching the monuments


Pat Haley


Washington D.C. on the Fourth of July; Sitting in a hotel room in Washington, D.C.; Looking out the window at the miles of history.

The Statler Brothers song aptly describes Washington, D.C. for me.

Our latest adventure began six years ago. Grandson Jack was just 5 years old at the time and like most young children he was uninhibited and liked to be comfortable.

One of his favorite things to do was to sit on my lap and watch Amtrak videos on YouTube. Still, it was a surprise when he walked into the room, wearing only a pair of underwear briefs, hopped up on my lap, crossed his legs, leaned back and said, “Let’s watch Amtrak, Grandpa!”

Seeing his heartfelt enjoyment of trains, and his fascination with Washington, D.C., I said, “Jack, when you turn 11 years old we will go to D.C. on Amtrak.”

Although six years seemed like a long time away, the time flew. This past January Jack turned 11, and has grown into a young man.

After a family conference, we decided this was the year for the long-anticipated trip. We picked the two weeks before the Fourth of July because we wanted Jack to see as many patriotic sites as possible.

We traveled through the mountains of West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland before Brenda, Jack and I arrived at the long-awaited train depot in Alexandria, Va. We sat down to await the constant flow of trains to begin.

We weren’t disappointed. Every nine to 10 minutes a passenger train or freight train would rumble into the station headed for parts unknown.

We then headed off to visit the sites in nearby Washington, D.C. This was Jack’s first trip to our nation’s capital. We saw the Lincoln, Jefferson and Washington monuments, and the Capital before we made our way through the city traffic to see the White House.

Statues and monuments just waiting there for me; Got lost seven times on Pennsylvania Avenue.

Outside the gates of Arlington Cemetery was the United States Marine Corps War Memorial. Jack was moved by the story of Iwo Jima and what happened there.

A few minutes later, we entered the grounds of Arlington Cemetery. We were all silent as we climbed the hill and saw the military guards walking ever so solemnly and slowly protecting the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

“Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God” is an inscription we saw and will long remember.

The next morning we got up very early. We were fortunate to visit the FBI Academy in Quantico, Va. Jack even put Vitalis hair tonic in his hair before combing and parting it.

Jack was beyond excited for the day-long tour. We toured Hogan’s Alley at the Academy where agents undergo intense training to deal with hostage and terrorism threats.

When we arrived at the academy, we learned that Congressman Steve Scalise, along with a congressional staffer, a lobbyist and a member of the Capitol police force, were shot at a park only a few blocks from our hotel while practicing for a congressional baseball game.

Our long-awaited Amtrak adventure was not without controversy. We arrived at the Staunton, Va. depot and learned the northbound train was running six minutes early.

We were sitting on a bench counting down the minutes when we saw a white repair pick-up truck on the rails rounding the corner. As it arrived in front of us it derailed. Both wheels came off the tracks. The derailment stopped all rail traffic for over an hour.

Fortunately, another work crew arrived and they were able to clear the track. Jack and I boarded the train and soon were on our way to Charlottesville.

We were taking our cherished Amtrak trip. I can still hear Jack laughing as we crossed the meadows, climbed the mountains and slipped through the tunnels.

Traveling with an 11-year-old boy is interesting. He sees things differently.

“I hope no one drops a match inside there,” he observed as we passed the Coal House in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va. “It will burn for weeks.”

We then headed to Pennsylvania where we took a short hike on the Appalachian Trail. We then picnicked at Caledonia State Park halfway between Gettysburg and Chambersburg.

We walked across a dam in Cashtown, Pa., just across from the Cashtown Inn. They say the inn is haunted. Jack said he saw three ghosts.

In Gettysburg we saw the high-water mark. Jack took off his hat and came to attention when the National Anthem was played.

We saw where Lincoln arrived at the train station, where he slept, and the spot where he delivered the Gettysburg Address.

We ate at the Lincoln Diner where two elderly waitresses smiled and said Jack was a nice-looking boy.

In Chambersburg, we visited a candy store, and an antique shop where Jack bought his dad a Bugs Bunny glass for Father’s Day.

Our trip together was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, one none of us will ever forget.

It is safe to say we touched the monuments and they touched us.

Pat Haley is a Clinton County commissioner.

Pat Haley
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