Lest we forget!

Trip Start Sep 20, 2007
Trip End May 16, 2008

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Flag of United States  , District of Columbia
Sunday, November 11, 2007

Today I went to the Arlington National Cemetery for Veteran's Day Ceremonies. I had to switch subway trains...which I did without any problems. Arriving at the Arlington Visitor Center, we then had to take a shuttle to the amphitheatre. Then security screening. More metal detectors and bag screenings. Get that done and was just walking to the amphitheatre when we are all told to stop. Nobody moves. I'm at the front of the line and hear what's going on from the Marine Officer's radio. The Vice-President will be arriving soon and so all movement is forbidden. Cars and people cannot move. We wait for 15 minutes. During this time we hear 3 cannons firing off shots indicating the VP has arrived. A few of us are finally allowed to go to the amphitheatre to find seats. The amphitheatre is full. There are other people at the Tomb of the unknown soldier for the wreath laying ceremony with the Vice-President. Finally the VP arrives in his seat in the amphitheatre.

They begin with the Marching in of the Colours. There is a prayer for the Veterans, the Pledge of Allegiance and then an Introduction of Guests. We hear from the guest speaker, the Vice-President of the United States, and then all is over with the Retiring of the Colours.
What did I think of all this? I felt odd, being one of the few people not saying the pledge of allegiance or singing the National Anthem. But what I found was a complete lack of emotion, true emotion. It seemed like some kind of Hollywood production instead of a solemn ceremony. It's a big "show" for security reasons with the VP. The introduction of guests lasted longer than any actual acknowledgment of the sacrifices of those who fought and died in any war. The feeling I had was that this was only done so that everyone can feel good that they did something and that the "right" people got acknowledged. The speeches lacked "soul". I spent a lot of time observing the crowd and I couldn't get a feel for why these people had actually come.
Once that was over, I walked over to the Tomb of the Unknown soldier. There, a sentinel of the Third U.S. Infantry maintains a vigil around the clock. 21 steps down the mat before the tomb, pauses 21 seconds, and returns. The changing of the guard takes place every hour. There was a crowd there. But most of the people had rushed back to the shuttle buses to get whisked back to the Visitor Center. Their duty done for another year. My expectations were shattered. I expected so much more from a country that prides itself in being "Proud to be an American".
I've attended numerous Remembrance Day Ceremonies in the past few years since Nicholas joined the Air Cadet Program. These ceremonies, with all the Veterans participating, would bring tears to my eyes, and I believe, to most of the individuals in attendance. Maybe I just ended up at the wrong ceremony. I do know that there were numerous ceremonies on the Mall in downtown Washington at the various war memorials. After doing some research I also found out about the American Memorial Day. This day is a celebrated for the war dead. Maybe there is a difference in the observance of these 2 days that has been merged together in Canada and is observed separately in the U.S. that I am missing.
"We must remember. If we do not, the sacrifice of those one hundred thousand Canadian lives will be meaningless. They died for us, for their homes and families and friends, for a collection of traditions they cherished and a future they believed in; they died for Canada. The meaning of their sacrifice rests with our collective national consciousness; our future is their monument."
-Heather Robertson, A Terrible Beauty, The Art of Canada at War, Toronto, Lorimer, 1977
They say that money can't buy happiness. Money also can't buy passion. When it comes to the Canadian Military, they have a lot of passion because over the years they have had to make do with little money. It takes a lot of passion and dedication to be number one in the world. Last week I received a copy of an article written by a British journalist. It was a tribute to Canada for its accomplishments on the World stage, past and present. Canadians have a difficult time beating their chests heralding their accomplishments. I have 2 stories that should have been front page news when they happened.
Story #1. At the end of September I mentioned I had gone to Kingston to visit my son Nicholas at the Royal Military College. Being in his first year there, the rite of passage is participating in the First Year Obstacle course. What I hadn't mentioned at that time was that there is a Military College Obstacle Course Competition, called The Sandhurst Military Skills Competition. Here, 9 cadet teams compete against teams from various US military academies, Great Britain and other countries at a course at West Point Military Academy. Last year there were 39 teams, 32 of them from the U.S.. The Team from Canada's Royal Military College has come in FIRST place the past 3 years.
Story #2. A few years back I was working with a co-worker with a military background. He was in the Army in the bomb disposal unit. He was stationed with an Air Force unit. He was telling me about a competition that was held for Military Pilots to test their skills. I did some research and found out that this was the William Tell Air to Air competition that started over 50 years ago. I wasn't able to get much information about this competition, but did find out that in 1996 Canada's one team competed against the US's top 6 teams. Canada took top spot in 6 of 11 categories and was able to take the top spot in the Overall competition. My co-worker was there. He told me a story how they had to clean sand out from the jets air intakes because the Canadian pilots flew so low during the competition...at an altitude the US pilots wouldn't dare try.
The Canadian Government budgets approximately $16 billion to the military. The US budget is $626 billion. Almost 40 times greater. The US has the best military equipment that money can buy. Canada makes do with second hand equipment. My point isn't to compare military capabilities but to show what heart, passion, dedication and hard work can do. If our Canadian Military can do what it does on the World stage, and succeed, think of what each and every one of us can do in our personal lives. A lot of people use a million different excuses that they can't do something. We hear all the time stories of people who have overcome obstacles to win, to get what they want, to succeed. Today I just wanted to acknowledge what our Canadian Military has done.
After that tangent, back to my Veteran's Day. I wandered around Arlington Cemetery for a while. The cemetery was established during the American Civil War and now has almost 300,000 buried. You will also find the ancestral home of Robert E. Lee, whose property was taken by the government of the day to establish the cemetery. From the Cemetery I walked to the Washington Mall. In effect walking from Virginia to Washington. Having visited the Mall in July with Alexis, there wasn't  much more that I wanted to see. I passed by the Second World War Memorial and the Washington Monument. I visited the original Smithsonian Museum which is called "The Castle". I then made my way back to the Air & Space Museum to take some pictures before grabbing the Metrorail train back to the campground. Another long day with lots of walking.
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