Washington D.C. 2023
Hello from DC on the 79th anniversary of D-Day. Prior to the invasion of Normandy, General Dwight D. Eisenhower gave a famous speech in which he told the troops, “The eyes of the world are upon you.”
Similarly, each morning we tell your kids before we head out to the sites, “The eyes of your teachers are upon you.”
Like with other major US events, a speech was written in the event of a worst case scenario. In this speech that luckily never had to be given, Eisenhower wrote, “My decision to attack at this time and place was based upon the best information available. The troops, the air, and the Navy did all that Bravery and devotion to duty could do. If any blame or fault attaches to the attempt it is mine alone.”
From what I understand, Ms Reimann also has an email ready to send in case your kids get maniacally hopped-up on too much sugar and hijack the tour from the chaperones! We’re just kidding, of course, your kids are lovely young people who would never do such a thing. We are worried about their sugar consumption at times, though.
After a hearty breakfast, our first stop of the day was the Air Force Memorial. The spires of the memorial reach over 400 feet into the sky and look quite impressive, towering over the city beneath them. The spires take on the shape of the contrails in a “bomb burst” maneuver, the specialty of the Thunderbird demonstration squadron, only the fourth contrail isn’t present to symbolize a missing pilot, the reason for the memorial’s construction and a maneuver sometimes performed at funerals.
The Air Force Memorial overlooks the Pentagon, and students were able to see where one of the hijacked planes crashed into it on 9/11, our last stop this evening, which provides a nice bookend for the day.
Last year, Mr Brannan decided it would be fun to tell the students the memorial was built for Goose from Top Gun. Most of last year’s kiddos readily believed that fib. This year’s class was more discerning. Perhaps they paid more attention during his lessons about disinformation . . . or maybe they just have less trust in what he tells them. He’s taking it as a win either way. He is a source of information after all and shouldn’t be the only one they rely on for what is and isn’t a fact.
We then made our way to Arlington National Cemetery, which holds a profound significance as the final resting place for over 440,000 military veterans and their families, including notable figures such as President John F. Kennedy and other prominent public servants. As students walked among the rows of meticulously maintained tombstones, they were enveloped in an atmosphere of solemnity and reverence. A few gunshot salutes rang through the air, reminding everyone that Arlington remains an active burial ground. There are roughly 28 burials performed there each weekday.
During our time at Arlington, we had the special opportunity for both Josh and Jackson to see their great-grandfather’s and grandfather’s tombs, respectively. Both were very excited and were walking ahead of Mr Young. Little did the three know that this was going to be a mile hike to the tombstones, a two-mile hike uphill the whole way back to the groups which would take an hour and change to walk. As we made it to the first site, we were able to find Josh’s great-grandfather. We paid our respects, and it was an emotional moment for all three of us, particularly for Josh. Jackson and Mr Young then left Josh to have a moment while we sought the grave of Jackson’s grandfather. After initially searching in the wrong section, we were able to find his tombstone as well, which triggered another understandably emotional moment. As we all met up at Jackson’s grandfather’s gravesite, we were able to see a color guard preparing for a funeral that was happening shortly. Many questions then flew from Josh and Jackson: “What are the guns for?” “Why is that other guy just standing there?” “Can we stay and watch the 21-gun salute?” After Mr Young answered a few, we started our long hike uphill to find our workshop group.
Partway through our tour of Arlington, Mr Brannan pulled aside Christian, Jessica, Maya Kate, and Levi to head to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and check in with the elite Sentinels of the 3rd Infantry US Regiment. When they arrived at the check-in location to receive their instructions, they saw a stern-faced guard with a rifle on his shoulder rhythmically and ceremonially walk past them and into the guard room.
Uh oh, he looks intimidating, was clearly the first thought that popped into their minds, as Mr Brannan noticed their nervous chatter turned to complete silence. Once they met the guard, however, they found him very nice and friendly. He walked them through the ceremony and chatted with them about their visit to DC. After the ceremony, the guard disappeared back into his room. The kids even heard laughter and then another guard arrived with takeaway food, which they found amusing. This must’ve been the moment they realized those elite Sentinels are just regular people, too.
By the way, the ceremony went flawlessly. Levi, Jessica, Christian, and Maya Kate were wonderful representatives of WNS, and we couldn’t be prouder of them.
Here are our wreath layers’ thoughts on being part of the ceremony:
Christian— I was very happy to be able to try a new, really cool experience with this laying of the wreath. I didn’t really know what to expect going into this, but I had a lot of fun, and I’m glad that I was chosen for this.
Jessica— It was fun. I was a little bit nervous. I’m really happy I got the honor to do it, and it’s something I’ll never get to do again, a surreal, unique experience.
Levi— It was really cool getting to do something only a few people have done, like government officials and dignitaries. I was also proud to represent the Boy Scouts.
Maya Kate— I was honored to have been chosen for this opportunity to represent WNS during the Wreath Laying Ceremony.
Here are a few thoughts from their classmates who watched the ceremony:
Ché Thomas— That was really cool and powerful. We are super lucky to have been able to have them do that.
Ronan & Max— We were proud to promote the Boy Scouts by wearing our uniforms.
After Arlington, we headed to U Street to eat at the historic Ben’s Chili Bowl. Mr Zacuto told the new chaperones to prepare themselves to have their taste buds ignited and senses tantalized. As the students settled in in the back of the restaurant, they eagerly indulged in fries with chili and cheese available for their dipping pleasures. And the choices! Oh, the choices! They delighted in selecting either a sizzling half smoke or a juicy, flame-grilled burger, each bite bursting with succulent satisfaction.
But Ben’s Chili Bowl is more than just a place to satisfy our cravings; it is a hallowed ground steeped in historical significance. The air buzzed with intriguing stories as we learned about the pivotal role this iconic eatery played in the community and throughout the years. From the shadows of the past, we were transported to the moments that defined a generation—the haunting echoes of MLK’s assassination and the powerful movement of #dontmuteDC.
Arriving at the Smithsonians, the students were given four options from which to choose. The National Museum of American History (chaperoned by Ms Reimann), the National Museum of the American Indian (with Mr Brannan), the National Museum of Natural History (with Mr Young), and the National Gallery of Art (with Ms Youngblood and Mr Shipley). The overwhelming choice by students was to explore the Natural History Museum. A few students went to the Art Museum. A handful went to the American History Museum. And no student chose to explore the Museum of the American Indian.
The moment Mr Brannan found out no student would be joining him, we’re pretty sure we saw him starting to cry. Was he sad? Was he happy? We don’t know. He ran off to the Museum of the American Indian all alone before anyone could confirm. (It’s a great museum by the way and very quiet and peaceful there based on his experience this afternoon.)
After the Smithsonian exploration, we were off to Georgetown, where the kids were allowed to explore the neighborhood in groups without their chaperones. This was an opportunity for them to get some dinner as well. Surprisingly, we saw a few kids choosing to eat salads, though the majority still opted for pizza and ice cream.
Finley’s brother also made the effort to meet her after work in Georgetown. He offered to show her around and take her to a local eating establishment. She chose Chipotle.
At the end of our Georgetown experience, we met in Georgetown Waterfront Park to celebrate Gigi’s birthday! Ms Reimann and Ms Youngblood made a run to Georgetown Cupcake and we sang happy birthday by the Potomac before chowing down on a wonderful assortment of cupcakes.
Next we hopped on the bus and headed out to visit a few monuments as the sun set over DC.
At the Einstein Memorial, the students were absolutely buzzing with excitement as they eagerly clambered onto the statue of the great Einstein himself. We couldn’t resist capturing the perfect picture to forever immortalize this incredible moment. Moving on, our adventure led us to the solemn yet awe-inspiring Pentagon 9/11 Memorial. As we approached, Gavin George, with a beaming smile on his face, was welcomed by his loving grandfather, making the experience even more poignant. The students, filled with a mixture of reverence and deep respect, gazed upon the mighty Pentagon, a symbol of resilience in the face of adversity.
Students throughout our time in DC have been very observant. Finley today shouted out, “I didn’t know there were state names on the top!” of the Lincoln Memorial. Then, Mr. Young posed a question: “Finley! Do you know why the states are separated into two tiers?” This started a heated guessing game. Agustya said, “Isn’t it separated by the states that were colonies and those that were not.” Dillon guessed, “Northern States and southern states” after some help from Mr. Brannan and our CloseUp guide. The students finally came up with the states that were part of the Union before the Civil War and after the Civil War.
After a long day, we made it back to our hotel and debriefed all the cool things we saw throughout the day. We also previewed our next day, where we unfortunately had to break some bad news. We received word from the Capitol that our tour had to be canceled due to a last-minute, important event. During the afternoon, Mr Brannan and the CloseUp staff scrambled to try to find a way to adjust the schedule in order to find a workaround, but nothing could be done. So, while that’s a bummer, we’re still excited to go to the steps of Congress tomorrow to meet with a Congressional representative and tour the Capitol Visitor Center Museum.
After lunch, we’ll participate in a Community Action Seminar where the students will connect with a local Youth Service Activist, then to the National Archives to see some of our Nation’s founding documents, and then we’ll round out the day with a baseball game at Nationals Park!
Your 8th grade chaperones