Thoughts from a visit to our nation’s capitalPublished 9:23am Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Column: Tales from Exit 22
My friend Weasel parked the rental car in downtown Washington, D.C.
Weasel told a man standing nearby, “We’re going to be just a few minutes. Would you watch our car while we run into this store?”
“What?” growled the man. “Do you realize that I’m a Congressman?”
“I didn’t know that,” said Weasel. “But that’s OK. I’ll trust you anyway.”
Weasel and I were visitors to an area that had been hit with disasters — earthquake, hurricane and the reconvening of Congress. When the earthquake hit, some thought Washington had buckled under the weight of its own bureaucracy. Whether it was a Republican or Democratic fault hasn’t been determined.
It was a sad day. Some guy named Bill had just passed. Washington is where elected officials are never too busy to tell you how busy they are. Where integrity is like oxygen. The higher you go, the less there is of it. The word “politics” derives from the word “poly” meaning, “many” and the word “ticks” meaning, “blood sucking parasites.”
I listened to a senator give a stirring speech about the need to raise taxes in order to maintain Social Security and Medicare. The man next to me began to cry. I asked him if he was a retiree.
“No,” he said, “I’m a taxpayer.”
I visited Arlington National Cemetery where the two most common things are hydrogen and bravery. The cemetery is 624 acres that holds the remains of over 320,000 people. There is no need to mourn the future. We have plenty of past for that. The land was inherited by George Washington Parke Custis, the grandson of Martha Washington, who was raised by Martha and her second husband, George. Custis’ daughter Mary Anna married Robert E. Lee. After Lee accepted command of Virginia’s Confederate forces, Union troops occupied the plantation and turned it into a cemetery. Private William Christman of Pennsylvania was the first to be buried there in 1864.
I paused at the Tomb of the Civil War Unknowns, a mass grave housing the remains of 2,111 killed in battle. Approximately 620,000 died during the Civil War. If the Civil War were fought today and the deaths were in the same proportion to the population, 6,300,000 would die. I stopped at the Tomb of the Unknowns that was established in 1921. A sentinel of the Third US Infantry maintains a vigil around the clock.
A guard paces 21 steps, pauses 21 seconds, and repeats. Changing of the guard takes place every half-hour or hour, depending upon the season. The inscription on the sarcophagus reads, “Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.”
The mast of the USS Maine stands at Arlington in honor of the 260 men killed when the ship was sunk off Cuba in 1898. Two presidents are buried at Arlington — John Kennedy, who rests beneath an eternal flame, and William Howard Taft. I visited the grave of Audie Murphy, a World War II hero and the most decorated soldier in U.S. history, who was awarded 33 medals for valor including the Medal of Honor and became a movie star.
I stopped at Johnny Clem’s grave. He was a 10-year-old Civil War drummer boy who attained the rank of sergeant by the age of 12. There are about 28 funerals a day at Arlington. The flag at Arlington flies at half-mast 30 minutes before the first funeral until 30 minutes after the last funeral each day.
I’d heard that there were six soldiers and 13 hands on the Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima Memorial). My father-in-law was a Marine on Iwo Jima, but I could count only 12 hands.
I visited Ford’s Theatre where Lincoln was shot and the poignant Pentagon Memorial honoring those killed on 9/11. I walked by a reflecting pool and wondered if it had stayed in school or worked harder, if it could have become a lake. The National Archives houses the US Constitution. The Bureau of Engraving and Printing prints 37 million bills each day.
The largest bill ever printed was for $100,000 in 1934-35. A $1 bill has an average lifespan of 42 months and a $5 bill 16 months. Frances Perkins was Secretary of Labor from 1933 to 1945. She was the woman who was in labor for the longest time.
I read some bad news in a newspaper. A poll said that the majority believes the economy is moving in the wrong direction.
The good news is that the price of gas is so high it will never get there.
Hartland resident Al Batt’s column appears every Wednesday.