Friday, June 15, 2007

Finally... I write about DC!!!!

Finally, i was able to get *some* of my thoughts down on paper about this incredible PGR mission. I am sort of cheating tho - I am basing this post on excerpts of the letter I wrote to all my adopted soldiers/veterans about this trip. (why re-invent the wheel and re-write something I already wrote? hehe) Anyway, this is just a tiny fraction of my thoughts & feeligns & experiences on this trip. The letter below references pictures that I inserted into the letter... for this post, I've put clickable links to the pictures I referenced. You can see ALL the pictures in my photobucket album, HERE. :) Without further ado, here is my feeble attempt at a recap of this incredible journey.

....You might remember I told you a while back that hubby and I were going to Washington, DC, with the Patriot Guard Riders to be present at the funeral of an American soldier (Capt. Herbert C. Crosby) who went missing in VietNam on 10 January 1970. His remains were found and positively identified thru DNA in November of 2006, and he was finally buried at Arlington on 25 May 2007…. 37 years after he was lost. They determined that he was killed when his chopper crashed (though they are not sure if it went down due to the terrible weather conditions or due to enemy fire)… this was a relief to his surviving family, finally knowing that he was never taken as a Prisoner of War, and likely didn’t suffer much. Anyway, we left on the morning of May 22.

The journey would be broken up into two days: Day 1 would be driving to Florence, SC, and stopping for the night, and Day 2 would be driving the rest of the way to DC. J There were two cars and 15 motorcycles… a total of 22 people made this amazing journey to honor Capt. Crosby. The group determined that we would stop every 100 miles or so to fuel up, etc (about every 2 hours, roughly). According to mapquest, it is about a 4 hour trip from our starting point to Florence, SC, where we would stop for the night. It took us about six hours with all the frequent stops, but that’s ok… we all got there safe & sound in one piece. J We stayed in SC for the night, hung out at the hotel pool for a while before going out to dinner at a yummy all-you-can-eat buffet near the hotel.

The next morning we got up bright and early (ugh!) to hit the road again. This time, we’d go straight thru to DC (according to mapquest, it was about another 6 hours from there to DC, but this time I wasn’t paying attention to how long it was taking to get there, haha!).

We arrived in Rosslyn, Virginia (where our hotel was, very near DC) sometime on 5/23, safe & sound again (whew! Driving with motorcycles is an ADVENTURE, for sure… don’t ask how many near-heart attacks we in the cars had, watching OTHER cars drive way too carelessly around our bikers!!! ACK!!! :-o ). I have to admit getting a kick out of some of the looks on the other (proper, business-suited) hotel guests’ faces when they saw a bunch of jeans-and-leather-clad folks come in to register, hehehe… really, y’all…we’re harmless, honest! J hehehehe J (I found out the day I got brave enough to join the PGR that just because some of them might LOOK really scary or intimidating…doesn’t mean they don’t have hearts of gold hidden under all that leather somewhere J .)

Anyway, we got to the hotel, and once we were all settled, we commenced with some sight-seeing. The very first stop was, of course, the VietNam Memorial Wall.

If you’ve never been there… it’s an awe-inspiring, amazing sight, and very, very deeply touching, too. I went to the Wall in 1995, very briefly. I remember being amazed by it’s sheer size and what it represents…if I remember right, over 58,000 names of fallen or POW/MIA soldiers are inscribed there. But in 1995, I didn’t actually know any soldiers at all. I didn’t actually know any VietNam veterans at all. So this time, 12 years later, I saw the Wall with new eyes… see, this time, it was much more personal. Many of my PGR friends are, themselves, VietNam Veterans. They knew those heroes, whose names are on that Wall. Being at the Wall with them… that made it hit home very, very deeply. I looked around at my friends (and thought of my VietNam veteran friends who couldn’t be there), and thought to myself, “This could have been him on that Wall… or him… or him….” Seeing the enormity of the loss of life, contrasted by being there with my friends who were there and made it home… and wondering how they were feeling, knowing that the Wall is never any easy trip for any of them… it pretty well left me speechless, in tears.

We made our way to Panel 14 West, and looked on the 22nd line down from the top, and found the name of our found Hero, Capt. Herbert C. Crosby, who was the whole reason for this trip. Special patches had been made for our vests, in honor of Capt. Crosby. One of the guys held up the patch, with one of our PGR “Mission Accomplished!” pins, by Capt. Crosby’s name. This picture speaks more than a thousand words, I think. If you look closely, Capt. Crosby’s name is one or two lines above where the patch is held. A few more Wall pics HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.

When we were finished looking at the Wall, we saw some of the other sights in the immediate area – a statue honoring Vietnam Soldiers, the Nurses’ Memorial, which I loved, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument (from a distance).

It was well after dark when we made our way back towards our hotel and had dinner. It was an emotional start to an incredible journey to be filled with many more emotional moments to come.

The next morning, seven of us went to visit soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center. (I can’t tell you how many years I’ve prayed for an opportunity to do just that very thing!!!! I used to send cards & stuff to Walter Reed all the time, before they changed the rules and stopped accepting “Any SeviceMember” mail in December. L) In preparation for the trip, we’d been gathering cards/letters, t-shirts, baseball hats, and other goodies to give to the soldiers there during our visit. Our first stop was the Malogne House, one of the outpatient residences there. I was extra-excited to visit the Malogne House, because one of my friends in the MS National Guard was there!!! J I didn’t adopt Norris when he was in Iraq… I got to know him through is wife after he was injured in 2005 and back in the States. Janis (his wife) and Norris have both become treasured friends of both myself and my hubby. (In fact, when Norris’ unit had their official Welcome Home ceremony in June of 2006, Janis & Norris bought me an airline ticket so I could fly out there to be there for it! Another amazing journey in and of itself…!). This was the second time I’d met Norris, and the first time hubby had met him (though both of us email Janis pretty regularly). J It was great… I gave him some cards we brought, and a Patriot Guard Rider challenge coin. Here’s a pic of me with hubby & Norris.

The others visited with several other soldiers in the area, handing out t-shirts and just visiting. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we had a time limit of an hour, and then we went to visit some patients in the in-patient part of the hospital. We went to the main entrance, where our official guide met us. He would take us to visit patients who had agreed to see visitors that day. We went to Ward 57 – the amputee ward. (while we were there, I got to meet two more of “my” soldiers – not soldiers I adopted while they were oversees, but soldiers I know, or at least, know OF, through reading their blogs. I didn’t adopt them in Iraq, but I sort of “adopted them by blog,” haha… reading their websites daily, leaving comments for them to try and spread some cheer & encouragement, etc. I was so happy to be able to meet them! J But that’s just another cool side note… and another one of many answered prayers of mine!). Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, we went to visit some of the patients who were in their rooms and feeling up to company. I’d been a little nervous about how I’d feel when I was there… I’m terribly shy in person, terribly shy, and have an awfully hard time thinking of stuff to say. So, I made sure to never be the first one in the room, haha – I’d let someone else go in first, and explain who we were and why we were there…and then each of us would take a turn talking to the soldier briefly. I never did think of any brilliant conversation topics… I hate being this shy, I really do…but I swear my mind goes BLANK when I have to actually TALK to people, haha…it’s truly pathetic. But, I did make sure to shake each soldiers’ hand, look them in the eye, and tell them that we are praying for them, and that we appreciate them, and that we are darn proud of them. One guy had only been there about 2 weeks… it was all very new for him still. But his attitude was extraordinary… in fact, come to think of it… EVERY guy we spoke with during our visit had incredible, great attitudes and were very determined to do all they could to overcome this obstacle that had been thrown in their path. It was humbling. Made my own “problems” seem miniscule…non-existent…by comparison. No problems here, compared with what they have to face… and their strength and positive attitude is surely a lesson for me. Oh, don’t get me wrong – they were hurting (physically, emotionally, etc), BUT they weren’t giving up – they were fighting hard to get through it. Probably one of the most inspiring (yes, heartbreaking, too) moments for me was when we went down to the physical therapy room. We spoke with several guys there, handing out cards & stuff and just talking (or, in my case, just listening mostly, hehe). Over to my left, I saw a very young man learning to walk again on his two, brand-new prosthetic legs. He lost both his legs very near the hips, and was being fitted for and learning to walk on his new legs. Back & forth he walked, holding onto parallel bars, stopping now and then to let the doctor or therapist make an adjustment to his legs, etc. I never spoke to him, of course (he was a little busy and I’m sure didn’t want to be pestered at that moment!), but watching him really touched me. You know that saying, “I cried because I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet?” yeah…that popped into my mind real fast. I have problems with my feet that make walking and standing for long periods of time excruciatingly painful (just got my first round of cortisone injections yesterday…hoping to God that fixes everything!)… but watching him, whatever pain I was in at that time seemed to fade away rapidly. And throughout the remainder of our time in DC, I thought of him and that saying whenever I got to thinking the pain was too bad to bear. I don’t know his name, but whoever he is, that kid is one of my HEROES for sure.

Then, all too soon, our visit at WRAMC was over, and we had to high-tail it back to the hotel, to gather up and head to the funeral home for Capt. Crosby’s visitation/memorial service. Oh, I forgot to mention… on the way to WRAMC, I finally, finally, for the first time got brave enough to be a passenger on a motorcycle! Always been too chicken to try it, but with some gentle prodding by friends (well, maybe not so gentle, but it worked, haha), I got brave and tried it. And ya know what? Within five minutes, literally, I was HOOKED. Seriously. Must learn to ride now… must have motorcycle…. (I’ve ridden a couple times since then, and yep, I’m addicted!!!!) yes, I AM the world’s biggest CHICKEN…but maybe not quite as big a chicken as I originally thought, haha. J don’t believe me? Here’s a pic! (and yes, this was only a few minutes into my very first ride EVER, so I was still in the “hang-on-for-dear-life-and-don’t-let-go-even-at-redlights!” mode when this was taken…hahaha! Oh well… :) Gotta start somehow, right?! RIGHT!

Anyway, we made it back to the hotel (without getting lost this time…we got SO lost on the way TO WR… and that was using GPS!) and went to the funeral home. We lined the driveway of the funeral home, everyone holding flags, until all the family and friends were inside. Once they were all in, we were graciously invited to come in and see the memorial service for Capt. Crosby. It was a wonderful, loving, beautiful service. It was just SUCH an honor to be there… I just kept getting chills, thinking about his long journey home… finally, he was back and could rest in peace, in honor, at Arlington. What a relief to his family, to finally know his fate.

The service at Arlington was to be the next day. We were to meet at the Marines’ Memorial (a/k/a the Iwo Jima Memorial) at 7 a.m., then head over to the chapel at Ft. Meyers (if I remember the name right) to stand in a flag line again. The service at Ft. Meyer was to last only 20 minutes – they are very precisely timed (especially during Memorial Day week, when they are so busy!). This time, we were met by Patriot Guard Riders from other States: Illinois, New York, and others I can’t recall. This was “Rolling Thunder” weekend in DC, an annual biker event, and folks from all across the nation ‘just happened’ to be in DC the same time we were. Another cool coincidence, I got to meet another blog-friend, "DNR," one of the PGR guys from Illinois! J I’d told him about our trip to DC, and discovered he and a few other PGRs from over thataway were gonna be in DC for Rolling Thunder… they, as well as other PGRs from all over, and MANY folks from Rolling Thunder who got wind of this ‘thru the grapevine,’ made it a point to be at Arlington for Capt. Crosby’s funeral. I have no idea what the final count was…. But there was a HUGE turnout of bikers from EVERYWHERE who came to honor Capt. Crosby… it was an awesome sight to see. Here's a pic of me & hubby with DNR. :)

After the brief service at the chapel, we were in the procession to the burial site at Arlington, about a mile ride or so (I was in a car this time, drat! But at least I was able to take pictures… if I was on a bike I still wouldn’t have been brave enough to let go to take a picture yet, haha… still chicken, but getting better J). It was a beautiful ride. Arlington is absolutely breathtaking! It is maintained with grace and dignity befitting those who rest there. By the time we got to the burial site, there were so many people there that I couldn’t get a clear view of what was happening, and couldn’t hear the preacher. But it’s ok…. We were there, and that is the important thing…we weren’t there for “us” – we were there for the family. That’s what was important. There was a fly-over by three helicopters – the same kind that Capt. Crosby flew in ‘Nam. A bagpiper played Amazing Grace…a bugler played Taps, there was a rifle salute (not in that order, I don’t think…but you get the idea), and I cried again. Sorrow, mixed with some relief that he was finally here, and his family could finally have some true closure.

Once the funeral was over, we all went back to the hotel to finish getting our stuff out of our rooms, and we headed for home (hoping to miss the memorial day weekend traffic…. Didn’t work, it took us at least 2 hours to go 30 miles, ack!). We broke the trip home up into two days, just as we had coming up to DC. All of us eventually arrived safe and sound at our respective homes…exhausted, and deeply, profoundly affected by all that we saw and did. In fact… part of the reason it took me so long to get this letter written (aside from the whole (“hubby in the hospital” thing) was simply the fact that I thought, “How on earth am I ever going to write about all this?!” There is just so much… and even so, even in this 8-page letter, I’ve only barely scratched the surface of all we experienced and all we did and the lives that were touched. There’s so much I’ve left out…not because I want to, but because my lunch break is over, and I’ve got to get this in the mail! This should hopefully give you an idea of what our trip was like… it was a life-changing event, that’s for sure. It was beautiful in every way. (except for the whole traffic jam thing at the end, hehe!)


DNR said...

Wonderfully written Kat!! Thanks for inviting us!

PS: I’m from Indiana, not Illinois.

Kat said...

D'OH! I knew that! When i wrote this I had ONE hour of sleep - ONE... and wasn't functioning very well. Sorry dude!

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