Local Commentary

Our Man in Arlington

My Memorial Day weekend began with my six-year-old grandson proclaiming emphatically that “Wolling Thunder” had kept him awake all night. He lives in South Arlington between Glebe Road and Walter Reed Drive, major incoming routes for the tens of thousands of bikers coming in for the Rolling Thunder extravaganza on Sunday.

Thus being reminded of the upcoming Memorial Day festivities, we immediately put up our flag, apparently the first in the neighborhood.

My first image of motorcyclists was influenced by the great Peter Fonda – Dennis Hopper movie “Easy Rider.” Here, the motorcyclist was a countercultural junkie on a trip to New Orleans. This was the basic image of cyclists that gradually transmogrified countercultural, long-haired and often paunchy hippies in helmets, black leather, chains, and boots cruising the nation’s highways. You pulled your children out of the yard and into the house whenever they passed by.

Not so now! Many might look the same, but underneath this façade there are true patriots, many of them lawyers, doctors, businessmen, teachers, and, of course, veterans of our many wars and skirmishes. It is great to see them as a major part of Memorial Day observances all over the country.

We missed the Rolling Thunder extravaganza, though of course we heard it all day from our Condo perch on Fairfax Drive. We also participated vicariously in the memorial services at Arlington Cemetery by hearing the great cannon salutes throughout the weekend.

On Saturday, we strolled the Mall, enjoying the lovely weather and veterans of all ages greeting each other. We ended up at the American Indian Museum where moving chants and dances celebrated Native Americans who served their country.

Monday, I hopped on the subway to see the parade on Constitution Avenue. Before the parade, however, I dropped by the Navy Memorial to witness the moving wreath laying ceremony and subsequent concert by the Navy band. My favorite military uniforms are the crisp whites of the Navy officers and enlisted men and women. They looked great on Monday, even crisper and whiter than usual. And there were no dry eyes during the quiet military ceremony of the wreath-laying and, of course, the magnificent rendition of taps.

Then on to the parade. The Memorial Day parade is not the great extravaganza of a military parade in the capital city of the most powerful nation in the world. It is much more like the parades you grew up with in your home town. It was filled with homemade floats carrying veterans and just plain citizens honoring them. And hundreds of great cars from every American era since the invention of the automobile.

The military bands were busy elsewhere, so the chore in this parade fell to dozens of great high school bands from all over the country. I am an old marching band member from my high school days, and I loved every moment of it.

And Mickey Rooney was there, riding in a car, waving to a roaring crowd. Can’t get more American than that.

Throughout the entire weekend, the thing that impressed me most was the crowds. They were of all races, nationalities, ethnicities, and ages, a true microcosm of America. And there were no pro-war or anti-war demonstrations that I saw. They had all come together to respect those who died in American wars – and to have a great time doing it. I loved it.