Searcy Marching Band in D.C.

It seemed to take forever May 24th to arrive, but it was finally here! As we loaded up the buses and waved goodbye to the family members who were not joining us on our journey, the excitement in the air was palpable. The Searcy High School Marching Band was headed to Washington DC! We received a big send off from our fans and loved ones, and prepared ourselves for the long, long journey ahead.

We drove through the night, and most of us didn’t even stir when we stopped outside Knoxville, Tennessee, to change drivers. It was 3:30am, and we were all too tired to care! Soon the sun was peeking through the eastern horizon, and we were all ready to get off the bus and stretch our legs. Our Band Parent Organization kindly paid for all of us to have breakfast at Roanoke College in Salem, Virginia, and what a breakfast it was! We had a buffet full of pancakes, eggs, sausages, fruit, yogurt and all the trimmings. Since most of us had only snacked after we got on the road, we were ravenous!

After breakfast we all loaded back onto our buses for the final leg of our trip. Just before Staunton, Virginia, at the intersection of I-81 and I-64, we ran into a bit of a traffic jam. We watched in awe as over 1200 bikers merged onto the highway in front of us. We saw on one of their trailers that they were a part of the organization called Run for the Wall. Run for the Wall is a group that was founded by Vietnam veterans. According to their Facebook page, they strive to recognize the sacrifices and contributions made by all veterans who have served our nation. Their motto is "We Ride for Those Who Can’t."

We arrived in the city later than anticipated, and had to go directly to our dinner restaurant, Vie de France Bakery. We were served a lovely dinner, and soon loaded back on the bus for a little touring. The first monument we visited was the Martin Luther King, Jr., Memorial. The centerpiece of this memorial is the "Stone of Hope," a 30-foot granite statue of Dr. King with the inscription, "Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope." This quote was from his "I Have a Dream Speech" given from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in 1963. The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial includes a 450-foot inscription wall featuring several quotations from Dr. King's speeches, sermons, and writings.

After leaving the MLK, Jr. memorial, we headed over to the Marine Barracks to watch the Evening Parade. Marine Barracks Washington, D.C., also known as "8th & I," is the oldest active post in the Marine Corps. While waiting in line, I was lucky enough to meet one of the members of Run For The Wall, the motorcycle group we had seen earlier in the day. His name patch read Stitch, and he was very friendly. He had ridden from Los Angeles, and was one of the riders who actually went in front of our bus. I told him how much we appreciated his group, and how honored we felt to follow them into Washington DC.

Around 8:45pm, the parade started with the Marine Drum and Bugle Corps entering the parade field and marching before the crowd. Soon after, a company of Marines took the field, sounding off from behind the barracks' arches, and marching out in their dress uniforms. One of the platoons included the silent drill team. They were quite impressive as they spun their bayonets! After marching into position, the flags were presented, and the drill team performed. The President's Own Band then took the field for a concert, then joined up with the drum and bugle corps for the retirement of the colors and Taps. It was an amazing sight to see and hear, and our band kids got to see what precision marching truly looks like! After leaving the Marine Barracks, we headed to our hotel, the Sheraton Reston. We were all ready to sleep in a real bed!

Saturday morning came quite early, with our wake up calls jangling our hotel room telephones at 6:30am. We gathered down in the hotel restaurant for a great buffet breakfast, and then we headed out to our buses. We were on the road by 9:30am and off to do some touring! Our tour director on Bus 1 (The Red Bus) was Mr. Cash. He knew all the ins and outs of the metro area, and guided our friendly bus driver to our destinations with ease.

Our first stop was Arlington National Cemetery, where we saw John F. Kennedy’s Eternal Flame and his gravesite, the Civil War Unknowns Monument and Arlington House. It was very sobering to see the acres and acres of white tombstones. We were very humbled to experience the Changing of the Guard at the Tomb of the Unknowns. Everyone stood in silence as we watched the Tomb Guard march back and forth, always placing his weapon on the shoulder closest to the visitors. This placement signifies that the sentinel always stands between the Tomb and any possible threat. Words cannot describe being in the presence of true American heroes, both those who guard this sacred place, and those entombed there. The Tomb of the Unknowns is a true symbol of American sacrifice.

After leaving the cemetery, we made a quick jaunt to the Air Force Memorial, and then headed over to the Library of Congress, where we saw a rough draft of the Declaration of Independence and a Gutenberg Bible. The interior of the Library of Congress, especially the Great Hall, was breathtaking. We spent an hour there, and then we walked over the U.S. Capitol building to take a group picture. The storm clouds were rolling all around us, but somehow we managed to stay dry! We were very grateful those storms passed to the North of us!

After leaving the U.S. Capitol Building, we drove across the Potomac River to see the National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. This memorial is dedicated to the events that occurred on Sept. 11, 2001. When we approached the Memorial Gateway, we saw a black granite stone stating the date and time of the tragic plane crash: September 11, 2001, at 9:47am. The words on the stone described its purpose: "We claim this ground in remembrance of the events of September 11, 2001, to honor the 184 people whose lives were lost, their families, and all who sacrifice that we may live in freedom. We will never forget." At this memorial, a bench represents each one of the 184 lives lost in the attack on the Pentagon. Surrounding the benches are 85 crape myrtles and the Age Wall, which grows one inch in height per year, relative to the ages of the victims. Each of the benches has a victim’s age and location at the time of the attack inscribed on it. The benches are arranged along an age line, according to the year each victim was born. They are positioned to differentiate those who were on board American Airlines Flight 77 and those who were in the Pentagon, and each bench had a pool of water underneath that reflected the light of the early evening. The benches honoring victims on board Flight 77 face the direction of the plane’s approach to the Pentagon, while those reading the names of Pentagon victims face the plane’s point of impact on the Pentagon’s south facade. Barely a word was spoken while we were at this memorial. Our students were very young, some of them not even born, at the time of this attack, and probably do not remember the terror and heartbreak we adults felt when it happened. They were so respectful and reverent. I was very proud of the way they represented our school while we were there.

The Fish House in Arlington, Virginia, was our chosen restaurant for dinner on Saturday night. What a fantastic restaurant! The décor was just like something you’d expect to see in an old-time pub. Exposed beams, creaky stairs, wooden floors, they were all included. The dinner was amazing! I had the fish sandwich, Mr. Luzzi, our band director, had the crab cake sandwich, and several others tried the pasta and the hamburgers. We even got ice cream for dessert! All of the food was good, and we left with our tummies full!

After polishing off our dinner, we went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Our tour director gave several students the names of people on the wall, and sent them off to find them. While there, we encountered a group of motorcyclists who were grieving a lost comrade. They passed around a beer, each took a sip, and then they poured a little into the grate at the base of the wall. They were standing in front of a name that obviously meant a lot to them, perhaps a lost comrade. After they finished with their beer, they each snapped a smart salute, then walked away. I’ve never seen a more emotionally moving spectacle. Their respect and their honor showed, and so did their pain.

While in the area, we also saw the Lincoln Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. There were 19 stainless steel statues in the Korean War Veterans Memorial. No matter where you stood while looking at the Memorial, one of the statues was looking directly at you. The statues stood in patches of juniper bushes and were separated by polished granite strips, which symbolized the rice paddies of Korea. The statue troops all wore ponchos covering their weapons and equipment. The statues were so lifelike that the ponchos seemed to blow in the wind. The bus was quiet when we boarded to go to our hotel that night.

Sunday morning began with that same early wake up call! We loaded up the buses after breakfast and headed to one of Mr. Cash’s favorite places… Souvenir City! We got a few minutes to grab a handful of souvenirs for the folks back home, and then we were off for another day of touring!

The first place we visited was the National Museum of American History. We saw the original Star-Spangled Banner, which was the inspiration for Francis Scott Key to write a song that eventually became the United States national anthem! We had lunch in the cafeteria of the museum, and although quite expensive, it was very tasty!

We took a stroll through the National Mall and made our way to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum. While we were there we got to see the Wright Flyer, which was the world’s very first airplane. We also saw actual re-entry capsules and moon landing modules from space flights! We loved learning about the history of aviation, how planes fly, the Apollo missions, the planets, aircraft carriers and more.

Dinner on Sunday was at Uno Pizzeria in Union Station. We had some Chicago style pizza, and then some free time to explore Union Station. We saw many shops, cafes, and restaurants, and got to admire the stunning architecture in the Great Hall. There was even a wonderful little used bookstore on the second level!

On the way back to our hotel, we made a quick stop at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which is located right on the Potomac River. We got to see the Hall of Nations and the Hall of States, along with the Grand Foyer. The Kennedy Center offers an open-air rooftop terrace, and we were able to view all four directions from that area. Some of the things we could see from the terrace were the National Airport to the South, the Washington Harbor and the Watergate Complex to the North, the Lincoln Memorial to the East and the skyline of Arlington, Virginia, to the West.

Monday morning finally arrived, and everyone was so excited that it was finally parade day! Mr. Luzzi was all decked out in his Army dress blues, and all of our kids looked spiffy in their band uniforms. We loaded the bus and went straight to the White House for another group picture, this time in uniform. We didn’t take long there, and went straight to our staging area for the parade. Mr. Cash assured us that arriving early would be worth it because we could get a place in the shade! He was right!

We ate our box lunches and rested for a bit while waiting for the parade to begin. Most of the adults who weren’t chaperones worked their way down toward the end of the parade route so that we could see our kids march by. We did not have to wait long for the fun to begin! The parade started off with a police escort on motorcycles, then service members marching with our nation’s flag and the flags of each branch of service. We saw service members on horseback and several high school bands from all over the country. There were far too many different organizations represented to list them all, but they were certainly impressive! About 35 minutes into the parade, we heard a very loud band headed our way. Everyone around us was literally standing up to see who was coming! Our color guard looked perfect as they approached, so synchronized and beautiful with their freedom themed flags. The band looked sharp, as always! The silver plumes on their hats really caught the sunlight and made them stand out.

As our Lions marched by, we heard someone say, "Wow! Their band director must be military! Look at them march!" From where we were standing, you couldn’t see Mr. Luzzi in his uniform, so they had no idea that was actually the case! We also heard someone say, "This is the best band so far!" Needless to say, we were so very proud of our students!

The parade ended far too quickly, and we rushed to the buses to start our long drive home. We stopped for dinner a couple of hours away from D.C., and after that, I think the whole bus fell asleep. We had been running for four straight days, and everyone was worn out! It was such a blessing to have our band invited on this trip. So many memories were made, and so many significant sites were seen. The Searcy High School Marching Band did a fantastic job representing their school and our small town, both with their marching and their behavior while out and about in the city. I have never been more proud to be a band parent!

By Shannon Cooan