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Washington DC (yes, I know it's not in Europe) :)

I just returned from four days in Washington DC and wanted to thank each of you who responded to my request for help. I can't tell you how having you and your comments along with me added to my trip. On day one I went to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial where I found and touched the name of my best friend Kenneth Gilliam, who died on February 25, 1969, only eight months after I came back from Vietnam. Because I felt guilty that it was him who died and not me I had never been able to bring myself to go there. I also went back the following night and it was completely different. The one thing I learned is that it is not about the statues, the surrounding park or even the wall, but in reality it's about the 58,195 names of those who did not come home. To fully appreciate that you need to get up close and personal with the wall. Finally, after all these years, I did. That could have been the end of the story except for Rick Steves.

Now since all of you are fans of Rick I know you know what a "back door" is, something you stumble across if you're willing to turn and go off the beaten path or deviate from your plan. With that in mind, I have to share this with you. On the day I went back to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial at night I had spent the better part of the day seeing monuments and the various Smithsonian museums, and was headed down Constitution Avenue to the Memorial. I must have walked five miles and was tired, ready to get the day over with. On the way Constitution passes between the Washington Monument and the White House. On this particular night they were taping the lighting the National Christmas Tree show on the Ellipse. Unfortunately you needed a ticket to get in, even to the standing room only section, and without it the closest I could get was about 500 yards. As I tried to use the zoom lens on my camera to get a shot of the stage a passer by told me to walk around the block and I could get a better picture. If you've ever been to DC you know that "around the block" can be a long walk, but I took her advice and walked the 1/2 mile to the place she was talking about. It was still about 300 yards away, but while standing there I was offered a ticket by a woman who was frustrated with the lines. Having followed Rick's "back door" advice many times I took the ticket and went in. As I headed out to the standing room only area I came across a park ranger and ask where I should go. "Honey", she said with a grin, "you don't belong here. Your seat is in the blue section over there by the media". I arrived at my seat just as Tom Hanks and his wife Rita Wilson walked on the stage, hosts for the night. From my seat just 20 rows in front of where the Marine Corps band was playing I watched in awe as Tom and Rita introduced the President and his family who turned on the lights of the tree. Two hours later I headed to the Vietnam Memorial again as I tried to absorb what I had just seen, my unexpected "back door" to a show that is being broadcast on various PBS TV stations this week. I recorded it last night and still can't believe I was there. I encourage everyone who reads this to be open to the "back doors" that may come your way, no matter what city or country you may be traveling in. You'll never regret it. Happy holidays.

Posted by
2115 posts

That's quite an amazing and heart warming story. Thank you for your service doesn't seem adequate but I don't have better words. I am happy you were able to have this experience and will heed your words of advice.

Posted by
1294 posts

Wonderful story, Jim! Thanks so much for sharing.

Posted by
2254 posts

Thanks, Jim, for sharing such a nice story. I'll try to catch the show and I'll think of you sitting there taking it all in.

Posted by
1864 posts

In 1971, we just walked over and saw it. Times have changed.