Perfect Weekend in DC

Sometimes things just really come together through a little bit of planning and a little bit of chance to combine into a fantastic, memorable weekend. Saturday takes most of the credit as being spectacular, but Sunday capped it off nicely. LA and I hit several new spots, new to us, new to me.

Saturday we started late at the Steven F Udvar-Hazy National Air and Space Museum. This is adjacent to Dulles airport, and is essentially 3 giant aircraft hangers joined together, displayed items too HUGE for display at the Mall. I'm not sure how they got the Concord to fit inside! Its hard to find just a few highlights from the Museum, but I loved the Engines display, the Space Shuttle Discovery, and the Enola Gay. But my absolute favorite was the SR-71 Blackbird. It was front and center, right when you walk into the museum, imposing and black. It was hard to get a good photo of it, since the paint absorbed all the light, and it either looks gray with a flash, or disappears into the background without. 
There were several nice WWII birds, both German and US on display. Another great thing was you could look into the restoration area, where I imagine every tool and fabricator was at their disposal to make the planes look New again. The entire museum was set up fantastic, with airplanes suspended from the ceiling, and though many planes were restored to New condition, quite a few were preserved as-is, like the Vietnam Era Huey with numerous patches visible to the naked eye.

After oohing and awe-ing over the planes, and one last glimpse at the Blackbird, we decided to go to Arlington National Cemetery. On the way, stopped for a Starbucks, which happened to be in the same parking lot as a Dogfish Head Alehouse; I didn't even know these existed! They were having a parking-lot party, but we really wanted to see the Cemetery before the gates closed and drove on, hot Cinnamon Dulce Latte in-hand.

Arlington National Cemetery is quite the sobering sight to behold with all the white markers on the rolling hills, the slabs of carven and engraved granite, against an overcast sky. We lingered at JFK's gravesite, finally reunited with Jackie, the Eternal Flame blowing in the wind. Then up the hill to the Tomb of the Unknowns, where we saw the Tomb of the Unknowns. I had done some research beforehand to know the significance of some of the rituals, giving it even more meaning. I could only imagine the atmosphere of the ceremony when they dis-interred the remains of the Unknown Vietnam Soldier, ultimately identifying him.

I still had some questions about the Tomb Sentinels, and emailed them about what they do between Duty shifts (the actual time spent walking) and about their sunglasses. In less than 48 hours I had my response:

Thank you for your interest in the Tomb of the Unknowns, the Sentinels and the Society of the Honor Guard.

My name is Kevin Welker.  I served as a Sentinel from 1997-2001 and I would be more than happy to answer your questions.

Time between walks, especially for Sentinels in training, is spent studying.  Sentinels are required to keep up with their knowledge, which includes facts about the Army, the Old Guard, the Tomb, and Arlington National Cemetery.  They are also required to log in a certain number of hours of weapon manual practice.  The Sentinel will literally stand in from of a wall-sized mirror and go through the weapon manual – changing the weapon from their right shoulder to their left shoulder – and checking that the weapon is straight to their body from all angles.

During the duty day, the Tomb quarters is a whirl-wind of activity.  Even the badge holders are busy.  Touching up their uniforms or shoes is a constant process – especially on hot days when the sun will literally melt the polish on the shoes.  Some times a Sentinel will be lucky to be able to down a glass of water or use the restroom before it is time for them to walk again.  When the cemetery is closed, more training on the plaza is conducted, followed by more uniform prep for the following work day.  The TV is available to the badge holders only.  New trainees are not allowed to watch it since their time is better used for training.

When I was a Sentinel, the sunglasses were standard, Army-issued aviator sunglasses.  The Sentinels today use Oakley sunglasses.  The sunglasses are polarized.  The reason for the sunglasses is to protect the Sentinel’s eyes from the glare of the sun off of the marble.  There is not set time that the sunglasses ore worn or taken off.  Obviously, glasses are worn when the sun is out.  During periods of inclement weather, the glasses are removed.  The Sentinel that is walking the mat makes the call to take the glasses off.  He will notify the quarters via the telephone in the guard shack that he is taking his glasses off (or putting them on).  The oncoming Sentinel and Relief Commander will then adjust their uniform so as to be the same as the Sentinel walking the mat.

I hope that I have answered your questions completely.  Should you have any follow-up questions, please feel free to contact me at this address.

Kevin Welker
Badge #448

The cemetery was closing, and we walked under darkening skies and a little drizzle, which was the perfect weather for our outing.

Feeling like we needed to lighten-up a little, we backtracked to Dogfish Head Alehouse in Falls Church. It turns out that they too were having a parking lot festival, in celebration for the first-day release of their Punkin Ale! I love fall and all the pumpkin beers (I picked up a sixer of Sam Adams Pumpkin today). We each had a pint, followed by a HUGE dinner! LA had a basil/caramelized onion pizza and I had to try the Alehouse Ribs.

While I really really enjoy Kansas City style barbeque, I'm a Southerner at heart, and these ribs were fall-off-the-bone fantastic and were served at a full pound-and-a-half. Between 2 pints of Punkin Ale, a Short Theombra, I couldn't even finish my dinner. I still have 4-5 ribs waiting for me in the fridge that I intend on devouring tomorrow night with a cold Sam Adams Pumpkin.

It was one of those truly great days that we'll never forget and that we enjoyed so thoroughly.
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