I was 11.
Fifty-three years after that event I am still going to Washington every year with the Safety Patrol. Several years ago, Mrs. Morris invited me to accompany the group and speak to the youngsters at Arlington Cemetery. I jumped at the chance and have been doing it every Mother’s Day weekend since.
Last weekend, I watched hundreds of school kids from all over our region tramp up the hill at Arlington and gather in silence at the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknowns. I looked over the sea of faces of the youngsters from Oxford and Unadilla Valley and Oneonta and Milford and from all the other little towns in our region. They stood wide-eyed as the stoic soldier marched off his 21 steps. They held their little hands over their hearts at the playing of Taps. They were told not to move a muscle, and they didn’t. They made us all proud.
“Without a doubt Arlington is something these children will always remember,” Mrs. Morris told me. It’s quite a sight to see 300 kids all coming together in such an orderly fashion. To say that Eastern Travel handles this annual event with precision and professionalism is a monument to understatement. When it comes to these trips, Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines wrote the book on them!
After the changing of the guard, the throng is ushered in to the historic Arlington Amphitheatre. Here I address them about the place they are visiting. The stories. The legacy. The heroes. The solemnity of it all. My speech is titled “Arlington: Where the price of our freedom is paid in full.” They get it.
I relive a little of my youth every year when I go on this trip. I remember being in Safety Patrol. I remember the white belt and badge I wore with pride. I remember I liked being in charge of my corner (West Main and Pearl Street) and I remember how I shouted “OFF!” with great authority when my shift ended. To see these hundreds of local boys and girls running around Washington wearing their white belts and badges just like Billy Kent and I did in 1960, well, it just takes me back to the black and white days of my youth.