No matter how many times you witness it, you still get a lump in your throat.
I am talking about the changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C. I was there last week. Every Mother's Day I accompany the hundreds of area sixth graders from our area on their trip to our nation's capital for their annual Safety Patrol outing.
Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines has been putting these trips together longer than anyone can remember. My own trip was in 1959. Many others had already gone before me.
I remember that my Safety Patrol trip was the first time that I had been away from my parents for an overnight trip. It was also the farthest I had ever wandered from my hometown.
It was great fun being with all the kids my same age on a real adventure. My roommate was my classmate Billy Kent from Sidney. All of us were admonished to "not get into any trouble on the trip," and we adhered to that rule. Still, we made it one of the great experiences of our youth.
I can still remember the changing of the guard at the cemetery. The silence. The solemnity. The seriousness. It has stayed with me for five decades. I have seen this ritual a dozen times over the years, and it never fails to move me.
This past Mother's Day was a brilliant sun-drenched morning when more than 400 area school kids walked up the grassy slopes of Arlington Cemetery to the majestic amphitheater at the top.
Up they quietly walked past rows of identical white gravestones, looking left and right. Past the graves of President John F. Kennedy and boxer Joe Louis. Past the cenotaph of the departed astronauts who died in our space flights. Past the Medal of Honor winners and the privates.
I watched as they filed into the viewing area, dazzling in their multihued shirts, matching their classmates from each of the many schools. They proudly wore the white straps that denoted them as Safety Patrollers.
I watched as they dutifully put their little hands over their hearts and then observed wide-eyed as the crisp, clean-cut servicemen marched out their 21 steps ad infinitum for time immemorial. The students were respectful and in good order.
After, they all filed into the amphitheater where I addressed them about the significance of Arlington. I call it "The place where the bill for our freedom was paid in full."
They got it. They absorbed every word of my speech. I like to think I reached them about what it means to be an American. After, I escorted all 400 over to Audie Murphy's grave where I told his story to them. Murphy was the most decorated soldier in World War II, and his life story is inspiring.
The kids got it. They all took photos of this Medal of Honor winner's plain, white gravestone.
Eastern Travel has been the travel expert in central New York for decades, and no event shows this with more clarity than their annual school trip to D.C. The whole organization of the hundreds of kids, the various museums and venues they go to, the expert coach drivers, the accompanying sheriffs and medical personnel, the army of chaperones, the herding them in and then out of the restaurants, well, it is all done with precision, care and sensitivity.
And, of course, D.C. never fails to amaze. The Vietnam Memorial Wall is still sad, the Newseum is still one of the most interesting museums in the nation, the giant pandas never fail to entertain the kids at the Washington Zoo and the new Martin Luther King Memorial is as awe-inspiring as it gets.
Cam Morris, owner of Eastern Travel, is to be commended for coordinating this unforgettable trip of a lifetime each year for so many hundreds of our local youngsters.
And I thank Cam personally for allowing me the rare opportunity to come along each year and impart whatever words of wisdom I can on these budding young scholars at this hallowed and famous place. As unforgettable as the trip is for the kids, it is even more so for me as an adult.
Next week, President Obama will address the nation on Memorial Day from the exact same spot at Arlington Cemetery that I stood and addressed the hundreds of school kids on Mother's Day.
I like to think that I "warmed it up" for him!
I'll catch you in two ...
"Big Chuck" D'Imperio can be heard on weekdays beginning at 6 a.m. on WDOS-AM 730 in Oneonta, and also on Thursday nights from 7-9 p.m. on WSRK-FM 103.9 for his "Oldies Jukebox Show." You can find "Big Chuck" on Facebook under Upstate New York Books. He invites you to contact him at email@example.com. His columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/bigchuck.
No matter how many times you witness it, you still get a lump in your throat.
- Big Chuck
Gilbert Lake a jewel among N.Y. parks
New York does quite a few things right, and misses the mark on things almost as many times. But nobody does a state park quite like New York does.
Baseball cards: Different spokes for different folks
Baseball cards as an investment? Fugetaboutit!
It's just a short drive down my memory lane
Oh, if my old man's car could talk.
Sept. 11 Museum is sobering, inspiring
I visited the September 11, 2001 Memorial Museum in New York City last weekend.
Remembering the singing cowboy
There were not a lot of job openings for a kid of 8 back in 1957. Some of my friends wanted to be firemen and a couple wanted to be professional baseball players. Maybe a cop, a teacher or a soldier or two. And the weird kid up on the corner wanted to be president of the United States some day. Dreamers, all. Thinking way above their heads. Me, I was a realist. I wanted to be a singing cowboy.
- Monday, May 19, 2014
The plain plane truth ruins CNN
Bye-bye CNN. It's been nice to know you.
- Monday, May 5, 2014
Laurens mall was no mere child's play
Shop local. And shop often.
- Monday, April 21, 2014
Woodstock continues to provide memories
I went to Woodstock last weekend. No, not the concert site. The village.
- Monday, April 7, 2014
Let's put a check on 'check engine' light
The absolute worst thing that can befall a driver happened to me on the way to work this morning. The one singular auto event that can send shivers of fear and panic up the spine of even the most seasoned road warrior.
- Monday, March 24, 2014
Keep those cards and letters coming in, folks
It has been a while since we opened up the readers' mailbag, so let's see what is in there.
- Monday, March 10, 2014
1965 Oscars? Thanks for the memories
Well, the 86th Academy Awards are over. And for the record, I did a pretty good job in my Daily Star Oscar picks. I got them all right except one. Cate Blanchett was the spoiler in my clean sweep. Not bad, if I do say so myself.
- Monday, February 24, 2014
There was just no telling about snow days
Winters get harder as we get older. Things change. It snows more. It snows less. It gets colder. It's a lot milder. It all changes as our knees start to creak and the thought of shoveling a foot of snow seems positively daunting.
- Monday, February 10, 2014
And the music goes round and round
The day has finally arrived.
- Monday, January 27, 2014
When did pranks turn into vandalism?
I was a teenage vandal.
- Monday, January 13, 2014
Happy and sad memories of Jan. 7, 1966
Jan. 7 is always a big celebration day in the D'Imperio family. My twin sisters, Teri and Mary, plus my youngest daughter, Katie, all share it as a birthday. The date, however, is not without a dark significance.
- Monday, December 30, 2013
Lesser known greats that passed away in 2013
The year 2013 is drawing to a close and as it does I would like to give a tip of the hat and a fond goodbye to a group of famous people who left the world stage. Their departures will be noted here in this column although they may have missed a final adios in the major media outlets. Letâ€™s give them their moment in the sun.
- Monday, December 16, 2013
Reunions all the sweeter amid WWII
There is nothing like running into old friends in the most unexpected places. Like on a vacation, or in a mall or even in the supermarket. It is always a time for a â€œHail and how are you?â€� moment.
- Monday, December 2, 2013
There's no tough sledding when you're a youngster|
Winter weather is here. And so are outdoor winter activities.
- Monday, November 18, 2013
Vroman's Nose hike is no walk in the park
I haven't gone on a hike since 1961 when President Kennedy asked all Americans to take a 50-mile hike for physical fitness. I did it then. With a large group of my schoolmates and friends. We walked from Sidney to Oneonta and back.
- Monday, November 4, 2013
Being a grandpa will be better than just OK
I am going to be a grandfather.
- Gilbert Lake a jewel among N.Y. parks