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897th and 3562nd Ordnance Heavy Automotive Maintenance Companies, 1941-1945
Dedication of the WWII Memorial, Washington, DC (May, 2004)
In 2004, WWII veteran Julian Gocek attended the dedication ceremony of the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC. Accompanying Julian were his children, Gary Gocek and Gretchen Baker, Gary's wife Susan, and Gretchen's husband Chuck and Gretchen's daughter Gabrielle. Following are Gary's recollections of the trip. See the 897 history page for contact information.
Friday, May 28, 2004
At 8:30, Susan and Gary stopped at the bank, stopped for bagels, and departed. We eventually got on Route 15 in Pennsylvania. When we hit Gettysburgh, we heard a strange whistling noise. It didn't seem to be our car, and it was strange that we heard anything outside with the car windows closed and traveling at 55 MPH or faster. After a moment, we realized the noise was made by cicadas that were emerging after their 17-year metamorphosis.
Near Washington, the Route 270 spur to the Route 495 Beltway and the Route 66 spur were jammed with cars. We eventually found our Holiday Inn, within sight of the Smithsonian Air and Space museum, which sits on the National Mall. Here we met Julian and the others, who had arrived the day before.
We ate dinner at the Holiday Inn and then walked over to the National Mall, but the exhibits were closed for the night. However, we got to see the large scope of the exhibits and the thousands of chairs being set up to watch the video screens during Saturday's ceremony.
Saturday, May 29, 2004
Dad, Sue, and I had breakfast. We boarded the ceremony shuttle bus at about 9 am.
At the ceremony site, quite a crowd had already gathered. We had three tickets for Section 1, within sight of the main stage, to be used by the three of us. Gretchen, Chuck, and Gabrielle had three tickets for another section that was not within sight of the main stage. The tickets were free, but had to be requested in advance. Gary had made these requests long ago, when Julian was still skeptical that the Memorial would ever open.]
We had to walk by Section 1-M to get to Section 1. In the end, this was a bit frustrating because after all of Gary's careful planning, and assumptions that "Section 1" meant "the closest section", we were separated from the main stage by multiple football fields and an army of security personnel. Section 1-M, as it turned out, had metal detectors at the gates (thus the "M") and was primarily populated with large groups. The security planners were better able to pre-screen the attendees when they made their requests in large groups, and security is an issue when multiple presidents are in attendance. Still, we wish we had known that the best way to see the show would be to find a group to latch on to.
At Noon, a show began with music and video presentations. There was music from various military groups, 40s dance exhibitions, a singalong, and impromptu dancing in the aisles. We sat in a sea of folding chairs. The weather was splendid, although Julian and Susan took a break in the shade for a while. We heard of no major health problems. The large screens were visible even from our distant vantage point on the slope below the Washington Monument. Behind the main stage was the WWII Memorial itself. At 2 pm, the actual dedication began with speeches from various people involved in the fund raising and other awareness programs, such as Bob Dole, Tom Hanks, Tom Brokaw, and others. Bill Clinton and George Bush (the elder) were in attendance but did not speak.
I have to say, no matter what you think of a US president, and even if you're a quarter mile away, it's pretty cool to hear "Hail to the Chief". George Bush gave a nice, if predictable speech. Four military jets flew over, which was cool, but I wish they had been WWII era planes.
On the Mall and near the ceremony site, all weekend, veterans and young people introduced themselves and thanked the veterans for their service.
At 4 pm, we proceeded to the shuttle stops, where a total organizational meltdown occurred. We made it back to the exhibit tents at around 6:45 pm. We visited the equipment displays and the reunion tent.
Sunday, May 30, 2004
We had a late breakfast and saw Gretchen and Chuck and Gabrielle off. Julian and Gary and Susan would stay one more day. At 11, we visited the Mall exhibits. Two teen volunteers taped Julian for a WWII history interview project. We gradually made our way to the Memorial, where a huge crowd accompanied us. The annual motorcycle parade rolled nearby. The Memorial was jammed. The inner courtyard was crowded, but you could find a bench seat. The outer perimeter walkway was completely jammed with people who viewed the Memorial and talked with each other. Some of the exhibits featured women and minority soldiers and participants, but this was mostly a reunion of old, white guys.
We walked back to the Mall for souvenirs, but all the hats were sold out. We got one online after we returned. We had hot dogs and ice cream. Overall, the comfort and food facilities were nicely adequate for the crowds. We had dinner at the Occidental restaurant, across the street from the White House, where photos of famous visitors adorn the walls.