Published: April 27th 2012April 27th 2012
A 0420 alarm call has not been the norm for this trip but to ensure we were at the Korean War Memorial for the 0545 it had to happen. I should not have been worried about logistics as our driver was waiting for us, which meant we were on time picking up JD & Max on the way. None of us were overly sure what we should expect or the numbers that would be at the Memorial for the service. John had made contact with Dave, the Secretary of the RSL in Washington and he had organised for us to attend the Gunfire Breakfast at the NZ Embassy after the service. As we waited for the service to begin the thought of a hot breakfast and a tot of rum sounded pretty good as it was freezing. It was much colder for many of the attendees as someone had forgotten to turn off the automatic sprinklers – cascades of water arrived at 0530 to much screaming, a bit of laughter and a scattering of the congregation. JD managed to be right in the line of fire and had a cold behind for much of the morning. In true ANZAC spirit feet
and shoes were sacrificed by some and they stood on the sprinkler heads to stem the stream; the man in front of Maxine stood in a puddle for nearly 30 minutes. Chairs were placed over the others, which made an interesting backdrop for the wreaths and is the reason why a black plastic chair will be in many people’s photos. I felt for the NZ Army Aide who had obviously organised the morning and not been told about this. Anyway, it was but a small blip and the service began bang on time.
The service was special. I have described the Korean War Memorial in detail before but it still needs mentioning here. With the last acts of night in progress and the sun about to appear over the Potomac the time-frozen soldiers on patrol took on an airy, almost silvery glow. It was if they were watching our backs. The setting was stunning with Lincoln’s Memorial towering above us and the Monument and Capitol lit up in the dark sky. The Australian and New Zealand flags were marched on to begin proceedings and to set the area where the wreaths would be laid. Ambassador Moore and
Ambassador Beazley spoke on behalf of each nation and there were responses from US and Turkish officials. John had been asked to lay the wreath for the Returned Services, which is the first wreath laid after the individual countries have finished. I learnt something here – I have always wondered why some do not salute rather they hold their hand over their medals and bow; it is a way of showing that ‘all men are equal’. It was another special moment for John who has now laid wreaths on Anzac Day in Australia, France, England and the US.
At the conclusion of the Service Dave put us in touch with Karen who works in Washington for the Victorian Government. She became our driver for the day and made the day even more special. A former Sydneysider with a fantastic Australian attitude and a great sense of humour she opened many a door for us and we had plenty of laughs. At the NZ Embassy breakfast was served – a NZ inspired menu with great scrambled eggs, baked beans and what may have been Hellers sausages. All of this was washed down with hot coffee laced with rum
or for some rum laced with a bit of coffee. The Embassy is beautiful and has a real NZ feel to it with a large garden opening up off the main room. A small deer was at the fence when I walked out. It was great to visit and feel that little bit of home. I ended up in a long conversation with an Ecuadorian Embassy Official – he was asking about Christchurch and the earthquake. Apparently Ecuador is earthquake prone and not in any way ready for the “big one”. He said that when Washington’s quake struck last year there were only three buildings badly damaged; the Cathedral, the Monument (still closed) and to sum everything up the Ecuadorian Embassy. John worked the room superbly and Maxine got a big hug from Kim Beazley. I also introduced myself to Air Vice Marshall Graham Lintott, the NZ Defence Attaché in Washington. JL you will be saddened to hear he will not be heading to Clarks Beach anytime soon but I did mention fire places. By this stage the rum was giving off a good glow and Karen had spoken to the Australian Embassy officials to secure our invite to the
lunch reception - more on that soon.
At the National Cathedral, which sits high up over the city we attended the ANZAC Day Commemoration Service. This was a poignant memorial, which was vastly different to what we had seen in the morning. On each seat was either a sprig of rosemary or a poppy – Mum you will be pleased to know that Narelle had her poppy on from the Somme. It was also attended by many more people. Before the service began the playing of a didgeridoo echoed through the halls – it was quite something and gives off such an amazing sound. I think my interest in the didgeridoo may have been tainted by Rolf Harris but this was incredible and really set the scene. Ambassador Moore made his Anzac Address. It was a lovely thought provoking speech that covered ‘mateship’, sacrifice, and the sense of identity both nations developed after 1915. The quote “sacrifice does not build character – it reveals it” was quite telling. He took us to the beaches in Gallipoli 97 years ago but managed to relate it to the on-going military service many ANZAC soldiers are still doing. The thoughts
of soldiers in Afghanistan were central and the loss of life there – Australia has now lost 32 soldiers to that conflict. Australia’s new Foreign Minister Senator Bob Carr read the Ode and then there is that all too emotional playing of the Last Post. Standing amongst many military I suddenly felt short as they all stood to attention. The music that was played and sung was a highlight including a special arrangement commissioned by the Australian Embassy that used the words of a Turkish poem telling mothers not to weep as their sons were being looked after:
You, the mothers who sent their sons from far away countries, wipe away your tears;
Your sons are now lying in our bosom and are in peace.
After having lost their lives on this land they have become our sons as well.
It was special to attend a service in the Cathedral. It was a building that began with Pierre L’Enfant’s vision for a great ‘church for national purposes’ when he drew up the initial Washington plans in 1791. It took until 1907 for the foundation stone to
be laid and another 83 years for the building to be completed. Today it is the sixth largest cathedral in the world and the second largest in the US. Nearly 1 million visitors and worshippers come to the site every year. At the moment a lot of it is shrouded in scaffolding and canvas as it sustained damage in the earthquake. Thankfully no one was killed as large gargoyles and pieces of masonry came crashing down.
And now the lunch. The lovely Karen got us to the reception after driving down what is known as Embassy Row. A quick flash of the passport and we were in. It was a great way to finish our Anzac Day celebrations. With cold Crown Lagers and wonderful Australian wines we were well looked after. Food was piled high in the middle of the room. It was really well done. I enjoyed speaking at length to Dave who had sorted our day, he is a kind-hearted soul who just wanted us to have a great day. He has lived in the city since 1980 and helped set up the RSL Branch in Washington – they meet once a month at the Embassy. He
had wanted us to see the new exhibition of photos from Afghanistan and by being at the lunch we got to see them. A fantastic collection of photos taken not by professionals but by service people in the field. With no staging or photo shopping they were a fantastic insight into that theatre of war. I also spoke to the Chaplain who had come from Australia to conduct the service – he was awaiting his Aide to take him out to the Pentagon for official business. I think he would have loved a pint of lager but with a meeting to go to he was on the soft drink. His daughter is a carpenter in Mt Wellington and he likes the Waiheke vines! It is always a small world.
We feel very lucky to have been able to share in this day in Washington. We were some of the last in the world to acknowledge the 25th
April and remember the Anzacs. Home felt very close today and I am so pleased that we thought of doing this part of the trip. It was especially special for John, Maxine and Narelle to attend all together – it had been
awhile due to travel and John usually organising the South Australia parade and day. John has been beaming from ear to ear with this day coming so hard on the heels of the Civil War trip and I know that both Maxine and JD were proud that Narelle could wear her Grandfather’s Medals – an impressive set of that Kim Beazley was quite taken with. He is apparently quite a Civil War and military historian.
A wonderful day – now for the hustle and bustle of New York.
Anzac Day, April 25th
, 2012: Washington, DC
There are more photos below