Despite frigid temperatures and tight security, the presidential inauguration was a memorable event.
In my 22 years in the Air Force, I pretty much hit most of the planet’s fun spots, from Korea to Iraq, but little could have prepared me for Washington, D.C., on Jan. 20, 2009.
It literally was a day to remember, which is why I’m sharing it with you.
Almost immediately after Barack Obama’s election was decided Nov. 4, I fired off a request for press credentials to the Senate inaugural committee. It would be the first time the Dover Post actually had covered a presidential inauguration.
My request came back approved, and so my wife and I made a six-hour round trip to D.C. two days before the swearing-in to pick up my ticket. After practically signing my life away on security forms, I was handed a green-bordered card that put me in the fifth row in front of the presidential podium. I would be barely a stone’s throw from the president.
Stone’s throw? Forget I said that.
I made it to D.C. Tuesday morning with a small gaggle of reporters from the Delaware State News, The News Journal and the Delaware State University campus newspaper. We all owe a debt of gratitude to the folks at DSU, who allowed us to hitch a ride on the buses taking the Approaching Storm Marching Band to the nation’s capital.
As everyone knows, it was below freezing in D.C., but I dressed in layers and kept my cameras and other recording gear inside my parka. Leaving the Metro station and heading for Capitol Hill, I had a chance to talk to some of the thousands of people waiting in lines or just milling about. One man, exercising his First Amendment privileges and preaching about the ungodliness of American society, was roundly ignored by all.
After passing through three security checks, I made my way to a seat emblazoned with “Dover Post” on the backrest. The two hours after I took my place and the beginning of the ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. went quickly as I chatted with others in the press area and amused myself watching people trying to snap photos of Denzel Washington, Oprah Winfrey, Beyoncé and P. Diddy.
There were literally hundreds of thousands of people behind me watching on JumboTron viewscreens. Occasionally, they’d break out in chants of “Obama!” which were quickly taken up by those up front.
The crowds also cheered as different government officials were introduced, and I gamely looked around, hoping to spot Jack Markell among the governors. No luck, though; I yelled up at one of the governors — I don’t know who — about Markell’s whereabouts and was told, “He’s in the back, somewhere.”
At least Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. Norton A. Schwartz threw me a salute when he saw the “Air Force retired” knit cap I had pulled over my ears.
The loudest roar from the crowd behind us came with the arrival of former presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Former president George H.W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, also received applause, as did outgoing president George W. Bush, whose arrival was punctuated by the traditional ruffles and flourishes, played by the U.S. Marine Corps band.
The appearance of Biden and Obama garnered the most reaction, with the cheering from the mall echoing back to the Capitol building.
Many on the platform listened rapturously as Obama gave his inaugural address; one guest, Dorothy Bois of Saco, Maine, clapped fiercely at the new president’s declaration he would stand for integrity in government, although the sound was greatly muffled by her heavy mittens.
“We came here for two reasons,” she said afterward. “One, our new granddaughter was born last week, and two, for this.
“It was wonderful,” Bois said. “It is a new beginning. It’s just what this country needs.”
Gwen Walz, the wife of Democratic Minnesota representative Tim Walz, said Obama’s speech was something Americans needed to hear.
“I feel hopeful,” she said. “But this is a serious time. We need the focus on what he gave us today.”
The swearing-in was accompanied by the traditional 21-gun salute, provided by the U.S. Army firing cannons nearby as well as the Marine Corps band, playing “Hail to the Chief,” the first time for Obama.
After the presidential party left the platform, scenes of the Obamas and Bidens bidding goodbye to former president Bush and his wife, Laura, away from the crowds on the east side of the Capitol building, were broadcast on the JumboTrons. The crowds cheered again as the Marine Corps helicopter lifted off, cleared the Capitol and headed toward Andrews Air Force Base and the Bushes’ final flight to Texas.
Judging from the reaction of those around me, however, few seemed sorry the Bushes were leaving.
The trip home was almost anticlimactic. I owe a debt of gratitude to Rep. Mike Castle and his staff, who allowed me to warm up and get a bite to eat at his office in the Longworth Building, just across from the Capitol. Then it was a 45-minute wait in a three-block-long line to get into the Metro station, followed by a standing room only ride to the New Carrollton station, where a DSU van awaited. After the other reporters made it in — they had been delayed by the late start of the inaugural parade — we stopped in Annapolis for a well deserved, in my humble opinion, hot meal.
You will find more stories on the reaction of Delawareans who went to the inauguration, as well as that of the Delaware State University’s Approaching Storm Marching Band in our “B” section. Additional photos of the DSU band and inaugural balls, taken by freelance photographer Anteia Consorto, are on the Dover Post website, www.doverpost.com.
The state’s congressional delegation was at ILC Dover in Frederica Jan. 26 to announce ILC’s partnering with onetime rival Oceaneering International to bid on the new Constellation space suit contract. Although NASA has yet to officially announce a contractor for the advanced suits that will see Americans return to the moon sometime in the 2020s, the ILC/Oceaneering effort is seen as a shoe-in since there are no other contractors in the running.
While looking to the future in space, however, it also is appropriate to look back a little. The six-day spread of Jan. 27 through Feb. 1 is a particularly somber time for America’s space program, with the 42nd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire on Jan. 27, 1967, the Jan. 28, 1986, destruction of the shuttle Challenger, and the Feb. 1, 2003, disintegration of the space shuttle Columbia. In all 17 men and women lost their lives, due mainly dangerous to design flaws and bad management decisions.
NASA has ambitious plans for the next phase of the space program, plans that need to be carefully considered and carefully carried out. It is not known exactly what the new Obama administration’s outlook for the space program will be, but for one, I hope it plans to continue our search for knowledge both on and away from the Earth.
My thoughts are best summed up by Apollo 15 commander Dave Scott, as he stepped onto the moon in 1971.
“Man must explore,” Scott said, “and this is exploration at its greatest.”
Email Jeff Brown at email@example.com.