THIRD IN A SERIES BY MIKE WHITTLESEY

TOURING THE NATION'S CAPITAL - Last month, 19 students from Union High School attended President Obama’s Inauguration and toured several national monuments and museums in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Dean Bostian.

TOURING THE NATION’S CAPITAL – Last month, 19 students from Union High School attended President Obama’s Inauguration and toured several national monuments and museums in Washington, D.C. Photo courtesy of Dean Bostian.

On January 20, 2013, a group of 19 students and three chaperones from Union High School traveled to Washington, D.C. to witness the 57th Presidential Inauguration. While there, the group spent two additional days sightseeing, visiting a number of national monuments and museums. It was a trip one students described as “filled with a lot of history.”

Each stop along the tour had something of interest, from the 19 foot tall statue of Thomas Jefferson at the Jefferson Memorial to the actual derringer pistol used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln at Ford’s Theatre. And though each day was jam-packed with numerous sights to see, the students were able to share their experiences with their family and friends, using cell phones to snap and send photos, in addition to accessing their Twitter and Facebook accounts to keep the world informed of their progress, much like a trail of breadcrumbs.

When asked which landmarks were particularly memorable, it was Arlington National Cemetery, the Holocaust Museum and the Pentagon tours that received the most mentions. At Arlington, the students were particularly impressed with the wreath-laying and changing of the guard ceremonies. As one student noted, it was also “very humbling to see all who have died for their country,” referencing the thousands of grave markers that were visible all around them.

The group’s tour of the Holocaust Museum was an especially somber one. While many of the students had seen movies such as Schindler’s List, which documented the Nazi regime’s persecution of the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s, the visit was a particularly moving one, as each student received a packet containing the photo of a real person alive during that time period. At specific points in the tour, additional information about their person was revealed. It wasn’t until the end of the tour, though, that the students learned if their person survived the ordeal. Also making a big impact on the Union students was the distinctive odor of burnt shoes still present in portions of the museum. Afterward, as the students talked about what they had seen, the mood was “really serious and sad.”

The group’s tour of the Pentagon Memorial, which is open to the public 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, came at night. The monument includes 184 benches, one for each life that was lost on September 11, 2001 when terrorists deliberately crashed a hijacked airliner into the Pentagon. Students described the tour as “intense,” noting that the benches pointing toward the building were victims who died at the Pentagon that day, while those pointing away were victims aboard the hijacked Flight 77. Each bench is inscribed with a victim’s name and is arranged by each person’s date of birth, ranging from the youngest victim (just three years old) to the oldest (71 years old).

Following the whirlwind tour of a portion of the nation’s capital, the Union students returned to Iowa with a greater appreciation of their country’s history and heritage. As one student succinctly described the experience, “It makes you appreciate all the things you have.”

For Dean Bostian, the Union Social Studies teacher who organized the trip, the experience is one he hopes can be offered again in the future, perhaps every two years.

“From the bus company to our tour guide, and the chaperones there,” he acknowledged, “they all had nothing but fantastic things to say about the kids from Iowa, especially our group.”