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
Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old
I asked Cam Morris, head of Eastern Travel/Oneonta Bus Lines, how many years her company has been handling the Safety Patrol trip to Washington, D.C.
My pal Brucie, savior of Sidney's hospital
Ask any hospital administrators if they've ever heard of a closed hospital in New York state that has ever been re-opened. They will say, "Impossible." In a half century of going through records you can't find any.
Catching a whiff of 'Vermont Vapor'
We just came back from a weekend in Manchester, Vt., and my wife insists that something "magical" happens when you pass the state sign. "I think they spray 'Vermont Vapor' out of the sign or something," she opined, "something that actually changes us."
Selections from the virtual mailbag
Well, it's time to open up the email bag, and it's really full!
Recalling days of 'Doughnut King'
In 1969, I was "The Doughnut King" in Sidney.
- Monday, March 11, 2013
Opera great's visit still a thrilling memory
Opera singer Marian Anderson (1897-1993) has been called the "most distinctive American voice of the 20th century."
- Monday, February 25, 2013
Film clip a window into Oneonta's past
One of my radio listeners sent me an astonishing piece of video recently. I posted it on my Facebook page (go to Facebook, search "BIG CHUCK") and it has been viewed by well over 1,000 people in just a week.
- Monday, February 11, 2013
Many made stop at upstate naval base
My father was in the U.S. Navy. Not for long, but he did enlist out of high school in 1944. He did his naval training at Sampson Naval Training Base in Romulus. Shortly after Dad's basic training, he was honorably discharged because of a health issue. So, although his service was brief, I needed to find out as much about it as I possibly could.
- Monday, January 28, 2013
Local foods worthy of national spotlight
Well, President Obamaâ€™s second inauguration is over and we can all breathe a sigh of relief and satisfaction.
- Monday, January 14, 2013
Remembering lives of the not-so-famous
I write about 25 columns a year for this paper. And I must admit, this annual one is always my favorite. A lot of famous people left this world last year, including General Norman Schwarzkopf, Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, jazz pianist Dave Brubeck, singer Andy Williams and TV's George Jefferson actor -- Sherman Hemsley.
- Monday, December 31, 2012
Canines create unforgettable moments
Last year, I used my holiday column to pay tribute to my dog, Stella. The darn dog actually received fan mail after that, and has insisted that I do a shout-out to her canine colleagues each year around this time. So, to keep Stella happy, here goes.
- Monday, December 17, 2012
Nothing like an old-fashioned movie theater
What is it about a movie theater?
- Monday, December 3, 2012
Chuck's daughter returns to a town full of memories
My daughter Frances, OHS Class of 2000, came home for Thanksgiving last week after not having been in her hometown for nearly five years. I asked her to be my "guest columnist" to share her thoughts about coming home for the holidays. I hope you enjoy her story.
- Monday, November 19, 2012
Time to move on after grueling campaign season
Nobody likes a presidential election campaign better than I do. But this one darn near took a piece out of me.
- Monday, November 5, 2012
One nasty hurricane more than enough for one lifetime
Hey, Sandy! Don't let the door hit you on the way out.
- Monday, October 22, 2012
Latter-day stunt men still knew how to thrill
What is it with all these crazy stuntmen all of a sudden?
- Monday, October 8, 2012
Andy Williams, last of the great crooners
When singer Andy Williams died a week ago, it truly was an end of an era.
- Monday, September 24, 2012
Senator's farm was all I imagined
Many years ago, when I first arrived in Oneonta, Daniel Patrick Moynihan was the senior senator from New York state. His top aide, Ross Frommer, used to come into the radio station for interviews and to tell my audience about the various legislative efforts involving "their senator."
- Monday, September 10, 2012
Family's history includes ancestor who knew Lincoln
- Monday, August 27, 2012
Making up for lost time on Facebook
If there ever was a true-blue phenomenon, it is Facebook.
- Safety Patrol D.C. visits never get old