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Washington, D.C.’s air was sweet with patriotism


Though my recent trip to Washington, D.C., to cover the Greater Des Moines Partnership’s annual lobbying effort was my first with this group, I was introduced to the nation’s capital during high school and college. Coincidentally, I was in D.C. that March day in 1981, on spring break from college, when President Reagan narrowly escaped John Hinckley Jr.’s assassination attempt.

I was touring one of the Smithsonian museums with my brother, Mike, and we were passing by an old-time Associated Press news ticker slowly spitting out printed lines of text. Pausing to see what was coming across the wire, we saw the headline “President Shot.” We initially thought it was a replay of the tragic day in Dallas, until we noticed the Washington dateline and the references to Reagan.

A few years later, I had the honor of serving as an Air Force officer while Reagan was our military’s commander-in-chief.

What a time to return to Washington earlier this month, for a three-day trip that coincided precisely with Reagan’s final farewell in the capital. We were traveling into the midst of history.

Because our flight arrived in the late morning of June 9, our bus was still able to proceed down Constitution Avenue, down the route the riderless horse pulling a caission would follow just a few hours later. People were already gathered along the barricades on both sides of the street to stake out the best places to watch the procession.

I’d love to be able to say that I went to each of the events associated with the state funeral. However, with a schedule of back-to-back Partnership events to attend and deadline pressures to help my co-workers finish the week’s Business Record back in Des Moines, I found myself working well into each evening.

I admire the stamina of the people who stood in line along the route and who waited their turn in line to pay their respects. Many in our group witnessed first-hand the drama that television just can’t quite capture.

When the caisson approached the waiting crowd, “all you could hear was babies crying” as respectful silence fell over the crowd, said Doug Dieck from the Ryan Cos. “I felt a real sense of pride and patriotism to be there,” he said. “It was pretty cool.”

Consultant Tina Mowry was among another group from Des Moines that waited on Constitution Avenue for the casket to pass by.

“It was pretty remarkable when you saw the casket go by in front of you, and people talking about Reagan and all the great things that he did and his leadership style,” she said.

Also noteworthy to many of us was the number of people who brought their children to witness the week’s events. “I think it would be really remarkable to have that experience as a kid and remember coming to Washington, D.C., and seeing that happen,” Mowry said.

Everyone who saw Nancy Reagan’s limousine pass by noticed how she faithfully waved to crowd, and “people did a nice gentle wave back to her,” said Tom Narak, incoming West Des Moines school superintendent. “It was touching.”

At a time when we’re barraged by negative images, it was refreshing to focus on honoring the office of the presidency and the passing of a man who was undoubtedly the most positive leader I’ve known in my adult life.

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