Marching from the 8th row back

We took our seats back on our tour bus, which we’d become acquainted with from hours earlier. There was an unusual loss of words for the band members as we attempted to swallow the monumental experience we had just had. The quiet in our warm bus separated us from the chill of the music, cheering, and night winter sky we had just left. Some cadets exchanged smiles with simple, but whole-hearted comments like, “that was awesome.”

 Before the bus even turned off of Pennsylvania Ave, however, the students shook off the awestruck feeling and bitter cold. Cell phones were buzzing all around with texts from friends and family that had watched from their cozy living rooms. Videos of the band marching were up moments later, calling out students like Kyle Morrison, a sophomore alto-saxophone player who had a close-up on the news. We joked about his national debut with a busted lip that he got after chasing another cadet the night before.

Lt. Col. Edwards shouted over his shoulder, “Col. Holden said we looked great!” as he slid through the rest of the congratulatory emails he just received on his iPhone.

Student Audrey Seaman practices for the Parade (WCAX Photo)

Student Audrey Seaman practices for the Parade (WCAX Photo)

We had loaded the bus around 8 a.m. that morning in grey on white, instruments and I.D. in hand. Even the people who are normally a force to reckon with in the morning were in good moods that day. We drove off towards the Pentagon where we were put in a holding area of dozens of tour busses. After about an hour of waiting in that parking lot, the excitement began to wear off, but picked back up again when the bus began moving.

Next thing we knew, an airborne sergeant, a woman, and some guy boarded the bus. The sergeant to keep us on track with our schedule and make sure we were where we had to be at every moment, the woman for moral support, and some guy to hold the Vermont banner as we marched.

We scooted through the security check as quickly as we could and then found ourselves, yet again, standing in another parking lot. James Taylor’s guitar rang over the loud-speaker just as it had yesterday when we heard him doing the sound check at the Capitol Building.

President Obama’s voice came on for his speech. I strained my ears to catch some of his words to the nation through the roar of the tour buses and chatter of the hundreds of units waiting.

We got back on the bus and stayed there for the next few hours until we were finally escorted to the National Mall.

Virginia Military Institute’s entire corps formed up to march as the last unit in the Inaugural Parade. The regiment, similar in size to Norwich’s regiment, marched by just about 50 yards from where we were warming up.

It was like a high school dance. Norwich the guy and VMI the girl sitting on the other side of the gym with all of her friends. Norwich gawking at VMI’s formation. Checking out each other from head to toe, until a few cadets broke in with waves.

One of VMI’s commandant-types came over visit and said, “They thought you were the Citadel, so I told them not to worry—it’s Norwich!”

After waiting outside for hours, the sky turned red as the sun set behind the Washington and Lincoln monuments that we had explored the day before. The excitement was lost somewhere on the bus or in one of the many parking lots from earlier.

And then we started moving. Slowly at first, with enough time to look around and see the snipers lining the buildings that seemed forever away. A man on the other side of the fence hooted, “YEAH NORWICH!” We all turned to see our one fan as he shouted “essayons” reminding us of our university’s motto, “I will try.”

Then it began and the excitement came out of its hiding place and rushed right through my fingertips that I could barely feel on my flute. “Parade begins here” the sign said, just in case the large crowd and announcer weren’t clues enough. The grandiose voice announced “On marches Norwich University’s Regimental Band! The Regimental Band is the oldest collegiate band in the nation, founded back in 1820.” He pauses as he lets the date sink in. “Norwich University is a ….” and Kurt Franke, the band’s senior drum major, raised the mace in the air and we began playing.

The NU Regimental Band poses at the Iwo Jima Memorial. (Paul Putney Photo)

The NU Regimental Band poses at the Iwo Jima Memorial. (Paul Putney Photo)

This was a reoccurring event. Announcers introduced us as we glided along the recently cleaned pavement. With every turn or large group of people, I thought the moment we’d been waiting for had come.

Just as they made the start of the parade obvious, they took every step possible to let us know the President was just a few steps ahead. The number of service members lining the streets increased in numbers. The once-night sky turned to artificial brightness, blinding the band as the pulse of our feet drove us forward.

The reviewing stand came into sight, with inch-thick bullet-proof glass housing a crowd of people. My eyes locked on President Obama. He wore a blue tie and held a white coffee cup that matched the enclosed review stand and the place he calls home, which sat just out of sight behind him. From the eighth row back, I see his casual body stance become rigid as he salutes our presence.

My peripherals lose sight and seconds later my eyes struggle to adjust to the darkness. Minutes later, it’s over and we are taking our seats back on the tour bus that we’d become so well acquainted with during a very long day.

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