Greg and Patti Smith were invited guests of Families United (a not for profit Military family support group) this past week (Sun. Sept. 16 - Wed. Sept. 19) to Washington D.C. An anonymous benefactor paid $1,000,00.00 to foot the bill for 400+ military families. This covered our airfare, hotel stay at the Ritz-Carlton, $135.00 per person per diem for food, transport around town. We toured the Lincoln Memorial, the Pentagon and viewed the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Immediately following was a ceremony held in the Arlington Amphitheater where General Peter Pace, Chairman Joint Chiefs of Staff, addressed the military families. From there our coach bus transported us to Arlington Cemetery where the Gold Star families placed flowers at their loved ones graves. I had the honor of spending time with 2 Gold Star Moms and listened as they shared stories of their heroes.
Monday a.m. we were served a nice sit down breakfast at the Sheraton Hotel ballroom. After several speakers, we were asked if we enjoyed our breakfast? Everyone applauded to which our Emcee announced, "Good! Because tomorrow a.m. you will be having breakfast at the White House!" This was news to all of us as it had not been printed on our schedule so there was an outburst of applause and cheers.
Tuesday a.m. we were served breakfast on the South Lawn of the White House. It was magnificent. Still no word on 'who' would be there but there was something in the air! During breakfast a Military Band ensemble was playing music on the balcony. Then out came President Bush, Laura Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Condoleeza Rice. The crowd went wild. The President gave a short speech to our Military families and Vets with his wife Laura at his side. He spoke of his appreciation for our sacrifices as family members and honored our heroes. When he was done, the crowd pressed in. One by one we got our chance to speak briefly with him and take pictures. The President took his time with us and it was very meaningful. The chance of a lifetime!! I had a good conversation with him about my Marine sons and showed him their picture. He was very gracious and personable. I assured him Central Illinois is supportive of our troops especially in our upcoming OPERATION SANTA project. He thanked me for our region's support. My husband Greg took a lot of pictures.
Then I made my way to Ms. Rice, then V.P. Chaney, then Mrs. Bush. Again, all very cordial, showed them the pic of my sons, conversed briefly. Then got to tour the White House.
That afternoon we toured Capitol Hill then attended a press conference with Vets for Freedom, an organization comprised of Iraqi/Afghanistan Veterans. Sen. John McCain, Sen. Joe Liebermann and Sen. Lindsey Graham were among the many speakers. Our day concluded with a meal and a tour of the new United States Marine Corps Museum in Quantico, VA.
Our transportation to the airport for our departure to the airport Wed. a.m. was provided by private limousine.
One couple I met were the parents of a 9/11 victim from the Pentagon. He was one of 5 whose remains were never found. We also spoke with 2 Gold Star wives who were each pregnant when their husbands were killed.
It was an amazing experience which we will never forget. And always be grateful for in that it was all paid for by an anonymous donor. Truly, it was a gift from Heaven!