Since moving to the Washington DC area a little over year ago, we have done some pretty cool things. We’ve gone to the Smithsonian on the weekends, hosted friends and family and shown them the sights, flown kites at the Cherry Blossom Festival, and we’ve had the privilege to spend the last two Independence Days in our nation’s capital. I thought nothing could beat last year’s 4th of July. We spent the day with family then topped it off by watching the fireworks over the Potomac with the Washington Monument proudly standing before them. I guess I was wrong though. Last year was great, but this year was FANTASTIC!!
As you may know, my husband is in the Air Force. This year, he was chosen from his unit to be put in for consideration for an invitation to spend the Fourth of July at the White House for a “Salute to the Military”. When Adam called me at work to get my social security number, I thought “Well, this could be cool, but it’ll probably never happen.” Then on July 1st, I got a one line email from him – “We’re going to the White House.” My jaw dropped and I was so excited that I told everyone I passed on my way out of work.
We took the Metro into DC and walked to the White House only to be greeted by 800 of our closest military friends and their families. We thought getting through security would be awful, but we made it through three (yes…three) levels of security within 10 minutes and were soon walking up the White House South Lawn.
There were games for kids, hundreds of tables set out for dinner, tables of food being constantly replenished, beverage bars, beautiful decorations, and the most mind-boggling balloon artists I’ve ever seen. These guys made things that I cannot do justice to with words. I would have taken pictures for you all, but I really didn’t think people would appreciate a random stranger taking pictures of their kids with their balloon art. Anyhow, just suffice it to say, they were awesome – dragons breathing flames, monkeys hanging from trees, Uncle Sam hats with beards. Simply amazing. There was also great music by the Marine Corps Band, as well as the opportunity to meet and take pictures with some former presidents…well, they were the Washington Nationals’ mascots, the Racing Presidents…but STILL! It was a great time!
We decided to eat some dinner and then stake out a good spot to hear the President speak. The food was great – simple barbeque fare, but taken up a few notches. There were cheeseburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, garden salad, and fresh frozen watermelon pops (which were a Godsend, as it was 90+ degrees and very humid). After dinner, we strolled over to get some pictures of the White House and find a good spot. We had a great location with a view of the terrace where President Obama was to speak, right on the rope partitioning off the lawn. Then we noticed some official looking-type people parting the crowd to make an aisle down the center of the lawn leading right up to the White House, so we hurried over and got a spot there, thinking they were making room for the President to walk down the lawn. Bad move. They were making the aisle to allow the Marine Corps Marching Band to come through, which was awesome to see…but we lost our spot right in front. We made our way back up front and ended up about 5 people deep in the crowd waiting for the President.
At about 6:45, President and Mrs. Obama came out onto the terrace and welcomed us to the White House. He gave a short but moving speech, thanking all the military men and women for their sacrifice and service, as well as thanks to military families for their support and dedication. I have to say, I’ve never seen a President in person before. I was somewhat awestruck. Regardless of your political views or which side of the fence you fall on, you are in the presence of the President of the United States of America. It was very humbling and definitely an honor to be there. To hear him say in person “God bless you. God bless the United States of America. And, happy Fourth of July” was very touching.
After his speech, the President and Mrs. Obama came down to the lawn, shook hands and spoke with the people along the edge of the lawn. Right where Adam and I had started out before we moved. UGH! I missed my chance to meet the President and shake his hand! Serves me right for being antsy and wanting to take full advantage of this experience. There was too much to see and I didn’t want to miss a thing!
Once the Obamas retired back to the White House, the Marine Corps band started up again (they’re awesome, by the way) and dessert was served. I have never seen so many Dove ice cream bars in my life. That cold treat (well…maybe I had two, but who’s counting) was the perfect topper to a great meal. We walked around, ate our ice cream, and tried to stand in line for balloon animals to take home to the kids. We debated bringing them along, but in the end we thought they were just too young to fully appreciate the experience (plus Jack is terrified of fireworks, so we would have had to leave early). We thought some cool balloon art would be a great consolation prize for them. Sadly, we waited in line for almost an hour only to hear that they were going to start cleaning up and going home. We decided to forgo our spot in line and give it to the kids behind us so they wouldn’t go home empty handed. We settled on White House cups to take back to the boys, which they were happy to get!
At this point, the sky was darkening and the USO stage started lighting up. As if this whole experience wasn’t great enough, we got a concert from Amos Lee and Train! They were both fantastic performers. I was never really a huge Train fan, but I can’t get their music out of my head now (in a good way). When they played their song “Soul Sister”, they invited all the little girls in the audience up on stage to dance. It was seriously the most adorable thing I saw that night! All those little girls dancing and singing along was too cute! They finished up their set with their song “Drops of Jupiter” and I don’t know if it was immaculate timing or serendipity, but just as the line “did you fall from a shooting star?” came, the fireworks started. Too cool.
The fireworks show was great, but what made it amazing was knowing where we were and why. We were standing on the lawn of the White House with the Washington and Jefferson Monuments in front of us, watching the celebration of our nation’s independence, surrounded by the very people who protect us and devote their lives to keeping our country safe. It was one of the most wonderful experiences of my life and both Adam and I are truly humbled and thankful that we had this opportunity. I hope you enjoyed sharing it with me!
If you’d like to see a video clip of the night’s events, here’s a link to the White House’s website — http://www.whitehouse.gov/blog/2011/07/05/video-fourth-july-celebration-white-house.
If you’re interested in learning more about First Lady Michelle Obama and Dr. Jill Biden’s Joining Forces initiative, click here — http://www.whitehouse.gov/joiningforces.