Inauguration Day: Flashing Back

Inauguration Day is almost here, and my trip to Washington, D.C. to march in the Inauguration Parade is about to begin. As it unfolds, I’ll return to a place that looms large in my experience and in American Red Cross history…

Sep. 21, 2001: I’ve arrived in Washington, D.C. in the aftermath of the Sep. 11 terrorist attacks, and have joined the Public Affairs team assigned to support the disaster relief operation at the Pentagon. I’ve just spent the last 10 days working Public Affairs back at the Oregon Trail Chapter in Portland, and have finally made it into the field.

The tip of the spear, as it were, of our disaster response at the Pentagon is Camp Unity, the large support base established in the south parking lot at the complex. In keeping with its name, this service delivery site has brought in much more than just the Red Cross. The Salvation Army is here. Southern Baptist Disaster Services is here. FEMA, the major military branches, the FBI and other Federal law enforcement agencies are here. Even McDonald’s, Burger King and Outback Steakhouse are here to help out.

The center of this sprawling encampment is the “Big Top”, which serves as both dining hall and lounge for the hundreds of responders working here. Its walls are covered with handmade posters and signs from throughout the U.S., thanking us for our work and wishing us well. Cards from schoolkids are found on every table.

Across the way, a large wall has risen — America’s Unity Wall. Here, the assembled responders have written their names, their affiliations and their sentiments for all to see. A large Camp Unity sign displays the Pentagon building enclosed in clasped hands. It is a telling symbol of the diverse elements that have joined here to render assistance in dark chapter of American history.

Fast forward to Jan. 20, 2009…

The parking areas at the Pentagon again resound to the sound of frenzied activity and teeming humanity. It is here that the thousands of participants in the 56th Presidential Inauguration Parade are going through security screening before moving into their assembly areas. Among them are the 102 members of the Get A Life Marching Band from Portland, and me…

Like those days after 9/11, it’s hectic here. Unlike those days, it’s considerably more enjoyable.

(Tom McCann is a volunteer with the Oregon Trail Chapter)