Posts Tagged ‘House of Representatives’

A President’s Surprise Visit to the Lincoln Memorial

During this morning’s bike ride I not only rode by The Lincoln Memorial, but I also rode back in history.  As I paused at the memorial, I went back in time as I thought about this day in 1972.

Today is the anniversary of one of the strangest things to happen during President Richard Nixon’s time in office.  And that’s saying something when you think about some of the other things that happened during his time as commander in chief, such as the time, when he was still running for president, when he appeared on the politically charged, sketch comedy TV show “Laugh-In” and awkwardly asked, “Sock it to me?”  By the way, for the rest of his life Nixon contended that “appearing on Laugh-In is what got him elected.”  Other incidents during his presidency include: the time he met in the Oval Office with Elvis Presley, during which the King of Rock and Roll lobbied to be deputized as a federal agent in the War on Drugs, and; the time he declared to a roomful of newspaper editors during a press conference in Disney World at the height of the Watergate scandal, “I am not a crook.”

It all began days earlier, on April 30, 1972.  The anti-war movement was shocked when President Richard Nixon announced a major new escalation in the Vietnam War – the U.S. invasion of Cambodia.  It took many people by surprise inasmuch as he had addressed the nation just ten days earlier, outlining his plan for the withdrawal of 150,000 troops from Vietnam, seemingly signaling that he was serious about his promise to get America out of the war.  Near the end of his announcement about Cambodia, Nixon appealed for calm, especially on America’s college campuses.  He nonetheless expected blowback.  And that is exactly what he got.

Campuses across the country exploded in dissent, culminating on May 4th when National Guardsmen unleashed a 13-second, 67-shot barrage of gunfire toward student demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four students and wounding nine, one of whom was paralyzed from the waist down with a bullet lodged in his spine.  In the tense days following Kent State, more than 450 U.S. colleges, universities, and even high schools were disrupted by strikes.

Locally, impromptu rallies erupted all over the D.C. region, and a major demonstration was planned for May 9 on the National Mall.  Law enforcement entities went on alert, mobilizing all available resources including the entire D.C. police force and 5,000 military personnel from the 82nd Airborne Division who were stationed in the Old Executive Office Building next door to the White House, which was encircled by D.C. transit buses parked bumper to bumper as an additional security barrier.

The above information is provided to give a sense of what a highly-charged and volatile atmosphere existed nationally, and especially here in D.C., at that time.  Because it was within this setting that one of the most bizarre moments of Nixon’s presidency took place when, in the early morning hours of May 9, 1970, the president made an impromptu visit to The Lincoln Memorial.

At approximately 4:00 a.m., Nixon was awake and listening to a composition by Rachmaninoff as he took in the majestic view that the White House affords of the Lincoln Memorial.  He also observed students protestors beginning to gather for the protest planned for later that day.  Inspired to visit the hippie contingent, Nixon asked his valet, Manolo Sanchez, if he wanted to take in the Memorial up close at night.  The Secret Service was astonished but adhered to the orders of their commander in chief to take the impromptu trip. Nixon, Sanchez and approximately four agents took the presidential limousine to the foot of the Lincoln Memorial.

It was there that Nixon engaged a small group of students.  He began by acknowledging that most surely thought of him as a real “S.O.B.”  Irregardless, he explained that they all shared the same goal – stopping the killing in Southeast Asia.  And despite varying interpretations of his recently announced invasion of Cambodia, his overall actions proved this contention as he did more to extricate the U.S. from that conflict than his predecessors. During his discussion with the protestors, he also spoke about his views as a pacifist, given his Quaker background. Nixon explained that he changed after WWII to a view war as only useful as long as it was necessary.

The discussion also vacillated with lighter subjects, which was the socially awkward Nixon’s attempt to communicate with young people on their terms.  He spoke about the benefits of traveling and dating while young.  Nixon discussed the Syracuse football team with students from New York, and surfing with a student from California.  This was a leader not naturally at ease with people.  Yet it was Nixon who was willing to open a dialogue with individuals naturally opposed to him in a manner few with such power have ever attempted.

As the sun began to rise, Nixon, having exhausted both himself and his welcome, began walking back to the presidential limousine. As he did, a student Nixon describes as “a bearded fellow from Detroit” rushed up and asked if he could have his picture taken with the president. Nixon instructed the White House doctor to take the student’s picture with the president.  “He seemed to be quite delighted,” Nixon says of that bearded fellow from Detroit. “It was, in fact, the broadest smile that I saw on the entire visit.”

The president along with Sanchez and his entourage, including the Secret Service agents, whose numbers had increased during the course of the visit, then departed.  But they did not return to the White House.  Not yet.  Sanchez had never seen the famous “well” of the House of Representatives, either. Having roused security there, the President was sitting at one of the House desks as his valet took to the same podium used for State of the Union addresses.  From there, and now also with press secretary Ron Ziegler in tow, the presidential entourage proceeded to the Mayflower Hotel on Connecticut Avenue for breakfast, before heading back to the White House.

There were no news crews or fanfare. There was no prepared speech, talking points, or plan on what to do when Nixon arrived. And all that remains are a few photographs and the recollections of those involved, including Nixon’s, as can be heard on the video below.

           
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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A Secret Entrance to the White House

Anyone who has been near the White House when the president or visiting dignitaries were arriving or departing have seen the entrances to the White House in use.  Equipped with security gates, ram-proof physical barriers, armed personnel, electronic surveillance equipment, and other unseen security measures, the entrances are obvious.  But there is another entrance to the White House that few people know about.

Located two blocks away from the White House in the 1500 block of H Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood, the secret entrance to the White House looks like almost any other alley in the city.  Thousands and thousands of pedestrians and vehicles pass by it every day, and I doubt any of them know what is hiding in plain site right in front of them.   About the only thing that distinguishes it from any other alley is a small, unobtrusive booth built into the wall of the building on the right side of alley.  I imagine most people who see it assume the booth is for an attendant collecting money for a public parking lot at the other end of the alley.  But it is actually a bullet-proof enclosure manned by Secret Service agents.

The alley leads south past the back of the Federal Claims Courthouse Building, before ending in an unassuming doorway at the rear of Freedman’s Bank, formerly known as the Treasury Department annex, on Pennsylvania Avenue.   From there, according to archival newspaper reports from before security concerns prevented the publishing of such information, the passageway to the White House passes through two subterranean tunnels.

The first tunnel was constructed in 1919 when the Treasury Department Annex was built, presumably to protect the Treasury and its employees from being robbed of the vast sums of cash with which they worked.  The second tunnel was contracted for President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II, and lead from the East Wing of the White House to the first Presidential bomb shelter.  The tunnel and bomb shelter were to be a secret throughout the war, but was disclosed to the public in December of 1941 when Congressman Clare E. Hoffman complained about its expense in an open debate in the House of Representatives.

In later years, the tunnel has been used by persons who needed to exit or depart the White House without public or press attention. President Richard Nixon’s daughter, Tricia Nixon, and her husband, Edward F. Cox, departed the White House via the tunnel after their 1972 Rose Garden wedding.  President Lyndon Johnson also used the tunnel to avoid Vietnam War protesters when departing the White House.  Other uses of the tunnel have either been discredited or, like the stories of Marilyn Monroe using a tunnel to sneak into the White House as part of an affair with President John F. Kennedy, remain unproven.

Once the alley and tunnels were connected to provide for vehicular access to the White House, the passageway was modified to end in the parking garage in the White House basement.  And despite the general public’s lack of knowledge of the access way, or perhaps because of it, it remains in use to this day.

Women In Military Service For America Memorial

Women In Military Service For America Memorial

On this bike ride I went to see the Women in Military Service for America Memorial (WIMSA). Many people who have seen this relatively new memorial are not even aware that they have. Almost any visit to Arlington National Cemetery includes seeing the WIMSA, because the memorial is located at the western end of Memorial Drive (MAP) as a ceremonial entrance to Arlington National.

In the early 1980s, women veterans began pressing for a memorial to women in the U.S. armed services.  They initially won the formal support of the American Veterans Committee (AVC), which was founded in 1943 as a liberal veterans organization and an alternative to groups such as the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars, which supported a conservative political and social agenda.  The AVC established the Women in Military Service for America Memorial Foundation (WMSAMF) to raise funds and lobby Congress for a memorial.  The foundation turned first to the larger veterans groups, and won the support of both the American Legion and the Veterans of Foreign Wars.  With most veterens solidly behind the effort, the decision to build the memorial was essentially a foregone conclusion, and legislation for the Memorial was introduced and passed the House of Representatives in November 1985.

After her retirement from the U.S. Air Force in 1985, Brigadier General Wilma L. Vaught became the primary spokesperson for the WMSAMF.  According to Vaught, she was elected president of the memorial foundation because she missed the first meeting and was not there to turn down the honor.  Under her leadership, the site selection process identified its current location.  And even though the existing Hemicycle and entrance to the cemetery was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, permission was granted to modify the site to create the WIMSA.  The design was then selected through a national competition.  Finally, construction of the Memorial began, and was in progress for approximately 11 years.

The WIMSA was officially dedicated October 18, 1997.  The Memorial dedication ceremony began with a fly-over of military aircraft, all of which were piloted by women.  This was the first time in U.S. history that an all-female fly-over had occurred. Speakers at the event included Secretary of Defense William Cohen, Vice President Al Gore and Tipper Gore, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States Sandra Day O’Connor, retired General John Shalikashvili, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Hugh Shelton.  President Bill Clinton and First Lady Hillary Clinton addressed the audience via taped message, as they were on a state visit to South Africa.  But the highlight of the dedication ceremony was 101-year-old Frieda Mae Greene Hardin, a veteran of World War I.  She was escorted to the speaker’s podium by her 73-year-old son, and wore her World War I Navy yeoman’s uniform.  An estimated 30,000 people attended the ceremony.  The Memorial was permanently opened to the general public two days later.

The WIMSA site is the 4.2-acre ceremonial etrance to Arlington National Cemetery. A 30-foot high curved neoclassical retaining wall stands at the entrance, with an education center in the cemetery hillside behind the existing retaining wall. The Memorial incorporates a reflecting pool on the plaza in front of the curved gateway, or hemicycle.  And the Memorial’s roof is an arc of glass tablets inscribed with quotations by and about women who have served in defense of their country. Sunlight passing over these quotes creates changing shadows of the texts on the walls of the gallery below and brings natural light into the interior of the Education Center.  Four staircases pass through the hemicycle wall, allowing visitors access to the education center, as well as a panoramic view of D.C. from the terrace.

WomenMilitaryServiceMemorial03     WomenMilitaryServiceMemorial01     WomenMilitaryServiceMemorial04
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

John F. Kennedy's Homes in D.C.

John F. Kennedy’s Homes in D.C.

Because he was so young when he was assassinated in 1963, it is difficult to picture John F. Kennedy as anything but a relatively young man.  But had he lived, John F. Kennedy would have turned 97 years old today. To mark the occasion, I decided to go on a JFK-themed bike ride.

I could have ridden back out to Arlington National Cemetery to see The Eternal Flame at his gravesite. Or I could have ridden to Dallas where he was assassinated, although that would have taken more time than I had. But instead of allowing the emphasis to be on his death, I wanted the ride to focus on his life.  So I decided to ride to where he lived, or at least where he lived while he was in D.C.

Prior to being elected President, Kennedy served for six years in the House of Representatives, and then eight years in the U.S. Senate.  During those different times living in the nation’s capital, he lived in six different houses. On today’s ride I tracked them all down to see the places where he lived. It was a great day for a ride, and worth the trip to see these historical houses.

Kennedy had a preference for living in Georgetown, so all of his residences were in that neighborhood except his last one, which was downtown at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.  His first D.C. home, as seen in the photo above, was at 3307 N Street (MAP).  His subsequent homes, depicted in order in the photographs below, were located at 1528 31st Street (MAP), 2808 P. Street (MAP), 3321 Dent Place (MAP), and at 1400 34th Street (MAP).

And, of course, his last and most famous residence in D.C., and where he was living at the time he died, was located at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue (MAP), and is named The White House.

JFKhouse02     JFKhouse01     JFKhouse04     JFKhouse05

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