Today is another Presidential inauguration. These are always nostalgic for me because, as I posted four years ago, they remind me of the time I was in an inaugural parade.
It was in January 1969, and at another turbulent time for our nation, although for an entirely different reason. Richard Nixon was the President-elect taking office, winning in his second run at the Presidency by promising to end the Vietnam War. I was in my third year at the US Air Force Academy (USAFA), and my cadet squadron was one of six selected to march that year. It was quite an honor and was greatly appreciated, especially since it got us out of several days of class.
Vietnam was another divisive time for our nation, and it certainly impacted our plans. We were billeted at Bolling AFB in Washington, DC, which today is classified as a joint base. We did have a bit of free time during the trip, but were told not to go to certain areas of the city in uniform because it wasn’t safe; emotions over the Vietnam War were that high. I took the warnings seriously and didn’t go anywhere off-base. (It’s amazing how our military has gone in and out of favor throughout history, depending on the circumstances.)
Four years earlier, the USAFA cadets had marched in their winter overcoats and all the other service academies were in parade dress. So in 1969, we made sure to wear our parade dress despite bitterly cold weather (I remember the high was in the 20s), and of course the other academies adjusted to that year’s conditions and marched in winter overcoats. To try to keep warm, we all crowded into a huge scrum each time we had a break. (Long underwear helped too.) At that time we still carried World War II-era M1 rifles, and they were all inspected to make sure the firing pins were removed.
As for the parade itself, security was tight for that one, too. Troops in battle dress lined the parade route. We were one of the middle squadrons of our six and we had a hard time keeping in step because our band was in front, which put us equidistant between our band and the Coast Guard behind us. Which band we could hear depended on which way the wind was blowing, which was a problem because the Coast Guard was marching to a slightly different cadence. The other marching accommodation we had to make was the reviewing stand was to our left, so we did an “eyes left” instead of the usual “eyes right”; I did catch the briefest of glimpses of a smiling President Nixon.
My other memory was my mother was as excited as I was because the entire parade was being televised. She was sure she would be able to spot me on TV, and she alerted all her friends. Except when we came into the range of the TV cameras, the network cut away to cover Lyndon Johnson flying out of Andrews Air Force Base back to his home in Texas, and none of us got on the air. It was frustrating for everyone. I wouldn’t be surprised if they heard Mom screaming all the way to Washington.