Local Army veteran Josh Hawkins recently was able to visit Washington, D.C.
While the trip was made to attend his godson’s baptism, Hawkins was only a short drive from the nation’s capital.
Some of the monuments he was able to visit included the Vietnam Memorial, Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.
The landmarks are very near to each other, located within walking distance — with the exception of the cemetery, according to Hawkins.
“It surprised me that you could get that close,” he said.
“The Vietnam Memorial is breathtaking — like getting hit in the chest with a bat,” Hawkins said.
The memorial was created so that if a panel was damaged, it could be replaced quickly.
Visitors to the wall often leave things behind at the base of the wall, whether a picture or trinkets that have some sentimental value.
When he visited, there were cans of Budweiser beer left behind.
“They were unopened cans. Some of them had pictures attached to them,” Hawkins said.
During the Vietnam War, the soldiers were given beer as part of their rations, specifically Budweiser.
“That wouldn’t fly today,” he said.
The cans likely were left by veterans who came to honor the men they served with during the war, according to Hawkins.
The National Cemetery at Arlington, Va., was even more emotional, Hawkins said.
While the cemetery is divided into sections, most don’t know there is an entire area dedicated to civilians.
The cemetery holds presidents, soldiers and astronauts, as well.
“I would like to go back and explore it some more,” Hawkins said.
Two of the individuals he mentioned were Audie Murphy — one of the most decorated combat soldiers in history — and Gen. John Joseph “Black Jack” Pershing.
Pershing was one of the first officers to lead African-American troops.
The Unknown Soldiers
The Tomb of the Unknowns, which is located near the center of the cemetery, is one of Arlington’s most popular tourist sites.
Hawkins said he was the most emotional about the tomb.
It contains the remains of unknown American soldiers from World War I, World War II, the Korean Conflict and, until 1998, the Vietnam War.
Each of the soldiers received the Medal of Honor at the time of interment and the medals, as well as the flags which covered their caskets, are on display inside the Memorial Amphitheater.
The Tomb is guarded at all times, in all weather, by specially trained members of the United States Infantry.
“It was so quiet you could hear the guards turn on their heels,” Hawkins said.
He was able to attend the changing of the guard and the wreath ceremony while he was in D.C.
Hawkins will be honored at the second annual Kansas Wounded Vet Run on June 18.
The ride will begin at 8 a.m. at American Legion Post 81, located at 1801 E. Central Ave. in El Dorado.
The ride ends at American Legion Post 256, located at 4301 W. Pawnee St. in Wichita.
Hawkins remains active in groups such as The Gift from Gunner Foundation, which helps families of children with severe illnesses.
He is also part of a project called “The Rat Patrol: Honoring the Fallen.”
Hawkins and two other veterans are rebuilding a 1948 Willy’s rat jeep as a way to honor the nation’s fallen.