Reflections on Inaugurations Past and Present — By Jerry Waldie
Like millions of viewers, I marveled at the excellence of the Inaugural celebration of President Obama. Every moment seemed unique and positive.
Not all such celebrations in which I had personally participated while in Washington, D.C. have had a similar positive effect on me. I do not recall any particular moment of President Nixon’s first Inauguration — though it certainly was not viewed by the huge numbers President Obama’s ceremony attracted.
Neither do I recall any single precise memory of President Carter’s Inaugural ceremony. I have a vague recollection of him and Mrs. Carter walking hand in hand in the parade that followed, but little more than that.
President Carter’s ceremony, like President Nixon’s, was far more subdued than President Obama’s unforgettable ceremony.
I did experience some fairly dramatic moments surrounding the Inauguration of President Reagan, though. I don’t recall any memorable highlight of the ceremony itself.
But, at its conclusion, my wife Joanne and I returned to my office where, for the past year, I had been working as a political appointee of President Carter serving as Executive Director of the 1980 White House Conference on Aging. Arriving at the office in mid-afternoon, there was a personal phone call awaiting me from Reagan’s newly confirmed Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare.
I returned the call immediately, and was, not surprisingly, politely informed that my services were no longer desired by the Reagan Administration and, as a Carter appointee, would I please vacate my office by the end of the day.
Hard not to remember that Inauguration.
But the Inauguration I recall most vividly was that of President Nixon’s second term of office. Both Joanne and I had determined that, for us, personally, a celebration of that nature was not warranted on that day.
Both of us were ardent opponents of the Vietnam War. When President Nixon was first elected he had promised to end that war. Yet, in the four years of his first term, the war continued and U.S. forces suffered over 20,000 combat deaths with thousands more young men severely wounded. And there simply was no sign that the war was coming to an end as his Inauguration ceremony took place.
We decided we would be more comfortable on Inauguration Day if we, privately, with no public comment, visited young American combat casualties being treated at Walter Reed Veteran’s Hospital.
Every single moment of that visit remains vividly etched in our memories. We were deeply moved by the enormous sacrifice those young Americans had endured — and continued to endure — and we worried as to the future awaiting too many of them.
Our visit with one young soldier was particularly wrenching and seemed to validate the decision Joanne and I had made not to attend the “celebration” of Nixon’s second term of office.
We entered a single-patient hospital room in which a young man was lying on his stomach suspended in a hammock-like device. Seated quietly beside the motionless, terribly disabled young man was his Dad. We gently asked the condition of his son.
“He was hit over a year ago in Vietnam by a rifle grenade exploding near his back and has never regained consciousness.”
His son was in a vegetative condition and would remain that way for the rest of his life. The Dad told us the young soldier was their only child and that during the past year — every single day – he and his wife took turns sitting by their son’s bedside.
Joanne and I were rendered speechless. Tears were near. We murmured our pathetically insufficient words of sympathy and quietly departed.
As we left the father and his gravely disabled son, the T.V. on the wall behind him, in the otherwise silent room, was displaying cheerful and happy scenes of President Nixon’s Inauguration.
The loving Dad saw none of those joyous scenes.
Jerry Waldie is a former Assembly member, Congressman and gubernatorial candidate. Two years after the Inauguration ceremony he skipped, Waldie introduced the Articles of Impeachment for President Nixon. He is also the author of “Fair Play for Frogs,” one of the funniest books ever written about politics.
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