WADENA – The pictures and stories of our country’s history in the textbooks that many Americans were raised on only give a glimpse of our past and rather detached. It’s no wonder that many Americans struggle to answer the fundamental questions of American history about who founded this country, who died for its freedoms, and on what ideals it was built.
This view from a textbook is one that about 70 students from the Wadena-Deer Creek School Orchestra and Choir took with them on their trip to Washington D.C. at the end of March .
“You always see these pictures of these memorials and stuff in textbooks and wonder what it really looks like, and then you’re like, ‘wow, that’s pretty cool,'” said Eshetu Loer, student from the WDC, about his visit.
He remembers walking around historic places, one in particular, the Ford Theater, was particularly fascinating to him. Over 170 years ago, this is where President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday.
Students visited places such as the Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial, Holocaust Museum, Monticello, Museum of American History and Natural History, National Harbor, Arlington House, and toured the National Shrine Basilica.
Ella Stroeing noted that seeing these places with her own eyes was a deep-seated feeling.
“There are a lot of places that have a lot of value and meaning for our country,” Ella said. “Especially the Holocaust Museum for me. It really put into perspective how, if we don’t step back and look at things around us, how easily this could happen again.
The group had plenty of time to stop to watch and read the story as they stood in front of these places.
Connor Peterson enjoyed seeing so many out-of-the-ordinary things about central Minnesota.
Along with a busy schedule of places to visit, two things they knew they would do were play music in public and help lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Due to cold weather for much of their visit, they only performed for one day at the Lincoln Memorial. The students were nervous and felt a bit odd settling on the steps of the memorial while tour groups were passing by. Some stopped and showed their appreciation for the music.
An even more nerve-wracking experience was when Ryann Schmidt, Connor Peterson, River McQuiston and Eshetu Loer were chosen from among the students to lay the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington National Cemetery. Public wreath ceremonies are limited to one per group per day, with a maximum of four ceremony attendees. The wreath for the ceremony was provided by Wadena VFW Post 3922.
“Very honorable to be able to walk with the host,” said Ryann Schmidt. “Having soldiers in my family, it really struck me.”
Connor said the honor of being able to lay the wreath was a moment he won’t forget.
“They say, ‘You can watch it, but you can never experience it,’ and I got to experience it with Connor, it was indescribable actually,” Eshetu said. Eshetu and Connor placed the wreath, while River and Ryann accompanied her to the grave.
The group was first guided by a Marine for approximately 15 minutes, then they performed the actual laying of the wreath. This was followed by Taps
“It was one of the best experiences in Washington, for me,” Eshetu said.
A few students even stayed to watch the wreath-laying ceremony for the Congressional Medal of Honor. It only happens one day a year, March 25, National Medal of Honor Day.
“We happened to be at Arlington Cemetery that day,” Ella said.
Those who were part of the honor that day were Medal of Honor recipients Barney Barnum and Brian Thacker, both Vietnam War veterans.
There was a heaviness to many of these places they visited, but they managed to find some fun along the way. At the national port, they enjoyed rides on a Ferris wheel that gave them a glimpse of so much history. They were even taken to several malls where “a lot of money was spent”, the students added.
Eshetu shared that anyone lucky enough to go to a place like this shouldn’t miss it.
“One of the most important things about these types of trips is that you realize how big the world is, how much there is to do and see and just enjoy the experiences you can. acquire and really recognize how important the moments are,” Ella said.
The WDC group and choir directors Lisa Weniger and Michael Ortmann plan this trip to DC every four years. They made their first trip there in 2009, and the school management requested that the music department make the trip every four years.
“So many students in our program could have the opportunity to visit the nation’s capital and see the history of our country,” Weniger said.
In general, travel brings a lot of emotions. For some, the sacrifices made by a few successes close to home. Weniger is keen to pay tribute to his uncle on every visit by looking for his name on the Vietnam Veterans Wall.
“I take pencil and paper to engrave his name every time,” Weniger said.
The band and choir make trips every two years, with the next one being in 2024. This location has yet to be announced.