Jacelyn Schley and Greta Rhodes Kyrielle Peterson and Morgan Franko represent Triton during the wreath-laying at the tomb of the unknown soldier. Twenty-four Triton eighth grade students traveled recently to Washington D.C. More photos from the trip will be in next week. Photo by Chuck Rhodes
By Ruth Hanson
Deena Schley has never forgotten her trip to Washington, D.C. 25 years ago as a Blue Earth High School freshman.
So when she heard that faculty members of Triton High School eighth graders were planning a similar trip that would include her daughter Jacie, she jumped right in.
"I wanted to experience Washington through her eyes," she said. "I have a lifetime of memories of Washington."
They went to a meeting for interested students and their families last fall. They met David Zimmer, who would be their tour guide from Legacy Tours. He is a retired school teacher who has been leading groups of school students for 50 years.
"He kept our attention," Jacie said.
"None of the kids got lost," Deena said. "And they weren't constantly on their phones."
And so it was that they met - 24 students and six adult chaperons - to load the bus at 3:30 a.m. on July 27 at Triton High school.
They picked up Dave, and Mark Kumpf, their bus driver at a rest stop in Wisconsin and headed for Chicago. First stop - the Willis Tower, which used to be called the Sears Tower. They rode 103 floors up by elevator.
"My ears kept popping and I had to swallow all the time," Jacie said.
"I could see Lake Michigan and most of the Chicago skyline," Deena commented.
"I had a nervous stomach," Jacie added. "But I mushed through it and it was exhilarating. I just loved it."
Then on to Millennium Park, which is a civic park with lots of art.
"Some of the remains of the Chicago fire were beneath our feet," Deena said. "Oprah Winfrey donated $25 million to help build it. Then we went to the Lake Michigan shoreline."
They walked around the Notre Dame campus and saw the Heisman Trophy.
Their first overnight was at the Hampton Inn in Ohio.
"The next day, on the way to Gettysburg, we drove by the farm where Flight 93 went down on 9-11," Deena said. "These kids were only two years old."
They stopped at Gettysburg for a day and a night and part of the next day. Dave wore a Civil War uniform during that time.
"Some buildings still had shot holes from rifles and some holes from cannon balls," Deena said. "Dave dry fired a civil war rifle for us. I got the feel for it - LOUD!"
Johnny Jaeger, a 6'4" Triton student, being as tall as Abe Lincoln, read the Gettysburg Address standing on the same spot where Lincoln had stood when he gave it.
"We went to the cemetery - "A lot of the graves weren't marked with a name, only a number. There was a huge cyclorama of the Gettysburg battle done by a French painter. It lites up as the story of the battle is told, which was really something to see."
They saw a statue honoring the last surviving soldier that fought the in the battle of Gettysburg, a soldier from Duluth. And they saw a memorial to those from Minnesota who fought at Gettysburg.
"We went for a night walk around the battlefield park and the kids mimicked Pickett's Charge - and then ran to get away from the lightning," Jacie said. Brooklyn Sackett, dressed as a Civil War soldier, portrayed a deceased soldier in the devils den."
They saw a number of witness trees - trees that are still there 150 years after the Civil War.
A man named Paul Cole did the commentary the next day, giving the tour from the Confederate side of the battlefield.
"He stressed that many soldiers died from infection and shock, not just from gunshot wounds," Deena said.
Dave continued his narrative as they rode along. He encouraged them to be "travelers, not tourists," and said that tourists are "rude, crude, loud and socially dumb."
The bus traveled through West Virginia, Maryland and Virginia to Harper's Ferry, where the Shenandoah and the Potomac Rivers meet. They went to Jefferson's Rock, where Thomas Jefferson vacationed. The views were breathtaking.
"We had a chance to touch both rivers," Deena said. "We could see bikers and hikers on the Appalachian Trail."
"There were painters who would sell their canvasses right off the easel," Jacie said.
And then - Washington D.C. for three days and three nights.
The first night they did the tour of monuments at night -the monuments of Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Vietnam, Korea and Martin Luther King.
The second day they went to the Capitol, where Dave pointed out special statues and explained architecture and where the Senate and the House are located. He told them that the flag is at full mast when Congress is in session.
The cherry blossoms were not blooming. That is a special part of spring tours.
They saw a natural spring right next to the Capitol where horses used to drink, but not slaves. They are now fountains for the public.
Five trees were planted on the Capitol lawn commemorating the five
Sullivan brothers from Iowa who were killed in World War II.
They went to the National Art Museum where there were paintings by Leonardo Di Vinci, Rembrandt and Picasso.
They saw the Spirit of St. Louis, once flown by Minnesotan, Charles Lindberg, at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum and a replica of Amelia Earhart's Lockheed 5B Vega, the plane she was flying when she disappeared.
And they saw drones.
Then they walked right up to the fence surrounding the White House and saw the Eisenhower Building next door.
"When I was here before, we toured the first floor of the White House," Deena said. "Now they don't let the public in because of tightened security and cost. I never knew before that the Oval Office isn't in the White House, but it is attached."
That evening they all got dressed up and went out to dinner on the boat Nina's Dandy that sailed out on the Potomac. They had chicken or lasagna for the main course with chocolate mousse or apple pie for dessert. After eating they went up on the top deck where they danced the night away.
"Everybody danced, but I was one of the first ones out on the floor," Jacie said, smiling. "We could see the memorials clearly. That evening was one of the highlights of the trip for me."
The third day in Washington was a trip to Mount Vernon, the home and estate of George and Martha Washington.
"It is absolutely gorgeous," Deena said. "I put my hand on the stairway banister, where George Washington had put his. There was a view of the Potomac from the back yard. Archeologists were working out there. 'The old vault,' the original tomb of George and Martha Washington and quite a few of their relatives, still stands there. Because of vandalism, there was a new one built in 1831. There is also a 16-sided barn out there."
Jacie said she put her hand on a replica of the book that George Washington would have used at his inauguration.
Arlington National Cemetery was next, where a horse and buggy was part of a funeral procession.
They saw the eternal flame at John F. Kennedy's grave and the much more modest grave of Bobby Kennedy and the memorial stone for their brother Joseph who was killed in a plane crash over the English Channel.
"And then we found a grave with 'Schley' engraved in the stone," Deena said, her eyes sparkling. "On the back the words 'Winfield Scott Schley fought in the Spanish American War' were engraved. That's all we know."
Jacie was one of four Triton girls to lay a wreath on the Tomb of the
Unknown Soldier. She and three other girls - Morgan Franko, Greta Rhodes and Kyrielle Peterson - had written essays that were chosen as the four best.
"I was emotional, but I didn't cry until I got home," Jacie said. "I wrote that I did it for my grandfather Arthur who served in Korea. He served and would have be very proud if he could see me walking down those steps. I'm glad my mom took a video."
They saw Audie Murphy's grave, the most decorated soldier of World War II. They put pennies on his stone and noticed that the Jewish lay stones on it.
They saw the Iwo Jima monument, with six soldiers raising the flag together. Six of the kids did the same flag raising so we all knew who they were, where they were from, and what happened to them."Dave Zimmer then presented an American flag to Joe Hanson, a teacher at Triton," Jacie said. "He was the one who suggested that our school send us to Washington."
That evening was another dress-up night. They went to the JFK Theatre of the Performing Arts to see "Shear Madness," a murder mystery comedy that takes place in a beauty shop and includes audience participation.
"Everybody laughed," Deena said. "The theater was gorgeous, with views of Washington."
They went on a downtown tour the next day and saw Ford's Theater, where Lincoln was shot, and the alley where John Wilkes Booth fled on his horse.
They went to Joe's Trade to buy souvenirs.
In their free time, Deena and Jacie went to the Korean Monument to get a picture for Jacie's grandfather.
"South Korea sends a wreath to that memorial every day," Deena said. "I certainly didn't know that. We went to the Vietnam Wall, too, and did a rubbing of Robert J. Schley's name."
They also stopped at the World War II Memorial where she took a picture of Jacie by the Minnesota column on the monument and the entire group had the opportunity to meet and shake hands with several World War II vets that were there to see the memorial. They are pictured on one of the plaques that surrounds the pond in the center of the memorial.
Their final stops with the group were at the Holocaust Museum, the American History Museum and the Natural History Museum. The Holocaust Museum will live in their memories.
It was 2:30. Time to catch the bus. They rode pretty much straight through