December in Washington is a great time of year. The city is always beautiful, but clad in a fresh new snowfall and holiday decorations, it becomes a winter wonderland. My first visit was in December 1941 with my high school senior class. We saw the White House, Supreme Court, the Smithsonian, the Capitol and memorials to Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
However, one very stark memory of that time is clear after three-quarters of a century. The December 7th Pearl Harbor attack had happened only a week earlier. As our tour bus drove by government buildings, we saw squads of uniformed soldiers holding rifles with bayonets on guard at many entrances.
On the flat, snow-covered roofs above were more soldiers manning machine guns. All wore the old World War I helmets and uniforms, and the weapons were of the same era. Nobody, at that fearful time, considered then how those few GIs with their outdated equipment could have fought off any enemy invasion from Japan more than 6,000 miles away.
Within a year, almost all of the 120 seniors of our high school class who had visited Washington were serving in World War II. Twenty-seven classmates never came home, except a few who were returned to rest forever in Arlington National Cemetery.