Students take educational, entertaining tour of D.C.

SUBMITTED PHOTO Four Kingsland students got to participate in the wreath laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Dale Hulbert, Madeline Moore, Faith Lange and Corinna Wiemerslage joined the soldiers in the solemn ceremony.
Gretchen Mensink Lovejoy

Kingsland High School students got to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, see the horrors of the Holocaust and visit the battlefields at Gettysburg during a recent trip to Washington, D.C., arranged by Legacy Tours through Kingsland Community Education.

Two dozen Kingsland students took a Kingsland Community Education bus tour of the nation’s capital, visiting the United States Capitol and numerous national memorials, as well as the battlefields at Gettysburg in Pennsylvania on the way to Washington from July 16 through 23. Kingsland’s Community Education coordinator Becky Bicknese said Legacy did a good job accommodating the school on the first trip of this kind for the district.

The students had various reasons for making the trip. For example, Dale Hulbert, said he chose to join the tour because he wanted to see the nation’s capital and give his chaperone father, Steven, who had missed his class’s D.C. trip, an opportunity to make up for the lost moments. He said he also wanted to see the memorials related to war.

Another student, Faith Lange, had been to Washington when she was quite young and didn’t remember as much as she’d have liked. 

“I really wanted to go see all the memorials, all the monuments related to the wars, see it better this time because I was there with my family when I was younger, but I don’t remember that very well,” she said.

At the outset of the trip, the students were simply classmates traveling together to see the same sights, but at the end of the week, they had become friends. 

“Something changed, and they became closer,” said Bicknese. “It blew me away – the bus driver and the tour guide complimented them on how they were so well-behaved, well-mannered.  I could not have asked for a better group.”

She was proud of how Kingsland’s students took their representation of Kingsland seriously and honored those who serve the country. 

“While we were at the Marine Corps Museum, they were doing a retirement of somebody in the Marine Corps, but the building was still open to the public, and it totally blew me away that all the kids of ours that I could see…the minute that they heard the national anthem being played, they stood at attention,” she said.  “Our kids all stopped – the adults around them just kept going, but our kids all stood at attention.”  

The group also came home with many souvenirs of their journey, including Vietnam Wall rubbings of names of Fillmore County Vietnam veterans Thelmar Rudlong, William Lucas and Harlan Riehl who were killed in action, and a flag that was flown by request of Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar over the Capitol for Kingsland.

The itinerary kept the group very busy learning more than they’d ever imagined, starting with their departure on Tuesday, July 16, from Kingsland High School at the rise-and-shine hour of 3:30 a.m., bound for Chicago, where they toured downtown Chicago, visited the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, and enjoyed an evening tour kickoff pizza party, spending the night in Maumee, Ohio. 

The following morning, they departed through the Appalachian Mountains for Gettysburg, getting to see the Gettysburg Visitors’ Center and Cyclorama, with a walking tour of the National Cemetery, site of President Abraham Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, taking an evening tour of the north side of the battlefield and a guided tour of the south side the next morning.  Thursday, July 18, found the group visiting the 6,000-acre Gettysburg Battlefield National Military Park with a battlefield guide, ensued by lunch at General Pickett’s Buffet, then traveling to Harpers Ferry National Park at the junction of the Potomac and Shenandoah rivers and the scene of John Brown’s 1859 raid, through Shenandoah National Park to the Blue Ridge Mountains, and laying their heads down to sleep in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Friday brought a viewing of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello, a stop at the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, as well as an illuminated nighttime tour of Washington, D.C., including the U.S. Capitol and the Thomas Jefferson, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Martin Luther King, Jr., Korean and Lincoln memorials. 

Saturday, July 20, was spent taking a walking tour of Arlington National Cemetery.  Students got to witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, and four of them got to participate in laying a wreath during a ceremony conducted by the Old Guard Regiment at the Tomb.  A stop at the Iwo Jima Marine Memorial, a Capitol Hill tour and a dinner and dance cruise on the Potomac River aboard the “Spirit” filled the rest of the day and evening. 

Sunday included a visit to George and Martha Washington’s Mount Vernon plantation and home, the Smithsonian Air and Space and National Art Museums, a sidewalk stroll at the White House with a Legacy tour guide, dinner at the District Chophouse Restaurant and an evening theater performance of “Aladdin” at the John F. Kennedy Center for Performing Arts. 

Monday offered discovery time at the Lincoln Memorial, Vietnam Wall and World War II Memorial and Holocaust Museum, as well as the Smithsonian American History & Natural History Museums.  Tuesday morning brought the travelers home again.

Student Madeline Moore enjoyed both the educational and entertainment aspects of the adventure eastward. For example, they walked through the Holocaust Museum to witness the effects of xenophobia and hatred and come out the other side with a better perspective on loving one’s neighbor. 

“At the Holocaust Museum, we walked into a room with the whole entire walls covered, filled with pictures of families, children, infants, walking through one of the rail cars that was used, and (it’s) knowing they were killed, that they didn’t have a nice life,” she said. 

She, along with Lange, Hulbert and Corinna Wiemerslage got the opportunity to lay a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, an activity Moore called “amazing.”

Lange pointed out that getting to stand on the ground where Civil War soldiers fell, strolling through Arlington National Cemetery and going to the Holocaust Museum illustrated the real cost of each, even more so than hearing about those events and lives lost in history classes and reading about them in textbooks. 

“I realized the cost of the lives given, the ones who didn’t make it back home” she stated, “and I learned that our veterans don’t really get as much respect as they deserve.” 

Moore agreed, “There’s just so much information we learned.  You get the basics in history class, but this is more in-depth, going to museums and having a tour guide tell you all about things. I did wish we could’ve spent more time at Harpers Ferry.”

Hulbert fulfilled his wish to see the war memorials with his father, dined at a tasty buffet and got to see the I-80 Truck Stop on the way home, known as “The World’s Biggest Truck Stop.” 

“I liked seeing the Minnesota memorial and Gettysburg,” he added. “There were 262 Minnesotans who gave their lives at Gettysburg.” 

Moore remarked that in addition to laying the wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, one of her favorite parts was seeing the play “Aladdin” at the JFK theater, and her second favorite was the boat cruise on the Potomac. 

“We got to dance with a bunch of kids from different schools, and that was a really neat opportunity,” she added.

Lange enjoyed standing at the memorials.  “It was probably the World War II Memorial because I learned a lot about World War II this last school year.  It’s the part about all the stars that represent all the people who died, that ‘Here lies the price of freedom,’ and I think it really hits home.  I liked seeing everything, exploring everything instead of just reading about it in a textbook,” she said.

Kingsland Community Education will offer a tour of Washington, D.C., again next summer for students in 10th and 11th grades this school year. However, after that it will be every other year on a rotation opposite the school’s Costa Rica trip for the Spanish class, said Bicknese. Students in eighth and ninth grades this school year will be able to go in 2022.

“They’ll learn so much on this trip; we learned that having a tour guide with us means you get so much more out of the time you’re spending,” Bicknese said.

Lange agreed, “I think, compared to how much you pay and how much we got out of it, we definitely got our money’s worth and then some.”