Parade Photograph Gallery

Augustus Saint-Gaudens, Shaw Memorial, Smithsonian Museum, Washington

"Eyes Left," Passing President Barack Obama's Presidential Reviewing Stand, January 20, 2009

First Steps: A response to the experience of marching in the Inaugural Parade from, Pvt. Howard Brown

There are many first steps in life. First steps walking, entering school, crossing the stage for a diploma, first real job, marriage, birth and death. In some way we expect these, anticipate these first steps. As such they have little surprise for us.

Then there are those first steps we don’t truly recognize as significant or we acknowledge them but are truly unaware of the impact. For myself, such steps occurred when one early Monday morning I went to the airport to go to Washington, D.C.

Going to Washington, D.C is not that significant. I had been there many times before; it was the purpose of my journey that was different. I had been chosen as one of twenty individuals to participate in the inaugural parade of President Obama. I was to be a member of the 54th Mass. volunteer infantry, the regiment recognized by the film “Glory”. I knew that this was special; everyone said this is a once in a life time experience and I received nothing but support from family, friends, and work. Everyone was excited.

For weeks before, there were meetings, drilling, and the media. Anticipation was building; everyone was excited. Lt. White and the rest of the unit had left two days before I arrived to participate in various events before the parade. The day I arrived, I went to where the 54th was staying. It was a small space with little furniture and everyone slept on the floor. Yet, no one complained. The anticipation of the parade provided both comfort and warmth. Those of us with little responsibility had an exciting time. Those who were in charge, such as Lt. White and Sgt Bell-Sykes, were often chained to the task of coordinating the parade details. Yet, at no time did they throw up their hands and say “enough .” They too seemed to be pushed along the path, the parade, the review was the draw.

It has been often said that events of such magnitude involve a great deal of “hurry up and wait” and this was no different. Up at 4am to prepare, wait for transport, go to the pentagon, wait on the bus, meet our military escort, wait again, orientation (wear your ID or get detained), screened by Secret Service, box lunch, wait in line, get on the bus, wait, bus convoy, stop, crowds swarming bus, arrive at staging area, and wait.

1pm staging area. We were surrounded by dozens of marching bands all practicing under a large warming tent . There was the 54th , 19 men and boys all waiting for the first steps in an ocean of instruments. Finally we were called to order. We lined up and were ready to go. It was bone chilling cold and there was a biting breeze whipping through the ranks. We stood there and joked about the weather and how we would warm up soon. We waited , we moved a little and we waited some more . This went on for a very long time. We were cold, but we still waited . We waited for those first steps. After what seemed to be an eternity, some of us, including me, grumbled “it's cold, what’s the wait? My hands are numb.” I can’t speak for the others, but I for a brief moment had the desire to pack it in and go warm up on the bus. Then someone said “ Remember the 54th”. I thought of them and I thought of my father, a member of the 92nd Buffalo Division. I carried with me a medal he received from a “grateful nation for his service . ” Being cold for a few hours was the least I could do in his honor.

Finally we got the order to march. By that time, the sun was setting and it was getting dark. But that did not matter. It is surprising how warm you get when you know you’re taking your first steps. Passing in review of President Obama will be a life time memory but that will not be my only memory. Along the parade route, there were no massive crowds. Many people had gone home. Yet those empty spaces were still occupied ; they were occupied by our past, present and future and all those who could not be there that day.

In retrospect these first steps were those of my family, ancestors and those I never knew. All I am doing is continuing the walk.

The 54th on drill in front of the African American Civil war Museum
Two generations: David Jr., David and Jason Cunningham
Two generations: Michael, Andrew and Christopher Coblyn
Members of the 54th at the Masonic Church, Washington DC
Members of the 54th leaving for the Inaugural Parade
The 54th at Olustee Battlefield
The 54th at Olustee Battlefield



© 2009 This 54th Massachusetts Company A website is designed, produced and maintained by Michael Coblyn.