Against the Grain II

What Biden did not get to experience on his big day

Vaughn Wilson

The date was Jan. 20, 2009.  As a hired photographer by Florida A&M, I accompanied the Marching 100 as they performed in the inaugural parade for Barack Obama, the 44th President of the United States.

Upon arriving in the Capitol Mall, we were directed to a route that took us through the Pentagon parking lot where we had to disembark from the bus to have it completely scanned and each instrument case searched by trained law enforcement dogs. Portable metal detectors and bomb/drug-sniffing animals were frequent in our journey to the parade route.

Secret Service detail dictated our every move. They instructed us media persons to form a final row of the band and to try not to deviate from the formation. Keith Pope, the university’s photographer and Tony Leavell, the Marching 100’s official photographer were present for the journey as well.  Secret service agents warned us one final time “Do not aim your lenses at the top of the building as snipers with 50mm guns might mistake your intentions.”

Just a few steps in, we began to see the snipers atop virtually every other building.  Neither of us had intentions of confusing those guys for one second.

Incredibly, with the organized and detailed way everything was run, we were all lined up for the parade before the imaginable.  Sen. Ted Kennedy fell ill, pushing everything back two hours.  Since we were the first invited college band in the parade (the military band led the way and Obama’s high school band followed them) there was no place for everyone to disburse, so we waited in our place for the two hours. In 30-degree weather, us Floridians were not well prepared for that task.  After the initial shock, we began running in circles, huddling in groups and doing whatever we could to survive the conditions.

Finally, the parade began. From the beginning of the parade to the end, all branches of military and law enforcement lined the street two-deep along both sides of the parade route.  Periodically, you would see a cluster of military personnel in assault vehicles. There was definitely an iron-clad plan to protect the president of the United States of America to the point where only a fool would challenge such a fortress. Did I mention the frequent Apache or Blackhawk helicopters with their full complement of artillery?

It was nothing short of the most impenetrable fortress built in the USA.

Finally, after the three miles or so of marching, tired and weary, we reached the last turn.  About a quarter of a mile up we saw a luxury box built.  It had a glass front, heavily guarded and was very well lit as the hour was coming to sunset.

Weary from the days’ events, it would be easy for the Marching 100 to just trod along the path and get it over with.  Suddenly, you could hear Dr. Julian White and Dr. Shelby Chipman on their bullhorns saying “Here we … go-excellence!” 

As we approached the president’s grandstand, it was if they were a movie being projected on a screen.  The grandstand was built so that the contingency of Barack Obama, Michelle Obama, Sasha, Malia, Joe Biden and Jill Biden were only about four feet from the band. Levell, who was on that side of our line captured it perfectly. The joy on their faces, the dancing of the new U.S. President, the smile from the first lady … it was worth every bit of the turmoil it took to get there.

It is a shame that because of such division and a global pandemic, President Biden did not get to enjoy that glorious day for himself. 

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