“In valor there is hope.”
Cornelius Tacitus (c. AD 56 – c. AD 120), Annals
When J.P. Kilroy entered the East Room of the White House there were already a sizeable number of dignitaries present. The room was more crowded than he expected. It was unusually full of energy as family members gathered in small groups and engaged in animated conversations with high-ranking military officers and politicians. At the west end of the room the television cameras were preparing for the broadcast. The media pool was managed by C-SPAN.
At almost 2,900 square feet, the East Room was the largest room in the White House. Its twenty-foot ceilings and huge windows gave the room a capacious feel. In addition, the room was generously adorned with beautiful art and furnishings. The floor was oak Fontainebleau parquetry and partially covered by two large oriental rugs. The drapes that covered the large windows were gold colored silk. There were three large Bohemian crystal chandeliers and four magnificent marble fireplaces. Bronze light standards and upholstered benches dotted the periphery of the eighty by thirty-seven foot room. The walls were paneled in light colored wood with classical fluted pilasters and relief insets. A full-length portrait of George Washington, painted by Gilbert Stuart in 1797, hung on the east wall.
J.P. Kilroy knew today would be a historic day as America endeavored to right the injustices of past generations. The East Room seemed like the perfect place to do just that. It had been used over its long history for both historic events as well as for some rather pedestrian purposes. When the White House was first built, Abigail Adams hung clothes on a rope line she strung in the East Room. Teddy Roosevelt’s children used it as a roller skating rink and Woodrow Wilson employed it as a theatre. Over the years the large room had been the site of weddings, funerals, press conferences, receptions and receiving lines. Seven Presidents, including Lincoln and Kennedy, were laid in state in this room. It had a rich history.
In the center of the east wall, in front of a set of hanging silk gold drapes, was a temporary platform with seven chairs arranged next to a podium with the Presidential Seal. Further to the right, under the portrait of George Washington, was another podium. Behind this second podium was a table upon which the framed Medals of Honor were displayed.
The rest of the East Room was crammed with folding chairs save for the open aisle in the center. The extended families and friends along with military dignitaries, Congressmen and the press composed the rest of the audience. There was an electric buzz in the room.
J.P. meandered slowly through the crowd while looking for two people. One was Colonel Carlton Chase, whom he had spoken with just a few days before. After he refused the invitation back in December, J.P. was immediately filled with a healthy dose of guilt. When he reflected on the phone call, he really wasn’t sure why he declined other than he simply didn’t want anything to do with his father. After much agonizingly difficult reflection, he finally arrived at the conclusion that it no longer mattered. His father was dead. Gone! It was time he let go of the baggage. His mother’s last wish was that he reconcile with his father and he blew it! Since he could no longer do that, perhaps he might uncover the secret his mother wanted him to know from his father’s friends. It was a long shot but the colonel did mention that some of his father’s wartime buddies would be at the ceremony. It certainly was worth a try. He had procrastinated until the last minute and then finally called Colonel Chase who advised J.P. he would be allowed to accept the Medal in a separate ceremony. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Aaron Clayton, would be more than happy to present his father’s Medal of Honor to him immediately after the conclusion of the President’s presentations.
As J.P. wandered through the crowded room he suddenly spied a group of men gathered under the portrait of Teddy Roosevelt in the far southeast corner of the room. They were engaged in a lively discussion. Among them, he assumed, was the second person he was looking for.
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