ORIGINALLY WRITTEN CYNTHIA MARTENS
He experienced the unique distinction of participating in the funeral procession honoring Ronald Reagan, the nation’s 40th president, who died June 5.
On June 9, Aaron Bandy, a 2001 graduate of Canton-Galva High School and a first-class cadet at the
U. S. Air Force Academy in Colorado, marched with 99 fellow Air Force students in the historic procession.
“I was excited to go to Washington, D.C., and have this once-in-a lifetime experience,” Bandy said when he returned to the Air Force base June 10.
Each of the five military branches sent 100 representatives to march in the steamy heat and humidity with Reagan’s flag-draped coffin along Constitution Avenue.
Volunteers were recruited at the Air Force Academy on June 5, and Bandy was among those able to sign on for the duty.
“The biggest issue was if you were able to get (the time) off,” Bandy said. “I think everybody would have gone, but a lot of people were busy-like out in the woods doing survival training.”
As a member of the Air Force Soar-For-All Program, Bandy was still on base for the summer and free to volunteer.
The Air Force cadets flew out Sunday, June 6, on a C141 military plane from Peterson Air Force Base in Colorado Springs to Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, arriving at 3 a.m. the next day.
This was Bandy’s first visit to the nation’s capitol.
“Everybody was excited,” Bandy said about the mood on the plane. “We really didn’t know what to expect.”
Bandy and fellow cadets were housed in the dorms at the U. S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md.
Monday morning, the students practiced marching.
“We formed up in a 9-by-9 formation-nine rows and columns-and then you have your commander up front,” Bandy said. “The first two days, we just had marching practice in the morning, and then we had the rest of the afternoon off.”
Monday afternoon, Bandy toured the facilities at Annapolis.
“On Tuesday afternoon, they bused us to Washington,” Bandy said. “I walked around Arlington Cemetery and took some good pictures, saw the Washington Monument and the new World War II Memorial.”
Returning to Annapolis, the cadets rehearsed that evening in preparation for the procession on Wednesday.
“They had a run through,” Bandy said. “They formed everybody up, and we marched down 11th Street in Washington. That was just practice on the street.”
After practicing through the evening, the group finally returned to the dorms by 2 a.m., Wednesday, to catch some sleep before the momentous day unfolded.
“Wednesday morning, we put on our uniforms and had practice in the morning,” Bandy said. “We were issued M-14 rifles for the parade. By 1 p.m., we were in our uniforms and left Annapolis for Washington. We got there in D.C. around 3 p.m.”
The Air Force cadets waited at RFK Stadium with representatives from the military academies of the Navy, Coast Guard, Marines and Army.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of military servicemen,” Bandy said. “It was overwhelming, but you realized the seriousness of the event and how big everything was.”
Bandy and the Air Force cadets were formed in their squadron toward the front of the funeral procession.
“We had the band up front, then the Army, the Navy, us, then the Coast Guard,” he said. “We were in front, so Reagan’s casket was behind us somewhere. I’m not sure if it was in the middle or at the very end.”
The funeral procession, with Reagan’s casket on a horse-drawn caisson, proceeded from the Washington Monument to the Capitol.
“We marched 15 blocks,” Bandy said. “The crowd was really large on both sides of the road. It was more of a somber mood. The crowd knew it was a funeral procession. There wasn’t a lot of of cheering. It was quiet and respectful.”
At the Capitol, the procession ended.
“We marched off and knew we had been a part of something huge-worldwide and respectful,” he said about his squadron. “That was the attitude.”
Although he did not have an opportunity to see Reagan’s casket, he was not disappointed.
“I knew we were part of the procession and not there to sightsee at that time,” he said.
The cadets returned to Annapolis and flew back to Colorado on Thursday.
“I was really proud to represent the Air Force Academy in an event that was so big and meaningful,” Bandy said.
“It was a great honor to be in the procession and represent small-town Kansas.”