John Henry Smith was in the crowd so far away from President-elect Barack Obama that he could barely see him on the large video screen, and his words were a nearly inaudible echo by the time they reached him.
It didn’t matter.
Those words still caused tears to roll down Smith’s cheeks, and he leaned a little harder on his walking cane.
“It’s very emotional for my husband,” Gail Smith explained. “He did three tours in Vietnam, then had to come home to … the racism and problems that were still there. He’s come the full circle now. That’s what this is today. He’s seen it change.”
The Smith family traveled from Elk Grove, Calif. John, Gail, their two granddaughters, 16 and 20, and other family — six in all. They never had been to a presidential inauguration before.
John Smith said, “We can show our kids now that they can become anything they want in this country. Before, that was just a bunch of words. We needed to bring them here, to show them this.”
Gail Smith said: “If you work hard, if you do right and do good, you’re going to prosper in America.
“I’m proud to be an American. It doesn’t get any better than this in the United States.”
The crowd of hundreds of thousands of people at Sunday’s inaugural opening ceremony stretched from the Lincoln Memorial across the National Mall. Entertainers including Bruce Springsteen, Bono and Beyonce performed before Obama spoke.
All around the area, streets were lined with police, National Guardsmen and vendors selling pretty much anything that could be emblazoned with Barack Obama’s likeness or words. The merchandise included Obama T-shirts, caps, buttons, pens, underwear and temporary tattoos.
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