Military heroes, children of immigrants and all manner of older Americans brought their cold-weather gear and their hopes for the country to the second inauguration of President Barack Obama on Monday.
Karen Narasaki, 54, is hoping to see immigration reform, an issue she says is critical for the nation’s older Americans. “Their children are the workers who are going to be supporting the Social Security system.”
Narasaki, whose parents were Japanese-born U.S. citizens who were placed in internment camps during World War II, watched the inauguration from primo seats filled with civil rights activists and celebrities (including actresses Angela Bassett and Cicely Tyson).
“To go, in one generation, from parents interned to having their daughter a few hundred feet from where the president is sworn in, shows how great America is,” she said.
Narasaki sat with Floyd Mori, 73, the president of the Asian Pacific American Institute for Congressional Studies, who arrived early for the festivities after missing Obama’s inauguration four years ago because of a massive security snafu.
His hope for the new Obama term is that budget-cutting fervor doesn’t cause leaders to lose sight of “what we can do for people in need.”
For Tom Hudner Jr., 88, turning the economy around is the top priority. Hudner sat in a special section for Medal of Honor winners, the aging blue ribbon and star handing around his neck. Hudner, a retired Navy captain, won the award in 1950 for making a dangerous wheels-up landing in trying to save a comrade in Korea. He has come to every inauguration since John F. Kennedy’s in 1961.
For many of the older Americans interviewed, protecting Social Security was the top priority. “I hope he’s able to hold off the Republicans and not change his mind on Social Security and programs that help the elderly and the poor,” said James Tindall, 70, a county legislator from Kansas City.
Albertine Dent, 72, of Hammond, Ind., said she’s most concerned about seeing health care available to everyone, including the poor. As the human resources director at a steel plant that closed, she saw many people left without jobs and health insurance. Obama, she said, needs to focus on protecting his health care program from being watered down.
“A majority of the people spoke,” Dent said. “He was reelected. We need to get behind him,.”
Dent rose at 4 a.m. to arrive early and stake a claim at the front of a packed standing-room section of the Mall.
Dr. Cyril Byron Sr. had a spot for his wheelchair set aside in a section reserved for the famed Tuskegee Airmen. Byron, 92, a retired college dean from Baltimore, kept warm under a green wool blanket. He was an administrative sergeant major on the ground crew, and an African American representing a country that didn’t grant him his civil rights because he was black.
During World War II, Italians asked him why he was fighting for their freedom “when we didn’t have freedoms of our own,” he recalled. “We said, ‘We hope one day it will change,’ he noted as he waited to watch a fellow black man raise his right hand for the ceremonial inauguration. “When you see a change like this, you’ve got to come out.”