WASHINGTON – Never before was Debbera Ransom, of Buffalo, quite so proud to carry the New York State flag.
That’s because she did it Monday in the biggest of all possible venues: the Inaugural Parade honoring President Obama.
“It was an awesome experience,” said Ransom, 59, who marched with the United War Veterans Council. “To see the president in the presidential booth watching us and putting his hand over his heart – my goodness, my eyes started to water.”
Ransom was one of hundreds of Western New Yorkers who took part in some way in Obama’s second Inauguration. Others performed in the Marine Band or simply looked on from afar.
But in every case, they shared one thing in common: an uncommon pride in what would be, for some, a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“It was unbelievable,” said Sandra Williams, 53, who rode on the United War Veterans Council float just behind where Ransom was marching. “We had a close-up view of the president. It was just a dream come true.”
It’s also a dream that Williams made reality.
“I contacted the United War Veterans Council because I really wanted to march, and they got me in,” Williams said.
For Williams, the parade was the perfect way to celebrate her 53rd birthday, albeit a day late, and a perfect way to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
And for Ransom, like Williams an Army veteran, carrying the New York flag from the Capitol to the White House was an easy task.
“I have been running on adrenaline all day,” she said. “I made sure I was standing tall and marching in time, knowing the president was watching us.”
Several Western New Yorkers in the Marine Band got a similar opportunity to perform for the president.
Master Sgt. Christopher McFarlane, a bassoonist from Williamsville, played at the Inauguration ceremony. Meanwhile, Staff Sgt. Samantha Angelo, a clarinetist from Buffalo, and Staff Sgt. Jonathan Bisesi, a percussionist from Orchard Park, played both during the ceremony and in the parade.
And Staff Sgt. Benjamin Albright, a trumpet player from Wilson, performed both at the ceremony and at one of the evening’s two inaugural balls.
Of course, most of the people from Buffalo who attended the Inauguration merely looked on, but every one of several interviewed said even doing that was a distinct honor.
“There was just so much excitement in the crowd,” said Muhammed Sumbundu, 21, a senior at Buffalo State College who organized a bus trip for about 50 students.
For many, Sumbundu said, there was great pride in sharing Obama’s second inaugural with a president they admire so much. “He’s the proof that dreams come true.”
Then again, Obama’s second inaugural also was proof that, as the president said in his Inaugural Address, things don’t always go perfectly.
The Buffalo State crowd got situated far back from the stage, closer to the Washington Monument than the Capitol. There, the Jumbotrons that worked so flawlessly during Obama’s first inaugural faltered this time, leaving the crowd only hearing the words of the president from afar.
Nevertheless, “it was exhilarating, particularly for those who were here for the first time,” said Ron Stewart, the Buffalo State sociology professor who chaperoned the bus trip.
Unfortunately, that was not the case up front, where Lillian Davis-Wilson, 70, of Buffalo, found herself situated near a man who climbed a tree in order to deliver a nonstop anti-abortion screed throughout the ceremony.
“He was just so inappropriate,” she said.
In contrast, Obama’s speech could not have been more appropriate, she said.
“He really gave us a great message about what needs to be done, not just for his next four years, but for years to come,” said Davis-Wilson – who, like Williams, celebrated a birthday on the day before the ceremony.
Like Williams, Davis-Wilson got to celebrate, too, but in a very different way.
“I’m trying,” she said, “to get ready for a ball tonight.”