Very few children can say they traveled in a presidential motorcade. Alex Hall, 10, of Ames, is one of them.
A presidential motorcade escorting him around Washington, D.C. for an evening was just one of the surprises in store for Hall during his Make-A-Wish Foundation trip in April.
"I thought it was really cool," Hall said.
"It was very magical," said Michelle Roling, Hall's mother. "They took his wish and ran with it.
"He really was like royalty for a week."
Hall's wish was to visit the nation's capitol to see the monuments and learn some history, a subject he loves, as well as to see a Major League Baseball game.
Due to Hall being "speechless" after his trip, Roling recounted her son's trip in a letter to The Tribune. Here are some excerpts:
As we pulled around the corner from picking up Alex and siblings from his dad's house, Alex's two best friends and their moms were standing in our driveway with a huge sign wishing him well on his trip - the start of the tears for mom, who managed to cry her way through the entire week, and am tearing up now as I reflect.
The huge limo was waiting outside to get us started on our VIP week of a lifetime.
Once we landed in Washington, D.C., we were greeted by yet a second limo - Alex had never been in a limo before and now had two rides in the same day. After some swimming at the hotel, we braved the metro system for the first time and headed off to ESPN Zone for a great night of fun.
We met our tour guide bright and early at the Air and Space Museum, where we were guided by one of the administrators of the Smithsonian. The personalized attention was amazing, and he was so wonderful at explaining the mechanics of space flight and the history of aviation.
Alex stood with his mouth hanging open in awe - a look we got used to as the week progressed. He posed for photos with the Wright brother's original plane, flew a simulated fighter jet, played inside planes and had a ball.
The afternoon was a personalized tour for just Alex and me by the curator of the Holocaust Museum. She was amazed that a 10-year-old boy would want to come and tour their facility on his trip. It was an meaningful tour as Alex absorbed that portion of history. The message at the end of the tour was a series of clips with survivors talking:
"The Holocaust taught me to never give up, that even when things seem hopeless, quitting is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. There is always hope."
A perfect message for Alex to hear.
We headed off on our own to the National Zoo where we caught the baby panda playing/annoying her mother. It was so sweet.
It was a wonderful time watching the animals for awhile before we headed off on our private tour of the East Wing of the White House. ... We all signed the official log of the White House guest book. While we were standing there, the Bush's dog, Barney, strolled out and we all got to pet him, and the boys had photos with him.
After the tour, we wandered to the Washington Monument where the park rangers saw our Make-a-Wish pins, and even though the "tickets to the top" were gone for the day, told Alex it was his lucky day, and up we went. We walked along the reflection pool, the World War II Memorial, saw the Abraham Lincoln Monument and the Vietnam Memorial.
We started with a private tour of Ford's Theater by the director and later the curator. We were inside for about 90 minutes before it opened up to the public and were able to hear all the stories about Lincoln and all the possible conspiracy theories. It was so interesting. We had a little time after that and wandered to the National Archives where again the guards saw our buttons and ushered us right into the rotund to view the Bill of Rights, Declaration of Independence and the original Constitution. Then we boarded the subway and off we headed to RFK Stadium for an afternoon game between the Nationals and Cincinnati Reds. The kids ... cheered, laughed at the mascots and completely took in all the ball field food!
We were at the boat dock at 8 a.m. to board a river cruise boat for a 90-minute ride down the Potomac River to Mt. Vernon ... where we took in all of President Washington's history and information - slave quarters, tomb, mansion, farm - for three hours and floated back up to D.C. on the boat.
We were told ... to be outside waiting at 4:50 p.m. for our ride to pick us up for an evening tour of D.C. As we stood on the sidewalk, coming from the other direction we were struck by the sirens and sight of a presidential motorcade. Alex said "wow" as it went by, and then it did a U-turn and came back to pull up in front of us.
The secret service piled out from the vehicles and a man approached Alex to let him know they were here to pick him up and escort him through the city. Once we got into the limo, the secret service were amazing, telling Alex he was in the presidential, bullet-proof limo and that for that night, where ever he went in the city, people would think he was "the man."
Alex was told to watch people's faces as we passed since they could not see in. The motorcade took off, making everyone turn to look at Alex and letting him shine in the spotlight. He, and all of us, were speechless; moved beyond words at the attention, excitement, detail and wonder of all going on.
Our first stop was the Pentagon where we were greeted by an admiral from the Navy. We were shown the inside of the Pentagon, shown the ceremonial room and the Medal of Honor, inside the 9-11 Memorial, and then to meet the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff, Peter Pace.
We then headed off to the Department of State where we were met by the director of the secret service who showed us the building. ... As we pulled up in front of the Jefferson Monument, there were already secret service agents there holding the people back. As Alex stepped out of the car, he was completely surrounded by security. There were whispers from the crowd, "Who are those boys? TV stars? Diplomats?"
We had the same experience as we stopped at the Lincoln Monument.
... Everywhere we walked, our guide introduced Alex as "president for the day" and everyone stopped to clap.
Our final stop was for a tour of the West Wing of the White House. ... We saw inside the oval office and ... went into the private quarters of the president while he was upstairs in a meeting. ...
A magical night.
We ended our stay in D.C. with an amazing limo ride up to the CIA headquarters for a private tour there. The spy history and canines were fantastic. We were a tired and joyous group headed back to Iowa. The entire week, people were giving the boys mementos - coins, hats, pins, shirts - things to remember their incredible week.
What I will remember forever is the gift of time each of them gave to Alex through their words, deeds and sincerity in their understanding of his daily battle against his cystic fibrosis. The rest of our family who were along for the magic D.C. trip feel overwhelmed with gratitude to have been there to personally witness the joy, excitement and wonder on Alex's face the entire week. What a true gift.
The Make-A-Wish Foundation grants the wishes of children with life-threatening medical conditions to enrich the human experience with hope, strength and joy. To learn more about the organization, visit www.wish.org.
Name: Alex Hall
Family: Michelle Roling, mother; Shawn Roling, step-father; Steve Hall, father; Amy Jo Hall, step-mother; Shade Hall, 7, and Caden Roling, 5, brothers.
Alex Hall was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was 10 weeks old. In a typical day, to maintain a healthy and active life, Hall will take approximately 30 pills, including enzymes, vitamins and antibiotics; spend one to two hours doing respiratory therapy; and must intake larger-than-normal quantities of food and liquids to maintain energy. Hall also has frequent doctor visits that require him to miss school, "which he hates," his mother said.