It was all the morning they needed -- the city stretching out venerable and tawny below Arlington cemetery in a haze of light rain and turning leaves, memory itself.
It looked like dinosaur bones that all the fuss was about -- truckload after truckload of them parked in a circle around the Marine Corps War Memorial, getting wet.
Under a grove of trees, out of the rain, the Marine Corps drum and bugle corps played "Stars and Stripes Forever" to a couple of dozen truck drivers who'd driven all night from Rhode Island, hauling flatbed trailers that bore the bones -- which turned out to be the original plaster full-scale model of the memorial itself, sawn into 108 pieces, 135 tons of them getting wet, except for the faces, which were hidden in crates.
When "Stars and Stripes Forever" had glittered to a climax in the shadows, Brig. Gen. Hugh T. Kerr accepted the salute of the conductor, did the kind of casual about-face that only generals can afford to do, and walked back to the truck drivers.
Said the general to the truck drivers: "We're sorry that these fellows have to play another concert, but they do, so rather than get their uniforms all wet, standing out here in the rain, we have to end the program."
After a few moments of silence, a trucker said: "We enjoyed it."
The drummers and buglers wandered off toward a bus.
The truckers had stopped here on their way to Harlingen, Tex., where the statue will be reassembled on the grounds of the Marine Military Academy, a boarding school.
"Which group is carrying the epoxy?" asked Gen. Kerr, and the truckers laughed. The statue will be covered with a bronze-colored epoxy glue when it's put back together again, 48 feet of it, from feet to fingertips, not counting the flagpole the fingertips hold, or the black marble base on which the boots rest. Add all that in, and it's 90 feet, top to bottom, the biggest sculpture Felix de Weldon has ever made, except for his National Monument for Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur.
"The epoxy will have a color which is like both ancient Greek sculpture and Marine combat uniforms," said de Weldon, who gave the plaster original to the school. He talked about it while the truckers waited under the trees for the rain to stop.
"They wanted it in the worst way," he said, in his Viennese accent -- he emigrated and joined the U.S. Navy in World War II, serving as an artist with aviation units. He has works on every continent, he said, including 33 in Washington, such as the Red Cross Monument and the National Guard Monument.
"I'm on the board of directors of the Naval War College in Newport, where I live. A marine general I know suggested I give it to the academy -- the temperature down there never goes below 70, and it hardly ever rains."
Through the rain, the trucks gleamed and the chunks of plaster glowed. The rain didn't matter, said the academy's J.M. Rodriguez -- as long as it didn't freeze.
Asked precisely what purpose was served by stopping the convoy here at the memorial, he said: "We think it's most appropriate that the men in this project realize that they're participating in a once-in-a-lifetime historic event."
Sebastian Carrier, a World War II veteran, award-winning truck driver and driver of the lead truck, said in an accent complicated by Cajun origins and a big cigar: "A bunch of my buddies had gotten this honor and they asked me to come."
The Texas Motor Transportation Association was picking up the room and board, and Gulf Oil was paying for all the fuel, said their representatives.
"What we're doing for the people of Texas and the United States is what makes it worthwhile," said Elmer Jones, a driver for Gulf, as he walked across the grass to the memorial, for pictures to be taken.
After a while the rain let up, and the drivers posed by the black marble plinth bearing the names of the great Marine campaigns -- Belleau Wood, Nicaragua, the Boxer Rebellion, Tarawa . . . .
Rodriguez, a former marine gunnery sergeant, held a camera to his face and called standby in multi-diphthonged military fashion, "Stayundbyyyyeeee."
The drivers waited while he photographed them -- big men, award-winning drivers a lot of them, a group which gave the impression that each of them had at least three or four hands hooked in belt loops, resting on hips or shoved in back pockets.
On the drive around the memorial, the chunks of the plaster original seemed to bask in the power, the mana, of the rainy bronze testimony of the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi.
Then, fully charged or recharged with whatever it was that the trucks had come all night for, that anybody comes to both cemeteries and monuments to heroism for, both the plaster chunks and the drivers headed west. Signs on the trucks read: FREEDOM CONVOY, and A MARINE TRIBUTE ON WHEELS. Truck horns ripped away at the haze.