It is possible that more persons have flown to the moon than have taken the Metro blue line from the Arlington Cemetery station during the morning rush hour. But yesterday, Veterans Day in Virginia, there was a strange occurrence at the station.
At 7 a.m., a man with a white beard and dressed in a gray Confederate uniform with an officer's red sash round his waist and a silver sword hanging from his belt stepped aboard a train with this greeting for his fellow passengers.
"Good morning, I'm Gen. Robert E. Lee."
Some of the passengers tried to act as if they saw or heard nothing strange. But others, lowering their open newspapers, managed a little smile or even a big grin as they began to get the joke contrived by Alexandrian Bryan Cordray.
"Gen. Lee," actually Cordray's 69-year-old friend Walter B. Smalley of Washington, walked down the aisle and stopped beside Judy Nelson of Washington, who was seated.
"Do you have a kiss for the general" he asked, drawing on the Southern charm he acquired in his nation, the two of them smooched.
Back and forth Smalley went, breaking up the ordinarily routine journey of hundreds of blue line commuters. One passenger, referring to a brown pouch slung over Smalley's shoulder, asked, "General is that your camera?" No, it's my passport," Smalley replied, not missing a beat. "I have to have a passport to get into Washington these days."
For each train, Smalley had a special announcement: "We're going to invade the capital by way to Metro, and this time we're going to take it. But it will be a peaceful invasion."
If anybody had any doubt, he or she only had to notice the white and blue button pinned to Smalley's military uniform: The only word was "Peace," with its translation in Arabic and Hebrew.
Cordray, an international trade specialist for the Agency for International Development, explained how the trip came about:
"It started with a group of us from Rosemont who take Metro. We thought, all these trains come here to Arlington Cemetery, and nobody gets on or off. (Metro actually says about 150 people a day use the station.)
"What would happen, we thought, if someone gets on wearing a Confederate uniform. And what if that someone is Robert E. Lee, and it's Veterans Day."
The stunt had a lot of historical symmetry. The Arlington Cemetery station is at the foot of the hill where Lee's home, the Custis-Lee Mansion (now a museum), is situated. and Lee, of course, was a veteran. He was also, as Cordray said, an engineer who would appreciate the achievement of Metro.
Smalley, who works part-time for the National Council of Senior Citizens has another Lee project in mind. "I'm thinking of a musical featuring Lincoln, John Wilkes Booth and Lee - if I can put it all together," he said.