By Staff Sgt. Joel Pena, 10th Mountain Division Journalist January 24, 2013
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The year 1863 was one of the most fateful in our nation's capital. It began with the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, and ended with a celebration of the new Capitol dome crowned by the Statue of Freedom in December.
It was 150 years later at this historic site when a group of wounded warriors from the 10th Mountain Division (LI) witnessed history as President Barack H. Obama was administered the presidential oath of office by Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts Jr. to mark his second term.
The morning began bright and early for Capt. Jake E. Murphy, Staff Sgt. Timothy Payne, Spc. Johnathon Mullen and Spc. Jacob Owens -- all former 10th Mountain Division Soldiers -- who are currently recovering at Walter Reed National Medical Center, Bethesda, Md., from injuries they suffered while deployed to Afghanistan. They and other wounded warriors were invited to the inauguration by Sen. Harry Reid (Nevada).
As the Soldiers arrived at the event, thousands of people lined the site on both sides. The crowd exploded in applause and cheers, thanking the Soldiers for their service and sacrifice.
"You are our heroes" could be heard from the crowd, as the Soldiers, dressed in their Army Service Uniforms, marched proudly through the crowd to occupy their position in the west front of the Capitol building to witness the 57th Presidential Inauguration.
"This is very humbling," Owens said, as he heard and saw the honor being bestowed upon the Soldiers by the crowd. "We were only doing our job."
Owens has been hospitalized since he sustained injuries to his left leg and right eye on Nov. 23, 2011, when an improvised explosive device detonated in Afghanistan, also leaving him with a traumatic brain injury and a blood clot in his lung. He previously was assigned to what he called "the best route clearance company in the Army," the 630th Route Clearance Company, 7th Engineer Battalion, 10th Sustainment Brigade.
Sitting in front of the Soldiers during the ceremony were members of the Tuskegee Airmen, the first African American aviators in the U.S. armed forces. They also are known by the nickname "Red Tails," which was coined when they painted the tails of their P-47 fighter aircraft red during WWII.
Owens, excited about seeing the Tuskegee Airmen, went to shake hands with them and take photos with his cell phone. The airmen were very gracious and thanked Owens for his service. Owens replied, "The honor is all mine," and he thanked them for their service.
After a musical prelude by the U.S. Marine Band, directed by Col. Michael J. Colburn, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer (New York) gave the call to order and welcoming remarks.
After a musical selection by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir, the vice presidential oath of office was administered to Joseph R. Biden Jr. by Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor.
The ceremony continued with a musical selection by James Taylor, followed by the president taking the oath of office and giving his inaugural address to the nation.
Capt. Jake E. Murphy, an infantry officer from 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, described the president's remarks as "uplifting and positive."
Murphy required amputation of both of his legs after being wounded in an IED attack in July 2011 in Kandahar Province. He is waiting to receive his medical rating from the Department of Veterans Affairs to be discharged from the Army, and he is getting married in spring.
"It was a great feeling to look behind us and see an ocean of people in one accord," Murphy continued. "I believe things will get better for all of us."
Immediately after, the Reverend Dr. Luis Leon gave the benediction and Beyonce sang the national anthem.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Navy Commander Roberto Molina, defense legislative fellow for Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, awarded a coin on behalf of Reid to each of our warriors, thanking them for their service.
Upon returning back to Walter Reed National Medical Center, the excitement was noticeable on the warriors' faces as they laughed and talked about the day's events.
Some of them also were invited to attend the Commander in Chief's Ball at the Washington Convention Center on Monday night.
For all of them, it was a day to remember.