WASHINGTON — It is the stuff memories are made of: being part of a huge crowd gathered in the nation’s capital to witness a historic moment: Friday’s inauguration of America’s 45th president, Donald Trump.
Around 10 Surry County residents are known to have made the journey to Washington to witness Trump take the oath of office during a noontime ceremony at the U.S. Capitol which attracted about a million people.
And while the respective observations of local attendees differ, they seem to share a common view that the inauguration experience is something they’ll never forget.
“It was just electrifying,” said A.J. Daoud of Pilot Mountain, who attended with his wife Angie.
“You totally felt it in the air.”
“One thing that has stood out to me is just the massive number of people that are here, and standing in the rain and the cold to watch President Trump be sworn in,” Teresa Lewis of Mount Airy said Friday afternoon.
“I’m having a great time, that’s for sure,” added Lewis, the owner of WorkForce Unlimited, who attended the inauguration with her husband Jim, son Mike Brannock and another Mount Airy couple, John and Kay Marcaccio.
“The place was massive.”
Lewis is a longtime member of the Republican Party and contributor to its candidates, who previously attended the inauguration of George W. Bush in 2001.
A more-unlikely attendee of Friday’s event was Surry County Sheriff Graham Atkinson, a Democrat. But like Lewis, he also was captivated by the spectacle of a presidential inauguration.
“It does sound kind of corny, and it’s been tossed around a lot,” Atkinson said while standing on Constitution Avenue about 1:30 p.m. waiting to see the inaugural parade, “but it was great to see everybody come together and a peaceful transition of power.”
This was refreshing given the divisiveness of the campaign, said Atkinson, who mentioned that he conversed with people of all political persuasions while waiting in the crowd Friday morning. The Surry sheriff also was impressed by something else.
“One of the things I think we all can agree on, it was a great experience to see all the living presidents, with the exception of Bush Senior, who were all there together,” Atkinson said.
“When Bush came out,” Daoud said of George W., “he probably got the loudest applause of all the former presidents.”
Friday also marked the end of an era, the presidency of Barack Obama, and one thing that made an impression on Atkinson was seeing Obama being flown from the scene on Friday.
Lewis, who also attended the parade later in the day, said it was quite moving to witness Trump being sworn in to office.
“It was almost emotional to hear him take the oath,” she said, “and to make what I thought was a great speech.”
Daoud, who previously attended the Ronald Reagan inauguration, appreciated how Trump emphasized that the government belongs to the people and he was turning it back over to them, something one often doesn’t hear from incoming presidents.
“So that speech captured the heart and soul of the average American,” the Pilot Mountain man said of Trump’s message. “He said, ‘I’m here for you guys.’”
Both Lewis and Daoud received VIP tickets as longtime GOP figures. This included Daoud having served as former Republican chairman of North Carolina’s Sixth District and his drivers providing rides for Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during their campaign swings through the Tar Heel State.
Atkinson, meanwhile, obtained inauguration tickets through the office of Rep. Virginia Foxx, who represents Surry in Congress. And on Thursday he and his wife Melissa flew to Washington, where their son is a freshman at George Washington University. Atkinson ended up about 200 yards from the stage.
“We were as close as we could be without being in the reserved seating section.”
Meanwhile, Lewis’ visit to the capital has included her group being accompanied by an “NBC Nightly News Crew” for a report on her inaugural experience.
But Friday was a long day for the attendees, with Atkinson saying he had been up since 4 a.m., and then there were hours of waiting as music and other activities unfolded as the big moment approached.
“Jim and I left (their hotel) at seven o’clock and we actually walked — it took us an hour to get to the Capitol, there were so many road closures,” Lewis said.
“I’ve never seen security this tight,” Daoud agreed.
“To reach the Capitol, I actually went through a metal detector and was searched twice,” he said. “We went along the parade route and they were searching everybody.”
Lewis and Daoud planned to attend inaugural balls Friday night, while Atkinson took in a Toby Keith concert Thursday night as part of the inaugural festivities.
Atkinson mentioned that Democrats and Republicans acted like third-graders during the campaign season — “my team is going to beat your team, but in the end we all came together.”
He said Friday was a case of democracy in action.
“Nowhere else in the world does this happen,” he said of the dignified shift in leadership the inauguration represented.
“I think the message of it is America is strong and we are going to continue to be strong and we as a country are going to be OK.”
Everything was not totally smooth Friday, however, as rioting broke out in the capital and led to numerous arrests.
“It wasn’t all anti-Trump — that’s what’s so bizarre,” Daoud said.
He said a diverse set of protesters were in the area, such as a pro-Palestinian organization and one called Woman for Science.
“It was just a cluster of different groups, not necessarily anti-Trump.”
Daoud said their goal appeared to be simply using the occasion of the inauguration as a vehicle to promote their various causes.
Six police officers were injured and 217 protesters arrested after they smashed windows, damaged cars and threw rocks at police near the inauguration ceremony site, according to national media reports.
At least two DC police officers and one other person were taken to the hospital for undetermined injuries after clashes with protesters.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.