The sounds of trumpets and cannon fire broke the still of a cold Sunday dawn as 5,000 military personnel participated in a full dress rehearsal of President-elect George W. Bush's inauguration ceremonies.
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Long, subbing for the president-elect, walked ramrod straight through the same military honor guard at the Capitol that will stand at attention and present the colors for Bush at his swearing-in Saturday outside the Capitol.
"It's pretty straightforward," said Long, who was told just 10 minutes before the rehearsal that he would play Bush. "You walk through and out to the front."
Long stood solemn-faced as he held his right hand up and nodded his head to an imaginary conversation. Asked why he secured the top spot, he said it was because he and the president-elect are basically the same height and weight.
"I happened to be at the right place at the right time," he said.
Stand-ins for President Clinton and Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist, who will administer the oath of office, also took part in the walk-through of the highly synchronized ceremony on the West Terrace of the Capitol overlooking the long vista of the National Mall and the Washington Monument.
Even the presidential limo had a stunt-double. President-elect Bush's stretch was a black Ford Expedition, tailed by the vice presidential replacement's gray Chevy Lumina. The weathered Bible to be held by Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist was a tattered dictionary.
The rehearsal is held "to make sure people hit their mark," said Army Maj. LeAnn Swieczkowski, who helped lead the practice.
The roar of cannons firing a 21-gun salute and the sound of the Marine Band's John Philip Sousa marches filled the wide open space of the Mall, which organizers expect to be filled with thousands of spectators and invited guests.
Army Staff Sgt. Michael Long, subbing for President-elect George W. Bush at an inauguration rehearsal
Organizers huddled in the chilly dark as they worked to smooth out any glitches in a rehearsal that began at 5:30 a.m.
"The planning starts after the last inaugural," said Architect of the Capitol Alan Hantman, who ordered some of the Capitol's statues nudged aside to make room for the honor guard.
Police closed Pennsylvania Avenue to traffic so an empty presidential motorcade could roll down the route of the inaugural parade. Troops lined both sides of the street, standing at attention as they will during the actual parade.
Enlisted men rode white horses at the head of units passing the newly built reviewing stand in front of the White House where Bush will review the parade. Those on horseback and foot wore laminated signs around their necks identifying the military units and student bands holding those spots in the actual parade.
On Inaugural Day, the troops will be in full dress. On Sunday, most wore fatigue uniforms. Some officers, marching in front, wore sabers. Some enlisted men carried signs identifying the college and high school bands that will occupy space on the avenue in next Saturday's parade.
As the military bands passed in review they boomed out service songs, including the Navy's "Anchors Aweigh."
The tradition of holding the inauguration on the Capitol's West Front began in 1981 with President Reagan's first swearing in. The 35 inaugurations preceding it took place on the East Front.