WASHINGTON-At 10 p.m. Friday night, Laurice Prince got on one of two buses leaving from Sumter, S.C., and began her journey to the nation's capital. Arriving in Washington, D.C., at 6:30 a.m. she headed straight for the National Mall.
There she joined tens of thousands of others from across the nation to hear Glenn Beck, Sarah Palin, and others praise the nation's military and its history.
Organizers for Beck's "Restoring Honor" rally had a permit for 300,000 people. And the crowd bunched up around the Lincoln Memorial and stretched all the way back to the Washington Monument.
Hundreds arrived on the Mall Friday night, bringing sleeping bags, chairs, and coolers. They endured the city's August humidity all night to get prime seats for Saturday's event that took place on the 47th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech.
"I'm truly afraid of the current direction of this country," said Prince, a 52-year-old kindergarten teacher. Wearing a Sumter Tea Party T-shirt, she added, "Only God's help is going to get us out of this mess."
Religion did take center stage during the four-hour event hosted by the popular radio and Fox News Channel commentator. Beck, who was raised Roman Catholic but converted to Mormonism as an adult, asked the crowd to commit to praying more.
"America today begins to turn back to God," he said from a stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial. "Realize that He is our king. He is the one who guides and directs our life and protects us."
Beck has been criticized for holding the rally on the same day and location as King's speech in 1963. Civil Rights activists marked the anniversary by conducting their own rally at a nearby high school.
But Jacki Brown, who attended Beck's rally, said the event's speakers all treated King with respect.
"They embraced his principles. They shared his message," said Brown, 51, also from Sumter.
Alveda King, Martin Luther King Jr.'s niece, echoed her uncle's words while telling those at the Beck rally to "focus not on elections or on political causes but on honor, on character . . . not the color of our skin."
Beck had stressed that Saturday's rally would not be political. But while the speakers mostly stayed away from partisan rhetoric, the crowd could not be muzzled. "Don't Tread on Me" flags, a Tea Party staple, dominated the landscape around the Mall.
Matt Santangelo is an 83-year-old retired attorney from Pennsylvania who claims to have spent most of his life sitting on the political sidelines. But on Saturday, wearing a baseball cap embroidered with a U.S. flag, Santangelo said he traveled to Washington because Congress is trying to do too much too fast.
"I'm ashamed of myself as much as I am of Congress," Santangelo told me while resting on a bench near the Washington Monument. "I should have stood up and said 'no' earlier. So I'm proud to be here now."
Santangelo then paused and looked around at the crowd. "And all these Americans here feel the same," he continued. "It is comforting to find out that I am not alone."
Philip Ripton, a retired construction worker from Newport, Maine, traveled in a convoy of six buses from his area. He said the good showing from Maine proves that many living in the Northeast also are fed up with Washington.
Ripton, 60, said politicians from both parties are part of an "elite class" that has "lost touch with the American people. Everything they do is about power."
Palin, the rally's keynote speaker, also dipped into politics.
"We must not fundamentally transform America as some would want," she said. "We must restore America and restore her honor."
But a central focus of the rally was to honor the nation's troops. So Palin, the former Alaska governor and vice presidential candidate, also spoke as the mother of a solider. Her son Track spent a year in Iraq.
"Say what you want to say about me, but I raised a combat vet and you can't take that away from me," Palin said.
The day's events honoring the military took on special meaning to rally participant and Laurice Prince's son Eric, 18. His twin brother, Jeremy, just began basic training for the Army. Eric will get to vote for the first time in this November's midterm elections.