The crowd watches outside the Capitol during the U.S. presidential...

The crowd watches outside the Capitol during the U.S. presidential inauguration in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Monday, Jan. 21, 2013. As he enters his second term, President Barack Obama has shed the aura of a hopeful consensus builder determined to break partisan gridlock and adopted a more confrontational stance with Republicans. Credit: Bloomberg

WASHINGTON -- An opportunity to witness President Barack Obama's public inauguration Monday and the start of his second term was worth rising early for and braving the crowds, said visitors to the nation's capital who made their way to Capitol Hill before sunrise.

The hundreds of thousands of people on the National Mall turned into a sea of waving American flags as Obama delivered his inaugural address.

Edward McNorris, 33, of Uniondale, who had American flags sticking out of his jacket, said he came to share the powerful moment with his son, Nehemiah, 6.

Both were seeing an inauguration for the first time.

"I'm glad we came to be part of history," Edward McNorris said.

Brianna Lilavois, 14, of Central Islip, who was in town with her mother, Nathalie, said Obama was "determined to get people to listen."

Nathalie Lilavois called the speech "powerful and impressive."

"My favorite part was his call to action to every American regardless of differences," she said, calling the speech "truly inspirational and befitting of the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s ideals."

Excitement and anticipation were almost palpable as spectators considered the importance of the event.

James Reilly, 18, of Levittown, a senior at Division Avenue High School, woke up at 4:30 a.m. and left his hotel at 6:30 a.m. with his class.

"It will definitely be worth it as I witness the making of history firsthand," he said.

Emily Perun, 14, of West Sayville, a Sayville High School student in Washington with the People to People Ambassador educational travel program, said she was up at 4:15 a.m. and walked 2 miles with her group to the National Mall.

She said she relished seeing the sunrise behind the Washington Monument.

Other Long Islanders, including students from Roosevelt High School, were making their way by bus to Washington from New York Monday morning.

Some -- including Jim and Amy Pfail, 49 and 47, respectively, and their daughter, Elise, 18, of Massapequa, who endured heavy damage to their home during superstorm Sandy and were invited by Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) -- were there as guests of New York lawmakers.

Organizers said they expected 700,000 to pack Capitol Hill for the swearing-in and speech, not as large a crowd as Obama's first inauguration, but still large enough to perhaps make Monday history's largest second inauguration. Vice President Joe Biden was also to be sworn in for a second term Monday.

A group of Mastic Beach EMTs, many wearing "Mastic Beach Ambulance" jackets, decided to drive to Washington early Monday on a whim.

"I figured it would be good for my son to be here and experience it," said Ed Merchant, 43, of Mastic Beach. "It was a spur-of-the-moment thing to come."

The group left Long Island at 4 a.m., arriving on the National Mall and settling among the observers without tickets.

"We're getting in the spirit and letting the kids experience something they won't ever experience again," said Joe Galizio, 38, of Mastic Beach.

The wait to access viewing spots and the long process of filing out of the mall proved to be frustrating for many, with police and guards blocking several streets so that the inaugural parade could proceed from Capitol Hill to the White House.

Though he rose at 4:30 a.m. to get to the Capitol, Reilly and his class were not able to view Obama's swearing-in and speech.

Reilly called the circumstances "a bit of a letdown," but said he enjoyed visiting Arlington National Cemetery and other sights in Washington and spending time with his class nonetheless.

With AP

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