By Bob Tagert
Veterans Day and D.C.’s Memorials
This month we decided it would be a great opportunity to revisit the war memorials and military memorials in our Nations Capital area. The crisp fall is perfect for a brisk walk around D.C. and most of the tourists are gone or certainly in smaller numbers. Also, with the election happening and the conflicts in which we are engaged, I thought it a good time to reconnect with the past.
We will begin our journey on the National Mall adjacent to Constitution Gardens. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a 2-acre national memorial that pays tribute to the brave members of the United States Armed Forces who fought in the Vietnam War and were killed or missing in action (MIA). The Memorial consists of three separate parts: The Three Soldiers statue, the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall…or simply, the “Wall”, which is the most popular feature. The memorial is free and open to the public 24 hours a day, with rangers on duty to answer questions from 9:30 am to 10 pm daily.
Perhaps the Memorial Wall’s most defining characteristic is a visitor’s ability to see his or her reflection at the same time as the engraved names, connecting the past and the present like few other monuments can. Of all my years in this area the only other places that demand this level of respect is Arlington Cemetery and the Lincoln Memorial.
Just south of the wall is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, which serves to commemorate the 265,000 women that served in the Vietnam War, many of whom worked as nurses. The 2,000 pound bronze structure stands 15 feet tall and depicts three women attending to a wounded soldier, reflecting the unity required during the struggle of the war.
The Three Soldiers (also known as the Three Servicemen) make up the third part of the Memorial. The bronze statue that is another moving reminder of the disparate groups that had to come together during the Vietnam War. Each of the soldiers stands seven feet tall, situated on top of a one-foot granite base. One is European American, one is African American and the other is Hispanic American, with the statute arranged as if to show the three soldiers gazing upon the Memorial Wall at the names of their fellow comrades.
At the other end of the reflecting pool you will find the World War II Memorial, which honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the United States, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. Symbolic of the defining event of the 20th Century, the memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people. The Second World War is the only 20th Century event commemorated on the National Mall’s central axis.
The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004 and was dedicated one month later on May 29. The memorial is open to the public 4 hrs a day, seven days a week.
The memorial consists of 56 granite pillars, each 17 feet tall, arranged in a semicircle around a plaza with two 43-foot triumphal arches on opposite sides. “Two-thirds of the 7.4-acre site is landscaping and water. Each pillar is inscribed with the name of one of the 48 U.S. states of 1945, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska Territory and Territory of Hawaii, the Commonwealth of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The northern arch is inscribed with “Atlantic”; the southern one, “Pacific.”
The memorial includes two inconspicuously located “Kilroy was here” engravings. Their inclusion in the memorial acknowledges the significance of the symbol to the American soldiers during World War II and how it represented their presence and protection wherever it was inscribed.
The Freedom Wall is on the west side of the memorial, with a view of the Reflecting Pool and the Lincoln Memorial in the distance. The wall has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war. In front of the wall lies the message…”Here We Mark the Price of Freedom”.
On the other side of the Reflection Pool you will find the Korean War Veterans Memorial. All of its components, including its walls, stainless steel statues and Pool of Remembrance, are dedicated to the armed forces that served and sacrificed during the Korean War. The memorial is free and open 24/7.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial consists of multiple structures that honor those who sacrificed during the three-year struggle. The memorial’s Mural Wall measures 164 feet long and eight inches thick, and from a bird’s eye view, the Wall appears as an isosceles triangle, with the tip intersecting a circle over the Pool of Remembrance.
Images of troops moving by sea, land and air are sandblasted onto the surface of the wall, while a squadron of 19 stainless steel figures, including members from each branch of the armed forces, is situated in the center of the memorial space. When the 1,000-pound statues are reflected on the granite wall, there appears to be 38 soldiers, which, represents the 38th parallel, the dividing line of North and South Korea during the conflict. The popular TV show MASH, although a comedy, depicted the harsh realities of war.
A visit to the memorial is not complete without a look at the Pool of Remembrance, which has inscriptions that list the number of soldiers killed, wounded, missing in action and held as prisoners during the Korean War. Trees positioned so that the sun beautifully reflects off of the water surround the shallow pool, which is only 30 feet in diameter.
The Navy Memorial and Naval Heritage Center in Washington honor and commemorate the sailors of the United States Navy. The memorial is an outdoor public plaza and the Heritage Center serves as a place to learn about the history and heritage of the sea services.
The circular outdoor plaza, located in the heart of D.C., features a “Granite Sea” map of the world, surrounded by fountains, pools, flagpole masts, and sculpted panels depicting historic achievements of the United States Navy. A statue of the Lone Sailor represents all people who ever served in the sea services. The memorial is located at 701 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, between 7th and 9th streets.
The final three memorials that I will lightly touch on are on the Virginia side of the Potomac River. The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial is located in Lady Bird Johnson on Columbia Island and is a monument honoring sailors of the United States Navy and the United States Merchant Marine who died at sea during World War I. It was designed in 1922 and dedicated on October 18, 1934.
Nicknamed “Waves and Gulls,” the memorial depicts seven seagulls above the crest of a wave. It is cast from aluminum and the base is made of green granite. It stands 35 feet tall and 30 feet deep. The monument can be seen between the G.W. Parkway and the Potomac River just north of 395.
The United States Air Force Memorial honors the service of the personnel of the United States Air Force and its predecessors. The memorial is located right off of I-395 in Arlington, Virginia, on the grounds of Fort Myer near the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery.
The memorial is an iconic image on the Washington skyline. The three memorial spires range from 201 feet to 270 feet high and appear to be soaring; its array of stainless steel arcs against the sky evoke the image of “contrails of the Air Force Thunderbirds as the peel back in a precision “bomb burst” maneuver.” Only three of the four contrails are depicted, at 120 degrees from each other, as the absent fourth suggests the missing man formation traditionally used at an Air Force funeral fly-over.
The final memorial is probably the best known. The Marine Corps War Memorial, or the Iwo Jima Statue, is located in Arlington, VA. Just off of the G.W. Parkway. The United States Marine Corps War memorial represents this nation’s gratitude to marines and those who have fought beside them. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in defense of the United States since 1775.
To get a real feel for the Marine Corps, take a drive south on I-95 or Route 1, Jeff Davis Highway to Triangle, Virginia and visit the Marine Corps Museum. Plan to spend a lot of time here; it is a very impressive museum.
This months road trip is close to home, however, these sites will transport you all over the world. Have a respectful Veterans Day and a HappyThanksgiving and enjoy November.