The sun was still at an oblique angle and the golden light made the fall foliage glow richly. The morning was bright, clear and brisk as we walked past the Ellipse and the White House.
The WWII memorial is built around sunken fountains at the end of the Reflecting Pool between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument, so it doesn't interfere with that view. It consists of great pillars with metal wreaths marking each state and territory that fought, with one side marked "Atlantic" and the other "Pacific" for the two theatres of war. "Victory at sea, Victory on land, Victory in the Air" thunders a massive brass inlay in the pathway. George W Bush's name is prominent on the cornerstone. It feels very classically European in a grandiose, rather anachronisitc way and it doesn't do a THING for me. (It should not need saying that this is a reaction to the memorial, and not the sacrifice of those who fought and died.)
Walking along was a squad of troops in cammies. Their leader stopped them at one point and I heard him begin, "President Franklin D. Roosevelt....." so I guess it was a history lesson.
We left the WWII memorial and went further towards the Vietnam Memorial, that simple, stark slash of black stone that looks like a scar in the earth. I've seen it 3 times and I cry every time. As we approached, an older man, maybe in his late 60s, walked past us going the other direction. He was heaving with agonized sobs as his wife tried to comfort him.
We went to the far end to look in the Book for a name. BP wore an MIA bracelet back In The Day for Lt Col Robert Standerwick Sr, and she wanted to find him. The Book gives the location on the panels for each name. A volunteer guide helped us. He pointed to the lightly etched cross in front of Lt Col Standerwick's name, rather than the diamond that separates most names. Not a religious mark, but a placeholder. "He's still missing," the volunteer explained. "When they're found, we drill out the diamond. We've found nearly half of them since the wall was built. If we found them alive, we would put a circle around it. There are no circles on the wall," he finished, wistfully. He thanked BP for wearing a bracelet for Lt Col Standerwick all those years ago, and we moved on, our eyes full of tears.
The Wall is very tactile. You can see people making rubbings of names, or just reaching out to touch them. There are notes and offerings left at its base. There was a laminated card with a rhyme written by one of the "Donut Dollies" who cheered the boys along, lamenting that she never knew their real names.
Don't you think that I rememberA group of young cadets from Annapolis were there, in uniform. Like the squad at the other memorial, they were having some sort of a history lesson, and they walked along the length of the wall. The faces of the men--boys, really-- were still spotty with youth. I don't think it really affected them. They don't have the memories of waiting for draft numbers with a brother, the nightly news of carnage, burning draft cards, protests and tear gas, and the damaged bodies and minds that came home to angry voices and rejection. That searing image of the fall of Saigon is no more real to them than a video from an old war movie. And it is ever thus, as young men go to war.
Big Mike, Stoney, Ace, and Jer?
I still can see and hear you
But I can't find you anywhere
I can't reach out and touch your name
Though I know you're on the wall
I never got to say Goodbye
Or Welcome home--that most of all.
From the Wall, we joined the throngs walking purposefully up to the other end of the Mall and joined the rally. It was very fundamental: Americans, gathering "in the nation's back yard" to exercise our rights to free speech and free assembly.
But before we got there, I couldn't help but wish that every bloviating politician in the Capitol be forced to go stand by that Wall in contemplation.
Photos (C) by IT