Wednesday, November 3, 2010

DC Memorials to the Dead

On the morning of the Rally for Sanity, BP and I went early to the mall, and headed down to the west end. BP hadn't been back to DC since the WWII memorial was built in 2004 and we wanted to look at it.

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 remember
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.
A 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.

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

13 comments:

James said...

A wonderful post, IT. The Wall is indeed the most moving monument for me. But, then, that was the war of my age and I have friends who are on that wall. Robert Fryer is one of them.

JCF said...

I want my dad to see the WW2 Memorial (told him an "Honor Flight" would take him there for free).

But he isn't interested.

He's never been the military type, I guess (he was still in the Reserve, when I was VERY young---don't remember it, have only seen the uniforms!---but never participated in VFW or AmLeg afterwards).

When I was in college, my pacifism (newly-claimed as such, natch) was an issue w/ my parents: they (esp. my mom!) took it as a slap-in-the-face (and all my anti-nuclear weapons activism would bring forth my mom's "Your father was on That Boat Headed to Japan: if we hadn't Dropped The Bomb, you wouldn't be here, kiddo!" finger-wagging).

Now, it really doesn't come up. (FWIW, I NEVER judged individual troops participation in wars, only if they CELEBRATED same, over against pacifists).

The Question remains though (the one sung about in the 1960s): When Will We Ever Learn? (the question I ask the day after the 2010 midterms, as well. Sigh.)

Fred Schwartz said...

My Dear IT and BP,
That Wall is my life. I was 18 when I hit the Tarmac in Da Nang in July of 1968 and as I looked into the faces of those getting on to the aircraft I had just got off of I knew, I just knew. I spent my tour along the DMZ, places like Con Thien and C-2 and Khe Sahn and Alpha=4 and Cam Lo the Rockpile, LZ Stud, Mutter's Ridge and Gio Linh to name several and the names of many comrades are on the "black gash in the ground". I was a volunteer, a Marine, and I never judged those who stayed behind any more than those who went. The last thing I remember, and why the wall is so very important to me, is that while I got home to the hospital in Long Beach, the only way severla of my friends arrived home, was on that wall.

We are a great nation big enough to cover all of us -- then and now.

Here is a blog of a compare and contrast from 1968 to 2010 -- please go see and play -- www.wcvietnam.wordpress.com. This is a friend of mine who travelled back this year and is still pondering the meaning.

Thank you for this post -- Veteran's Day is just around the corner.
+ Peace

Leonardo Ricardo said...

Thank you IT. Thank you Fred.

Leonardo

Counterlight said...

Great post.

Thank you Fred.

The WWII memorial design was controversial when it was proposed. There were a lot of people who pointed out that the vague Art-Deco/Classical revival style of the monument was closer in form to the monuments of our enemies at the time.

IT said...

Fred, thank you. And thank you for your service.

A Marine, eh? That explains a certain...tenacity!

Counterlight, have to say that's the first thing I thought of....

it's margaret said...

Did you make it to the far end of the Mall and the "Roosevelt" memorial? If not, next time you really should. Absolutely incredible --my favorite of any on the Mall --and I too can never see the Vietnam memorial without weeping.

Fred Schwartz said...

The "Big Ditch" or "big gash' was also very controversial when first created. Hence, the three statutes and then the nurse.

IT,
Yep, Semper Fi!

JCF said...

Off-topic:

Just now, when we need him most, MSNBC has indefinitely suspended Keith Olbermann! :-0

[Merely for making a couple of LEGAL (both pre&post "Citizens United"!) campaign contributions!]

Please go here, to sign a petition to get him back on the air!

IT said...

JCF< I disaggree. Rachel Maddow said it best:

"There are multiple people being paid by Fox News to essentially run for office as Republican candidates. If you count not just their hosts but their contributors, you're looking at a significant portion of the entire Republican lineup of potential contenders for 2012. They can do that because there's no rule against that at Fox. Their network is run as a political operation. Ours isn't. Yeah, Keith's a liberal, and so am I. But we're not a political operation -- Fox is. We're a news operation. The rules around here are part of how you know that,"

JCF said...

I don't follow, IT.

I want Keith back on the air, and so does Rachel.

An indefinite suspension is GROSSLY disproportionate to the "crime".

I urge everyone to sign the petition.

IT said...

Sorry, not clear from your original ost that it was about the length of the suspension, rather than the matter of the suspension itself.

JCF said...

Personally, I don't think he should have been suspended, at all. I don't care that he made the donations (which were legal). I can see why NBC, having made the rules, would want them obeyed---but that's their deal, not mine.

Water under the bridge: he WAS suspended.

I just want him back on the air ASAP: I can't imagine my weeknights w/o him (well, I can: the time he was away a long time in 2009, during the death of his father, was HELL).

I'm not too proud to ask: if you don't care for Keith, nevertheless please request his reinstatement for my sake. Thank you.