Monday, October 22, 2007

[Please note: I cannot get the returns to work for paragraph breaks. I apologize for this little glitch and I hope to cure it eventually!] We've had a lot of out of town guests this past month which has meant repeated trips to the National Mall to visit the Smithsonian museums, twice to Ft. McHenry in Baltimore, and a tour of the Capitol and then some of the monuments. This past weekend was the most tourist-oriented of these visits and the only one that concentrated on the memorials that march from the Capitol building to Arlington National Cemetery. So this is about the two days we spent remembering.

Our first stop on Thursday morning was the Visitor's Gallery of the House of Representatives where we had apparently just missed hearing Rep. Pete Stark make a truly stupid statement about the war in Iraq. They don't let you carry anything into the gallery which is a very good idea or I might have had to throw something, if I had even been there which I wasn't so I guess this is moot. Nonetheless, settling whether this dumb remark could be struck from the record held up the proceedings in the House so we mostly got to watch people standing around which bred its own kind of resentment.
By afternoon, we had worked our way down the Mall to the World War II memorial, pictured above. It is large and majestic as befits the events it commemorates. Some find it a bit cold. Some just wonder why it took the better part of six decades to get it built. I love it. My father was at Attu, a battle in the Pacific theatre, the name engraved along the edge of a fountain. A very old man was wheeled in by his family as we stood, reading the quotes carved into the walls. He got out of his chair and walked over to the wall on the Pacific side to read something, seemed deeply pleased, and finally sat down again. I think my father would have loved to have seen it too . . .
The Korean Memorial is astounding, portaying men in rain gear, marching through mud. Each statue stands for a certain number of those lost, but I didn't see the ratio written down that day. To the south of this triangle of men is a wall (granite?) etched with photographs of servicemembers at work and those at the homefront.
The VietNam Memorial, the Wall, is so well known that it's pointless to comment, but I did look up my old neighbor's son and walked to his panel in the middle of the memorial. He was on the third row down so I had to crane my neck to look up at him. As is customary, the area in front of the Wall was full of flowers and mementos like letters and copies of yearbook pages: personal memorials. I cried.
On Friday, we went to Arlington. This was the first time I had returned since we went to the interment of Thomas's first sergeant, Michael Bordelon, in May of 2005. Stupidly, I stood in the Visitor's Center and cried at the display of photographs. We took the shuttle around the cemetery which meant not going to Section 60 where the fallen from Iraq are buried. At the tomb of the Unknown we witnessed a wreath-laying ceremony in light rain: when the bugler played Taps--well you can imagine.
I've spent a lot of time in cemeteries in the last several years. I'm still processing the different impact of each of these places. I will have to go back to visit Section 60 soon.
It was harrowing but I am glad that we went. It is good to remember the dead from all of these conflicts and maybe it will help us figure out how we will honor the fallen of this war.

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