Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Washington, D.C. - Part Three - The Memorials

Our family awoke to another gorgeous day for our second full day of sightseeing in our nation's capital.  After eating more than Washington's army combined at the Embassy Suites' full buffet breakfast, we grabbed a taxi that dropped us almost at Lincoln's feet.

[Family Field Trip tip: remember I said five in a taxi is cheaper than the metro?  Well, the taxi can also take you straight to the entrances of most museums and monuments along The Mall.  The Metro station is close, but still quite a walk away.  Your family will be doing tons of walking, around and within the museums and monuments, so the taxi to and from is well worth it.]

Two words best describe the feelings the Lincoln Memorial represent to me: Awe and Reverence.  With the Gettysburg Address to one side and his second inaugural address to the other, Lincoln sits watching the America he saved from itself.  While the kids understood the solemnity of the monument, I don't think they got the awesomeness of what Lincoln did.  Greg read the Gettysburg Address quietly to the kids explaining what each sentence meant.  Anabel was moved most of all.  After looking at various statues together this year, she asked great questions about what his pose represented.  "It looks like he has one hand relaxed and one clenched on the chair.  Does that mean he could be kind, but firm?"

Greg was disappointed that they now have a bookstore inside the Lincoln Memorial.  I got his point, but I also think it is a great location to spread the ideals of democracy, freedom, and, yes, capitalism.  Anyway, there were mainly only history books; no red, white and blue t-shirts, lunch boxes or bumper stickers to clash with the importance of the monument.

Leaving Lincoln, we headed towards the Korean War Memorial.  These frozen in time soldiers walking through a battlefield gave me chills.  Again, there was the feeling of solemnity and remembrance all around.

As we walked back in front of Lincoln to the other side where the Vietnam War Memorial is located, I gave an impromptu history lesson on the wars of the twentieth century to Anabel and Wyatt.  After giving a brief overview of the four major wars that involved America, we discussed the major differences and perceptions of each.  Scholars may disagree, but my nutshell version for my kids was: WWI, we tried to be isolationists, but our alliances by providing supplies and aid eventually led to our relatively short involvement; WWII, again, we tried to just provide supplies, but after Japan attacked Americans, we could ignore their aggressive regime and Hitler's successes against our allies no longer.  In both World Wars, we had been attacked and the lines of black and white, good vs. evil were clear.  With the Korean and Vietnam Wars, the lines were a bit blurry.  Trying to explain Communism and our policy of  Containment to 10 and 12 year olds on a beautiful day seems a waste of time now, but when a teachable moment presents itself, you go with it.  I think the most powerful point they understood was the difference television made with the Vietnam War.  Seeing a war in your living room is never a pretty thing.

By the time we reached the Vietnam War Memorial Wall of Names, the kids were rightly overwhelmed.  (Greg and Emma walked behind us because she was having a hard time wrapping her young mind around all these wars and deaths.  Honestly, I still have a hard time myself.)

Strangely enough, the World War II Memorial ended up being a very uplifting monument.  We loved the ring of states around the memorial and the wall plates that tell the story of the Atlantic War and the Pacific War.  We met a lone WWII veteran who asked us to take his picture by his state sign.  He described his experience in the South Pacific and the battles he fought in.  Just talking to him for five minutes revived our patriotism and cemented our belief that he and his fellow soldiers were of the greatest generation our country has ever seen.  He thanked us for taking his picture and we thanked him for his service and sacrifice for our country.  Our words of gratitude for their contribution to our country are insufficient for what these great men and women sacrificed and accomplished.

We left the memorial area and headed past the great Washington Monument ready for lunch, but first, we paused for a moment of reflection in the shadow of that great obelisk.  What will the memorial for the still going wars in Iraq and Afghanistan look like?  What other wars will the twenty-first century hold?  Too depressing to think about for long... Carpe diem!  Let's eat!

Life is short so "Gather ye rose buds while ye may!"

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