Last week, I was fortunate to make a work trip to Washington D.C. This visit was one of the dozen or so I’ve made there, since my first in 1988. I didn’t have much time to explore, so I made it a point to pay homage at several of the memorials that mean the most to me.
My two favorite places on the Mall are the National World War II Memorial and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. These two shrines remind Americans of the tremendous sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation. I was hoping to see a WWII veteran and was pleased to see an older man in a wheelchair accompanied by his family. I felt the moment was much too intimate to interrupt, so I only waved and went on. I encountered a lot of visitors at the Korean memorial. I prefer visiting there late or early, when the light is just right, when the plants and granite rows make the ground appear to be a rice paddy. The body language of that last soldier in the platoon always raises the hair on my head. The alarm on his face as he looks backward seems to signal an upcoming firefight.
I made a first-time visit to the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial, which opened in 2011. When you stand directly in front of King’s statue, he seems to look directly at you, challenging your thoughts on equality and justice. King led by fearless example in the manner of Gandhi. His legacy challenges us to persevere in the face of adversity, do what is right, and accept the consequences of our actions.
I was also able to visit Arlington National Cemetery. I hiked up to Arlington House, formerly Robert E. Lee’s home, which offers a fine view of the entire District. Many of the earliest graves in the cemetery are in that area, along with some more recent, like President John F. Kennedy. In an area closer to the river is Section 60, where many of the most recently deceased are buried, including men and women who gave their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. One such, SSG Joshua James Bowden, died of small arms fire on August 31, 2013, while on patrol in Ghazni, Afghanistan. His headstone had a dozen or so small stones on top, each possibly placed by a visitor who knew Joshua well.
From the cemetery, I walked over to the Iwo Jima Memorial, still the place I find most powerful to visit in D.C. The Memorial depicts the six men who raised the U.S. flag atop Mount Suribachi and lists all the battles in which the Marines have participated. On Tuesday evenings during summer, the Marine Corps Band and the Silent Drill Platoon entertain visitors. I recorded and have placed a short video of that performance on YouTube: http://youtu.be/dDfOdSkfOBA.
I returned home with my emotion bucket filled and with a renewed appreciation for our country’s rich history. I am so grateful to those who came before my time and to those today who stand for freedom, justice, and equality. If you’ve not been to Washington D.C. recently, consider making the trip sometime soon – you may find it restores and reinvigorates your sense of patriotism and your belief in the American Dream.
Michael Brown is an education consultant and former teacher. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.