Memorial Day in our Nation's Capital

Washington
DC is iconic. It is hard and rigid; everything seems a shade of
off-white, creamish, gray. Erected in the same type of marble and
limestone, many of the buildings use similar designs and look like they
were made from the same block of imitation Greek Legos.

Aside
from the population of academia (which comprise a large chunk of the
residents), the city seems filled with men in suits, Hillary Clinton
wannabes, homeless, political hookers, and a catch-all of government
service workers. Friendliness was a PS many failed to include. While
New Yorkers have a bad rap, the DC-ers, whether they’re local or
politico-transplant, are slow on the uptake and not so generous with
their hospitality.

Things seem spread out but close together –
the heart of the city seems to be this large monument park. They found
a piece of land, labeled it Capitol and tried to redeem the title with
the cement tributes to those that founded this country on morals and
virtues we’re still trying to emulate. What future monuments will be
erected for our children? Will the future generations recognize a gap
in leadership integrity?

The Washington Monument is like the Eiffel Tower, the Statue of Liberty, the Sears Tower; it’s
the tallest thing you see – an unspoken logo. From the circular plaza
holding the infamous phallic tower of bricks, you can see the Lincoln Memorial. Here you are in a book of postcards, in a slide show, in any movie montage set in the nation’s capital.

The
reflecting pool between the Lincoln and Washington Memorials, like a
mirror, instantly double the memorials. Like jewelry, this rectangle of
water is sparkly adornment for an otherwise hard and dry expanse.

The
Lincoln Memorial, under a night sky is stunning and dramatic. Yet upon
the steps and below the gigantor’s feet, it is ransacked by middle
school kids where they obnoxiously read anything but the ‘Respect
Please’ signs. Varying groups assemble in matching t-shirts; a stark
white memorial dotted with a sea of blue, green and tie-die. Middle
schools from Ohio, NJ, neighboring Baltimore. Some snap pictures, some
are texting, and some giggle and flirt. They are not war age yet; they
don’t have children yet. The war is a lesson they’re just learning;
just one reality life has to slap on their faces.

Particularly
poignant – on Memorial Day – and on a day when our country is still at
combat – are the dedicated war memorials. Mothers still put yellow
ribbons around their trees and wear pins with stars on them.

The World War II Memorial
seemed to be the least crowded. 16 million faught in a war now
memorialized by a fountain overlooking the Lincoln Memorial. Pillars
bearing the names of country or states who fought in the war
encapsulate the fountain. There are no individual names; just locations.

The Korean War Memorial
is striking. In a triangular, spread out formation, silver soldiers
stand, dramatic and disoriented – lost in a field but solidified for
perpetuity. Expressions of sadness, despair, shock and honor are
smeared on their faces. They all wear heavy ponchos and carry machine
guns. A rainy battle eternalized under a sunny sky in Washington DC.
The dichotomy is extreme. Behind the metal soldiers, there is a black
granite wall etched with soldiers’ gray faces. Those lost in a war many
in our generation know from the TV show, MASH.

My fist visit to the nation’s capital was about 20 years ago. From that trip, most impactful was the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.
I remembered the vast expanse of a seemingly endless list of names. The
Memorial seemed larger than life then, but for so many different
reasons.

Hundreds of Harley-riding
veterans congregate at the imprinted expanse of black granite that
reveal their reflection. The base speckled with bouquets of plastic red
roses in celephane decorated with red, white and blue. I read the
names, but can’t see past my own face. I watch the reflections of
tragic reunions. Veterans look at each other, shake hands, and say
Welcome Home. The Washington monument and American flags bare witness.

A
government worker dedicated to the memorial stands with a ladder, a big
book of names and some pencils. Quietly, old couples approach her and
ask her to do a pencil etching of a name. She props the ladder against
the black wall and quietly and respectfully scratches the pencils over
the specifically ripped piece of paper. She hands it over to the sad
requestors.

They all look at her as if to say, “My son gave his
life for this country, and now I have a pencil etching of his name.”
Maybe I project; somehow I will never see war as rational. Somehow I’m
always the one drawing peace signs in my mind, wishing everyone could
sing kumbaya with doves flying overhead. Peace, love and rainbows. Only
the unicorns are missing from my dreamscape.

The White House
is beautiful; it’s set back as far as a jail and probably more
protected. One of the most famous homes in the world; now home to two
little girls. Thousands of people stick their digital cameras in
between the iron gates each day and try to snap a picture of someone
else’s home. What does this home say about the people inside or this
nation? I’m not sure why anyone is so infatuated by the mansion – it
looks similar to many other DC building. People want a picture of what
the home represents – the freedom, liberty and other incidentals that
this country has been fighting for the last two centuries.

Within
the concrete buildings and under the perfect sidewalk, in between the
shades of white, there seems to be lurking an aura of corruption and
evil. Some degree of immorality that maybe, hopefully is on its way
out. An ornate building currently under construction served as the
shredding paper ground for the Iran Contra scandal. A mysterious
building has no identifying marks, but is guarded by men with lots of
ammunition and shallow faces.

Secrets, like ghosts, seem to whisper all around Washington DC.

Food
options, like the rest of the city, seem spread apart and bland. Around
the mall area, snack stands dot the periphery. Choices abound in the
form of hot dogs, pretzels, or egg rolls. A few blocks inland from the
land of the monuments and dried grass there were few unappealing
restaurants. We had a good meal at the Chinatown Express. They made fresh dumplings and noodles in the window and then served it up to us for $5.95 each.

The visit to Arlington National Cemetery
under a blistering sun and blazing blue sky was a day that has
imprinted itself onto my memory bank and will remain there like a
mental tombstone. It was Memorial Day weekend so the energy was
exponential; a Rolling Thunder
reunion had all the Harley vets dressed in leather vests and jackets
laden with patches declaring, affirming, remembering. They were the
living foreground to the cemetery’s background.

Along the white
tombstones I walked. They were like rows of teeth in a shark’s mouth;
otherwise dark and seemingly unending. It reeked of death and sadness.
I saw a cemetery of children; I saw mothers with holes in their hearts
that couldn’t be replaced by an American flag. There were grievers,
there were veterans, there were tourists.

For their service,
these Americans get a plot of land on a national cemetery and a token
white headstone. We visit, we mourn, we remember. The government puts a
small American flag by each tomb; some get a bouquet of plastic flowers.

Sad
is not the death of individuals, but the failed lessons. Wars worth
repeating, lives worth losing. Families destroyed, generations cinched.

I
walked the hills of Arlington Cemetery in silence behind a veil of
tears. From the sun beating over head it was like a field of would-be
candles where all the wicks had burned down. What remained was a field
of reminders of the fires that used to burn, hearts that used to beat,
souls that used to love.

Washington DC represents this nation’s
capital. From here rules were created, rules are regulated. Here,
heroes are remembered and immortalized. Here is where we walk through a
living archive of a young country’s rise. Here is where the banner yet
waves; for the home of the free and the home of the brave.

********
Below are some photos from the trip. See a full album here.
Washington Monument at dusk.
The Lincoln Memorial as reflected in a case of military Metals of Honor.
Wreaths and Reflections. Vietnam Vet's Memorial.
Remembering at the Vietnam Vet's Memorial.
Vietnam Veteran's Memorial on Memorial Day.

There was one missing next to the purple heart.
Korean War Veteran's Memorial.
This is the view from the backyard of the White House.
It was a cemetery full of children. Arlington National Cemetery.
The stones are placed by middle school children.
Changing of the guard ceremony at Arlington.
Arlington National Cemetery.
JFK's grave with an eternal flame.
All of the white monuments look better at night.
A view of one of the cream buildings at night.

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