Wednesday, November 10, 2010

All Gave Some, but Some Gave All

"America will never run... And we will always be grateful that liberty has found such brave defenders."--George W. Bush
There is a place in this great nation that memorializes those who have sacrificed, witnessed, and survived; a place where younger generations can go to learn about and appreciate the defenders of this nation’s past; a place where names are etched in stone, where statues are erected in honor, and where history lives on—the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
When arriving at this amazing sight, you are greeted with the Washington Monument. Standing at 555 feet tall, the large marble obelisk, which was built in honor of George Washington, provides the perfect starting point for entering the National Mall. On my first trip to D.C. in 2007, I remember feeling a bit overwhelmed by the sight before me. I’d always heard about the National Mall and the feeling it gave you when walking among the massive monuments; however, actually being there and experiencing it for myself was incredible.
Entering into the large open space, my eyes fell upon the long overdue memorial dedicated to the heroes of World War II. If you read my earlier post about my time spent at Normandy, you realize that I am somewhat of a World War II buff. For years, activists worked and rallied for a memorial to be built, honoring those who served in the Pacific and Atlantic. Celebrities like Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg became spokespersons for the cause, and in 2004, the National Mall became home to the World War II memorial. A large circular center allows you a 360 degree look at the various concrete structures; all of them dedicated to those who fought. If you are facing the Lincoln Memorial, on the left will be the Pacific and on the right, the Atlantic.  
The Pacific Memorial holds a special place in my heart. My grandfather fought in New Guinea and in the Philippines; specifically, Luzon.  He was an Army medic, which meant that he was an easy target. However, he managed to make it through the war and return home with only a small piece of shrapnel lodged in his head. (Surprisingly, it didn’t begin irritating him until many years later) As I became older, I learned the location of Luzon and was surprised to know that my grandfather had been fighting close to Bataan. For anyone who is unfamiliar with Bataan, in 1942, 75,000 Allied forces surrendered to the Japanese and were forced to march an estimated 61 miles, in the infamous Bataan Death March. It is unclear as to how many died along the march, in the detention camps, and aboard the “Hell Ships.”
Now that I’ve given you a bit of Pacific War, World War II history, let’s get back to the main point here shall we? A large archway stands on the North and South ends of the memorial with the word “Pacific” etched into one and “Atlantic” etched into the other. Standing in the center, you can look up to see four eagles holding a laurel, signifying victory.  The Freedom Wall, complete with 4,000 golden stars, stands for those who made the ultimate sacrifice. Each star represents 100 lives that were lost. If you’re doing the math, that is 400,000.
Seeing all of this can make a person quite emotional; especially, when it hits so close to home. However, I’ve never seen it become as personal as when we walked down towards the Vietnam Wall. My uncle Bobby fought in Vietnam and was there during the TET offense. Joining us that day, it was a humbling experience to see him walk that pathway, looking at the thousands of names etched in that stone; each one having lost their life. A book sat at the start of the black wall, containing the names of the fallen and the location of where you can find them on the panels.
As you look down the long pathway, you can see cards and flowers lining the wall; each from a loved one expressing their sorrow and love for someone they lost.

Standing next to my mom, my uncle, his daughter (whom he hadn’t seen in 30 years and was reunited with her on this trip), and the rest of our little group, we all watched as he tried to keep a strong front while looking through that book. You see, during his tour in Vietnam, he and some of the guys from his unit were driving through a field when they hit a land mine; everyone was killed but him.
“I can’t…I can’t even remember their names,” he said as he wiped his eyes and cleared his throat.
“I’ve tried to block all of that out,” he added.
We all just stood there and watched him gaze upon a wall that he thought he’d never see in person. I couldn’t help but wonder if he felt guilty for not being among those names. To stand by a man who has seen the horrors of war and lived to tell about it, well, I’m quite proud to say he’s my uncle.

My Uncle Bobby

Leaving the wall, we continued towards one of D.C.’s most recognized statues; the Lincoln Memorial. Climbing the steps, you come face to face with ol’ Abe himself. Sitting there in his oversize chair, he is estimated to be 19 feet tall. And as far as I’m concerned, he holds the best seat in the house. Turning around, you are presented with an incredible view overlooking the entire mall. To know that many important events in history took place right there, it gave me chills. Looking out onto the beauty of the National Mall, everything can be seen, from the tall trees that provide a small canopy over the walkways, to the amazing Reflecting Pool that sits in the center. Standing atop those steps, you can imagine what it might have felt like to be there when some of the greatest speeches in history occurred, such as Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream.”  Yes, Abe had quite a view and I was a bit jealous.

Mom and me in front of the Iwo Jima Memorial

Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I was unable to visit the Korean Memorial, but I have already promised myself that the next trip I talk to D.C., I will make time to see that incredible memorial. After leaving the National Mall, I would highly suggest going to visit the Marine Corps War Memorial, otherwise known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. Approaching this enormous statue, various inscriptions can be read along the base. Looking up, you see the iconic pose that was captured February 23, 1945 by Joe Rosenthal. There, stand five men, raising the American flag on top of Mt. Suribachi.

Having read “Flags of Our Fathers” by James Bradley, it helped to know the story behind the flag raisers and how that picture came to be. A rumor persists that there are 13 hands instead of 12, on the statue; the 13th hand signifying the hand of God. I didn’t hear about this rumor until after I visited the memorial, so I cannot be sure.
One thing I can be sure of is that each and every one of us should be thankful for the reasons behind these memorials. The men and women who fought for this great country are reasons as to why these memorials exist. You speak to a veteran today and they will tell you they are no hero, but that the real heroes are those who died on the battlefield. However, I beg to differ. I’m a firm believer in that if you fight and are willing to die for this country, you ARE a hero. My grandfather and my uncle, both will forever be heroes in my eyes, and not just because they are family, but because they felt it was their duty to fight the freedoms of this country.
Whatever you stance is regarding our current war, it is our job as American citizens to stand behind our troops. As someone who has a close friend in Afghanistan right now, it hits so close to home. Our men and women in uniform deserve the utmost respect and it is our responsibility to give it to them. On this Veteran’s Day, tell a veteran just how much you appreciate their service. A simple “thank you” or smile could mean so much. As you watch the parades, ceremonies, and rallies, I ask that you take a moment and be truly grateful for the freedoms we are given as American citizens.
(*Side note: You may ask why I didn’t write about my visit to Arlington, well, that is a post all on its own and one I will save for another day.)


Crystal said...

That is an awesome blog Nicole. And I can say I am very proud to say that he is my Dad.

Kristen said...

Sold! I am beyond ready to go to DC now!! said...

love it- thankyou for sharing- my father is a vet & grandfather & uncles...

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