This post is a departure from my usual theme, but if you will oblige me I think it's worth it. On another blog I follow, Stretched, the author, Jon Stolpe, challenged readers to mention a memorial that they found moving. It got me to thinking about the most moving memorial I have ever seen, the Vietnam Wall in Washington, D.C. It really got me to thinking about the memorial.
One reason I find it so moving is what it stands for, and the architectural significance of its location and parts. Of course the main reason is just that it so imposing.
The very first time I arrived in Washington, D.C. I had my mind set that the first thing I would see would be the wall. I had seen a traveling version of the wall in 1990 in Mobile, Alabama. It was a scaled version, though I don't know what that scale is. It was set up in the middle of the outfield of the baseball park at the University of South Alabama and was rather neat. It didn't hold the aura of the actual wall, but it did maintain its own space. Like the full-sized version people left mementos of loved ones and rubbed their names.
My hotel was right next to Union Station, so when I arrived I checked in, dropped off my bags and headed across town without much of a clue as to where I was headed. I knew the basic layout and had a small map, but I just took off run-walking to see the Wall. I arrived as the sun was setting. Most of the pictures I took that day were too dark to see, especially of the soldiers statue. But the awe was still there.
For those that don't know, the monument starts very small, as did our involvement in Vietnam, it grows in height as you go down further into both the monument and the ground. The black granite face becomes more and more ominous. As I reached the middle where the Wall is its deepest I was physically stopped and unable to move until I turned and looked both directions. The power of the monument had caused me to stop. From the middle the end mimics the start, gradually growing smaller until it, and you, are finally back on the ground level. Again, this is like our involvement. Across from the wall, perpetually staring at the names of their fallen comrades are three soldiers. Clad in their jungle fatigues, holding the ever-present weapons, thoughtfully looking upon the hallowed list of names, eternally etched in stone. I had seen pictures before and thought the soldiers were an afterthought added to please the veteran groups that didn't like the fact that it was cut into the ground, and that didn't like the black color of the stones used. Regardless of if it was, it is a key component and its importance in the overall structure cannot be forgotten or minimized. Looking upon the Wall from the vantage point of those soldiers is again a powerful reminder.
But nothing compares to the Wall itself.
Once I was again able to move at the mid-point of the memorial I started looking for the names of two of my father and uncles' friends that are on the Wall. As I walked past a young boy who looked to be about 7 I heard him tell his mom, "Momma! These are peoples names!" The shock in his tone of voice was again a reminder of just how powerful the monument is.
Every time I go to D.C., I see the Wall. Never more than once per trip, though I look on it from other angles across the Mall. It isn't always first, but it will always be my first.
As I finished my viewing, the sun had set and the city was dark. At which point I remembered, I was all the way across town, that I didn't know, after dark, on foot, with no good idea about how to get back to my hotel. I did make it, with a few wrong turns, but I would do it all again in a heartbeat for my first glimpse of the Wall. A few years later I brought my kids to D.C. and showed them the Wall. They were 8 and 10 at the time, but of all the sites we saw, the one they remember (if for no other reason than my reaction to it) is the Wall.
Most like the Washington Monument, it's HUGE, but not quite as powerful. Lincoln's Memorial is giant and inspiring. Especially if you see the star on the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his "I Have a Dream" speech. But not quite the same. The Jefferson Memorial was understated when viewed from afar, yet awe-inspiring in a quiet way from inside. The Marine Monument is big, powerful, and on a par with the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington. Few believe I resisted the urge, but I did resist the urge to hum the M*A*S*H theme when I viewed the Korean Memorial. It also was an interesting monument, especially eerie when viewed in the early morning fog, but not on the level of the Vietnam Wall. They all fall short, greater than most, but less than the Wall.
Each time I am there I try to thank anyone I can tell served in that conflict. I would challenge you to do the same.