I went down to the war memorials on sunday afternoon. Most of the bikers had packed up and left to begin their long journey home after coming across the country for the Ride to the Wall. Sadly, I missed the actual ride earlier in the morning, but I was happy to have made it downtown to remember those who fought and died for this country. I took pictures of the memorials, but most of them came out poorly because I’m still trying to figure out the settings on my new digital camera. I visited the women’s memorial (Dedicated on November 11th, 1993) first.

I’m always struck by both the vigilant and nurturing nature of the poses of the statues. The piece presents very powerful imagery of womens’ capability and strength. The second I passed was the Faces of Honor sculpture. The three bronze men stand ready but relaxed – or as relaxed as anyone can be in a DMZ. I’ve always seen the Faces of Honor sculpture as a powerful symbol of unity and brotherhood.

– excerpted from the pamphlet about the memorial –

Maya Ying Lin conceived her design as creating a park within a park– a quiet protected place unto itself, yet harmonious with the site. To achieve this effect she chose polished black granite for the walls. Its mirrorlike surface reflects the surrounding trees, lawns, monuments, and the people looking for names. The memorial’s walls point to the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial. The 58,202 names are inscribed in chronological order of the date of the casualty, showing the war as a series of individual human sacrifices and giving each name a special place in history. “The names would become the memorial,” Lin said.

The names begin at the vertex of the walls below the date of the first casualty and continue to the end of the east wall. They resume at the tip of the west wall, ending at the vertex above the date of the last death. With the meeting of the beginning and ending, a major epoch in American history is denoted. Each name is preceded on the west wall or followed on the east wall by one of two symbols: a diamond or a cross. The diamond denotes that the individual’s death was confirmed. The approximately 1,150 persons whose names are designated by the cross were either missing or prisoners at the end of the war and remain missing and unaccounted for. If a person returns alive, a circle, as a symbol of life, will be inscribed around the cross. In the event an individual’s remains are returned or are otherwise accounted for, the diamond will be superimposed over the cross.

As I reached the end of the wall, I saw a teenage girl crying in reaction to the enormity of it all. As I passed her, she was being quietly consoled by her friends. There is a quiet respect that visitors pay to the fallen as they walk along the path of the long black wall, reading off the inscribed names and looking down at the thousands of cards, gifts and poems that people paying their respects leave every day. Watching bikers break down in tears as they remember fallen comerades is almost heart breaking. I remember one year when a group of bikers at the entrance were handing out single white candles that they would light for you so you could ‘bear a torch’ for those who passed. Whether you feel the war itself was right or wrong, it’s a very powerful feeling, standing in front of that wall and acknowledging the sacrifices that those soldiers made.

After The Wall, I made my way past the Lincoln Memorial over to the Korean War Memorial (Dedication Week July 26-29, 1995). It consists of 19 larger-than-life U.S. soldiers equipped for battle. They are arranged in a slightly triangular marching position, and they’re all wearing ponchos. All of them appear to be slowly marching toward the American flag at the front of the memorial. Etched into the black granite along the right side of the memorial are photographs of hundreds of faces taken from military archives. The granite curb on the return path coming from the memorial lists the 22 countries of the United Nations that sent troops or gave medical support in defense of South Korea. The numbers of those killed, wounded or missing in action and held as POW’s are etched in the stone around the Pool of Rememberance.

My stepfather fought in the Korean War, being one of the few to walk out of Chosin. For this reason, remembering the Korean War holds a very special place in my heart.

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