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American Memorial Day

 

Ron Current

Ron Current

In the United States our Memorial Day Holiday marks for many the beginning of the summer season. It’s a weekend for picnics, parades and fireworks. But how did this holiday begin? And what was its original purpose? To find this out we need to go back to the years following our American Civil War.

 

 

Memorial Day began officially in 1868 as Decoration Day and was borne out of the post-Civil War to remember those who had died in that war. At that time the Civil War had affected more families in this country than any other before it, because both sides were Americans.

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The Tomb of the Unknown Union Civil War Soldiers. 1,001 bones of Union soldiers gathered from the battlefields rest in there.

 

 

Credit for the beginnings of Decoration Day falls to General John Logan, national commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, in his General Order N0. 11 which states, “The 30th of May 1868, is designated for the purpose of strewing with flowers, or otherwise decorating the graves of comrades who died in defense of their country during the late rebellion, and whose bodies lie in almost every city, village and hamlet churchyard in the land.” The date of May 30th was chosen by General Logan because it wasn’t the anniversary of any particular Civil War battle.

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The original Memorial stage at Arlington National Cemetery from which James Garfield spoke to the 5,000 that were in attendance.

 

 

 

On the first Decoration Day over 5,000 participants heard General James Garfield, later the 20th President of the United States, speak at Arlington National Cemetery. After which they decorated the graves of the 20,000 Union and Confederate soldiers buried there.   

 

Many states and cities claimed to be the birthplace of Decoration Day. But it was the State of New York who officially recognized the holiday in 1873, and perhaps because of this in 1966 President Lyndon Johnson declared the City of Waterloo New York as its official birthplace.

 

By the late eighteen hundreds all of the northern states had adopted the celebration; however the southern states refused to acknowledge the day because the felt it was honoring the Union dead. They chose other days to honor their fallen Confederate soldiers. That was until after World War I when the holiday was changed from just honoring those of the Civil War to all Americans who died fighting in any war.  However, still today some southern states continue to have separate dates to honor those who fought for Confederacy.

 

In 1915, Moina Michael was inspired by the World War I poem, “In Flanders Fields” and wrote her own poem to honor the war dead:

 

“We cherish too, the Poppy red

That grows on fields where valor led,

It seems to signal to the skies

That blood of heroes never dies.”

Poppies at the Tower of London

The sea of ceramic poppies fill the moat of the Tower of London in 2014. One for each of the fallen soldiers from Great Britain in Word War I.

 

 

She also developed the idea to wear a red poppy on Decoration Day to further honor those who died while serving in war. She and her friends sold poppies to raise money to help servicemen in need. When a Madam Guerin was visiting our country from France she saw what Moina Michael had started and took the idea back to France. There she began creating artificial red poppies to be sold to raise funds for the war orphaned children and widows.

 

In 1921 the Franco-American Children’s League began selling the poppies until it disbanded a year later. Needing help Madam Guerin turned to the Veterans of Foreign Wars. The VFW became the first organization to sell poppies on Memorial Day in 1922. Beginning in 1924 disabled veterans began making the “Buddy” Poppies that are now sold. The United States Post Office honored Moina Michael for her work by putting her likeness on a stamp in 1948.

 

The original date for Memorial Day as May 30th was changed with the passage of the National Holiday Act of 1971. Now Memorial Day is observed as the last Monday in May. This conforms to the other Federal holidays in providing a three day weekend. 

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The Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers at Arlington

 

 

In 2000 the National Moment of Remembrance resolution was passed by Congress which asks all Americans at 3pm on Memorial Day, “To voluntarily and informally observe in their own way a moment of remembrance and respect, pausing from whatever they are doing for a moment of silence or listening to taps.

 

Today Memorial Day for many has expanded to not just honoring those who fought and died in war, but also to those who had served and are now gone.  

 

 

 

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American history, history and travel, Nationa Memorials, Still Current, The Korean War, The Vietnam War, Travel, Uncategorized, Washington DC, World history, World War II

Remembering and Honoring: Washington DC’s Wars Memorials

 

First self portrait- Ron at sixty six

Ron Current

There were no “national” wars memorials in the nation’s capital until the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was propose in the late 1970’s. Since then there are now three on, or near the National Mall. These honor those who fought in Vietnam, Korea and World War II. Here is a brief history and photos of those three memorials, and what you’ll see on your visit to Washington DC.

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial

The Vietnam War was my generation’s war. Many of my high school classmates went off to fight in that conflict, some not coming back. Vietnam also, because of the way our veterans were treated when they returned, helped to change the way American’s began looking at our men and women in service.

4 x 6 Veitnam War Memorial

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial, “The Wall”

The National Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the first National wars memorial constructed in Washington DC, and was dedicated in 1982. Of the three war memorials it is the smallest, covering just two acres.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial, most commonly called just “The Wall,” is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial, and across the National Mall’s reflection pool from the Korean War Memorial. The Wall was designed by American architect Maya Lin, who was just twenty-one at the time. It also has the most basic design when compared to the other two memorials. Its design is to symbolically show a “wound that is closed and healing.”

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Hundreds of items are left at the base of the wall

“The Wall” is made up of two 264 feet 9 inchs long gabbro walls that are etched with the names of the men and women who were ether killed in action, missing in action, or a prisoner of war. These gabbro slabs are sunk into the ground, with the apex where the two walls meet being 10.1 feet high from its base to the top of the wall. The wall then taper off to just 8 inches at each end of its two wings. There are currently 58,307 names listed on the wall, those who died in action have a diamond design next to their names, those who are MIA or a POW have a cross next to theirs. When a death is confirmed of one of those MIA’s or a POW’s a diamond is then superimposed over the cross. Also if a MIA or POW returns home alive their name is circumscribed by a circle, as of this posting this has not yet happened.

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From the end of the wall looking down

When you gaze at the wall you can see your reflection along with the names that are etched on it, again this symbolically brings the past and present together. There is a pathway running along the base of the Wall for visitors. Along the wall are hundreds of notes, letter, and other mementos that have been left by family, friends, those who served with or knew one of those listed. These items are carefully collected by the members of the Park Service, and stored for safe keeping. I was told that there’s a plan to build a museum near by to display these items, and to also tell the story of the Wall and the War. There are also members of the Park Service there to help you to find a name listed on the Wall.

The Three Soldiers Vietnam War Memorial

“The Three Soldiers” statue near the Vietnam Wall

Off a short distance from the wall, so as not to take away from Maya Lin’s vision, were added three additional components to this memorial. “The Three Solders” bronze statue was added in 1984, The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, honoring the women who served in that war, was then added in 1993, and the Memory Plaques placed near the statues in 2004. This plaque is to remember those who fought in Vietnam but died after the war as a direct result of injuries stuffed there. The plaque reads, “In memory of the men and women who served in the Vietnam War and later died as a result of their service. We honor and remember your service. “

The National Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Memorial was the second memorial that was built in Washington. It is located across Lincoln Memorial Circle from the Lincoln Memorial, and south of the reflecting pool on the National Mall.

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Korean Memorial States of Soldiers on patrol

The ground breaking took place on June 14, 1992, Flag Day, by President George H. W. Bush. It was dedicated on July 27, 1995, on the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended that war, by President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea (South Korea).

The Memorial covers 2.20 acres and is in the shape of a triangle intersecting a circle. As you approach along one of the two tree covered walkways you’ll first notice the gray statues in the center. There are nineteen stainless steel statues representing a squad of soldiers on patrol, marching through juniper bushes and granite strips, these symbolizing the rugged terrain of Korea. I was told that the most moving time to visit this memorial is in the very early morning when the mist surrounds the statues. The statues range from 7 feet 6 inches to 7 feet 3 inches in height, and represents the four branches of the United States services that served there: fourteen for the Army, three for the Marines, a Navy Corpsman, and an Air Force air observer. All of the statues are all in full combat gear. One of the more haunting effects of this memorial’s statures is that no matter where you are standing along the bordering walk, one of them seems to be looking straight at you.

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Real veterans images are sandblasted on the wall of the Korean War Memorial

Going up the right side of the memorial is a 164 foot long mural wall of highly polished black granite. Sandblasted into its polished surface are 2,500 actual archival photo images of men and women who were involved in the Korean War. There is a story that actor Allen Alda, of TV’s MASH fame, was so deeply involved in getting this memorial built that his image is one of those on the wall, even though he didn’t serve in Korea.

Along the left side is the United Nations Wall, it lists the twenty-two UN member nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean effort. On the south side are three Rose of Sharon hibiscus bushes, the national flower of South Korea.

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No matter where you stand, one of the statues is looking at you

 

At the far end is the semicircle, at the top of the incline that the statue patrol is marching toward, is the Pool of Remembrance. This shallow 30 foot circular pool is lined in black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees. These trees create a barrel effect that causes the sun to reflect onto the pool. It is also here were the statistics of those killed, missing in action, or held as prisoners are engraved. Nearby is a plaque that reads, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”

Korean War Memorial Freedom Is Not Free

There is also one other large granite wall there that bears this simple, but true, message, “Freedom Is Not Free.”

 The National World War II Memorial WW II Memorial sign

This is the newest of the three memorials, dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29, 2004 and opened to public on April 29th. The memorial sits at the eastern end of the mall’s reflection pool, between the Lincoln and Washington monuments.

 

It is the largest of the three; the plaza is a semicircle 337 feet 10 inches long and 240 feet 2 inches wide. The plaza is ringed by 56 granite pillars, each are 17 feet high. Each pillar is inscribed with the names of the 48 states in the Union at the time of the war, as well as the District of Columbia, the territories of Alaska and Hawaii (then not states), the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

WW II Memorial Pacific

There are two triumphal arches on the north and south ends, the one on the north is engraved “Atlantic” and on the southern one, “Pacific.” These arches represent the two theaters of the war. As you enter through the main entrance off of 17th Street you walk down a slight incline of about six feet to a fountain pool at the center of the memorial. The walls that border this entrance have basic reliefs of scenes of American’s war experiences. Also inconspicuously located on these walls are two “Kilroy was here” engravings. These represent the symbol used by American soldiers to show that we were presence and protecting during the war. WW II Memorial

The large fountain pool in the memorial’s center is 246 feet 9 inches long and 147 feet 8 inches wide. On the west side of the pool is the humbling “Freedom Wall.” On it are 4,048 gold stars, each star represents one hundred Americans that gave their lives in World War II.

 

In front of this wall is inscribed a massage, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”

WW II Gold Stars on Memorial

World War I Memorial

The isn’t currently a national memorial to honor and remember those that served in World War I, there wasn’t a national memorial program at that time. It was up to each individual state, or community to erected their own memorial to honor their citizens that had served in that conflict. You can visit the District of Columbia’s  World War I memorial, it’s just a short walk south of the World War II memorial.

There is now a committee formed to work on building a national World War I memorial, there are no details as to when or where that memorial will be.

 

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