Saturday I had my first field trip in who knows how many years. My thanatology class boarded the bus at 8:30, and we all headed to downtown D.C. for a tour of several memorial sites at which our future degrees could be applicable. You see, thanatology isn't only about grief counseling, hospice work, and death education. It can be applied in many, many ways and can be integrated with things we already know (like writing? Hmmmm...).
Our first stop was the Korean War Memorial, which my husband's Uncle Skip helped raise money for. I suppose he was a founder, of sorts. It is a haunting memorial in which a formation of 19 stainless steel soldiers seems to creep forward through the brush toward some unseen objective. Some carry rifles in their right hand. Another carries a radio. Some are looking back over their shoulders, listening for the enemy. I imagine that in the night, these soldiers are ghostly figures in the blue wash of the footlights.
Ahead of this phalanx is a polished wall, laser-etched with the portraits of many, many men and women who served and died in the conflict. Over 54,000 of our country's own died in the three years the war lasted, making it far bloodier than the Vietnam War, if you consider that the latter lasted some 16 years and took over 58,000 lives.. It took many years before we, as a country, even called it a war. It is sometimes called, "The Forgotten War."
Next, we walked over to the "The Wall" -- the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. I had been to it before, but I will never get over the way the ground slopes downward, the incline increasing steadily as the endless rows of names grow and grow, unceasing. When you are at the deepest part of the wall, the height of the wall well above your head now at 10 feet, you can look back and look forward and realize just how massive the number of names of those who gave their lives really is. The magnitude of their sacrifice never fails to leave me in awe and gratitude.
As we (a couple of my 20-something year-old classmates and I) were coming up the far end of the memorial, we noticed our professor and one of the other 40-something students (there are a few of us) hiking over to the World War II Memorial. I was very interested in seeing that memorial, because my father and uncles served in the war. I am very proud of my dad's service and wanted to go there for him, because he died long before the memorial was built.
There was a bite to the air that whistled down the National Mall, but it wasn't enough to keep me from my quest. I half-walked, half-jogged until I was sure I could catch up with the professor. My legs protested, but my head overruled them. I was on a mission. It was too cold for the fountains to be flowing, so the splendor of the memorial was muted yet no less majestic. This photo doesn't do it justice, but we were surrounded by pillars that commemorate the sacrifice made by citizens from each great state, and at various points, the famous words of our leaders from those historic days are etched in stone for all to remember.
At 10:30, we raced back to the bus, out of breath, freezing, ready for the steady flow of warmth from the floor-level heaters. Thirsty. My legs were frozen, rubbery.
The bus roared as it pulled into the flow of traffic and turned the corner toward our final destination for the day -- The United State Holocaust Memorial Museum. And that, my friends, deserves its own post.
Peace - D