Sunday, February 22, 2009

Field Trip: Part One

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


Maggie May said...

That Korean War Memorial is awesome... isn't it.
I think people need to see these things.
My son once phoned me crying, from the epicentre of the Horoshima bomb memorial in Japan.

the walking man said...

I can't cry anymore.

Jay said...

We went to see those memorials when we were in DC a couple of years ago. They are all very impressive (in the true sense of the word) and sobering. It isn't necessary to be American to feel that. We have our own memorials, but seeing another country's memorials to the same conflict brings a much wider appreciation of the overall losses and brings a new understanding.

We knew, of course, that Americans had been lost in WWII, but seeing the memorials and reading the names really brings home to you the international nature of grief and loss.

As for the Vietnam and Korean wars, we knew about them, and grieved over them, but there's an immediacy to the memorials which is quite shocking - especially those soldiers in the Korean memorial.

Perhaps everyone should see the memorials of another country? We do take our schoolchildren to France and Belgium and Germany these days - those that can afford to go. Both of my boys were deeply affected.

SandyCarlson said...

Wow! The Korean War memorial is a mind blower I will never forget looking into the polished stone and seeing myself among the faces haunting that place and then turning around and seeing all those larger than life men and their gear.

Mental P Mama said...

I feel like I was along, too. A wonderful tribute.

septembermom said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and photos about this visit. Very moving. I hope to someday visit those memorials. I can't imagine the vast array of emotions that must permeate the atmosphere surrounding the onlookers.

Moannie said...

This was a very moving post. Too much, too many dead. You will be doing much needed work.

Moannie said...

I have printed out the picture of the Korean memorial to show JP, it is awesome in every sense of the word.

Daryl said...

Thank you for sharing that ... I havent been to DC is way too long, thanks for the reminder and I look forward to seeing your post on the Holocaust memorial .. I understand its as deeply touching as the Vietnam Memorial ..

Interestingly, my word verification is: Pride

RiverPoet said...

Maggie - That's the way I felt at the Little Big Horn battlefield. So many dead in our own national version of genocide - when we tried to exterminate every last American Indian we encountered. Shameful...

Mark - Yes...we've all shed so many tears...

Jay - I'm in full agreement with you. I think it's important to know our history as a civilization (and I use that term loosely).

SandyC - Yes, it's one of the most incredible memorials we have.

MPM - I'm glad to have brought you along!

September - I only wish I'd had more time to soak it all up.

Moannie - If you email me (with an address I can reply directly to), I'll send you the other photos I took of that memorial.

Daryl - It's like the word generator knew... Yes, I'll try to get the Holocaust post up later today or tomorrow. That was the most incredible place I've ever been to, and I was speechless for a very long time after we left. Next time you're down here, please let me take you there. It's impossible to absorb it all in a day, because you start to shut down at a point. Just FYI - you need to order tickets WAY in advance, so I would need a heads-up.

Peace - D

Crystal Jigsaw said...

That was a fascinating blog. I would love to visit those memorials and found the stainless steel soldiers incredible.

CJ xx

Ms Hen said...

Thank you for this lesson. I did not realize how many died in the Korean War in such a short time.

I saw the movie Defiance a few weeks ago (about the Jewish populations that hid in the forest for years). It was made extremely well and I cried a lot ... but everyone should see it if they can. Best not to forget these things.

® ♫ The Brit ♪ ® said...

Wonderful photos D! and a wonderful tribute to those who lost their lives... I love reading about history and I'm looking forward to your post about the holocaust memorial museum! All these terrible things should never ever be forgotten...
Big Hug X

Coal Miner's Granddaughter said...

I can remember the day the Korean War Memorial was dedicated and I hadn't known about it and I can remember calling my dad (a Korean vet) and apologizing for not driving him up there for it. When I finally visited it years later, I was so glad I did because it made me feel closer to him.

Thanks for the pictures and post, hon!