Saturday, February 16, 2013

A Capital Summer: My Favorite Monuments

Snowy, cold days in Pittsburgh have got me reminiscing about the long days of summer, which might as well be a world away!  So, over the next few days I'll be sharing some of my favorite spots in the city I spent this past summer. 

In a "One door closes and another door opens" scenario, I wasn't initially selected for my dream internship in New York City but ended up finding an equally awesome opportunity in the nation's capital, Washington, D.C. 

Instead of asking me to pay outrageous prices for a tiny little apartment in the city, my employer provided housing in a large on-site house.  Although I was initially hesitant to live with nearly twenty other people, the diverse group of D.C. tour guides, Congressional interns, and young professionals getting their start anywhere from the United Nations to event planning agencies provided me with a truly incredible summer.  

As the new tour guides needed practice and I was completely new to the city, I happily volunteered to be their guinea pig for a variety of routes and learned so much more than just the average tourist. Though the capital is more than its monuments, I figured these famous spots would be a good starting point.  

The Vietnam Memorial

Last spring I took a war history course called "Faces of Battle."  Veterans from WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War joined us each week to share their stories, and the impact it had on me was much more than I expected.  My final project consisted of recording the oral history of a Vietnam veteran, which gave this monument a very personal feeling for me.  

When you take me, a naturally emotional person, and place me in front of the Vietnam Memorial, it's already a hard scenario.  Add bagpipe players and the national gathering of families of POWs, and it is downright impossible for me to maintain composure.  

One of the most emotional things I learned about the monument was the distinction that was beside each of the inscribed names of fallen and missing heroes.  Soldiers who were POWs or MIA at the time of the construction of the wall have a cross beside his or her name.  If the missing soldier was returned home, a circle would be added surrounding the cross.   To date, there are no circle surrounded crosses on the wall.  

The World War II Memorial 

Full of symbolism, the World War II Memorial is one of the most recent (and long overdue) monuments to be constructed in Washington, D.C.  Having had the privilege of meeting several WWII veterans and hearing them tell their truly incredible stories, I also found this monument to be quite moving.  

While visiting the memorial, we met an older gentlemen who turned out to be a veteran who was visiting the memorial for the first time.  Reaching out to him and hearing his story was the absolute best part of the visit for me.  Regardless of your views on our nation's past wars, these men are true American heroes.  

Korean War Memorial

My grandfather was one of the quiet veterans who never really spoke about their military service.  An engineer in the Navy during the Korean War, it seems like he felt that he wasn't really in the same danger as many of his fellow soldiers were.  I'll never know any more than a few facts my family has shared with me about Pawpaw's service in the war, but I'll always wish I had asked.  

The Monuments at Night

The best time to visit monuments in Washington D.C. is at dusk.  The perfectly blended colors of the sky at sunset provide a picturesque background to each of the beautiful architectural pieces.  

After nightfall, the marble and stone of the monument come into an even greater focus, giving the monuments a stark and beautiful appearance that only adds to the gravity of what they stand for.   

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