One of my favorite things about living in Washington, DC is the easy access to a large number of historical monuments. When I need a break from my school work, I love to take the university’s shuttles to the metro and head into downtown DC and visit a new museum or memorial. With Veterans Day this weekend, I thought this week would be the perfect opportunity to visit DC’s war memorials! As a justice and peace studies and history major, I really enjoyed taking this time to understand the weight of war and the legacy that it leaves behind. When I took European History in high school, I learned so many details about the lasting impacts of war that I became more and more curious about the reality of its consequences. In my college classes, I started to learn about the ways in which we can prevent conflicts from producing violence and the atrocities of war. In my visit to the war memorials, I hoped to examine the real ways that war affects soldiers and civilians.
World War I Memorial
The World War I memorial honors General John J. Pershing, who led the American Expeditionary Forces during the Spanish-American War and during World War I. Surrounding General Pershing, engraved marble slabs detail the Meuse-Argonne Campaign and the Western Front, with golden maps to help visitors visualize the terrain of each campaign. I enjoyed learning about the battles, but the part of the memorial that left the strongest impact on me was the relief mural that is currently being sculpted. It tells the story of a soldier who leaves his family and faces the horrors of war, then returns home to his family after receiving medical care. Even though the sculpture is unfinished, I was incredibly touched by the range of emotions displayed in the faces of the figures.
World War II Memorial
The World War II memorial was astounding for its various sculptured panels that showcased different scenes from the war. The detail in each panel left me in awe and the spectacle of the center fountain was astounding. My favorite part was the granite columns with the names of each U.S. state and territory. My two homes of Hawai’i and DC were right next to each other and it felt like fate!
DC War Memorial
The District of Columbia War Memorial is a gorgeous Doric structure with the names of the DC citizens who gave their lives in the World War I. It stands as an amazing tribute to the people of DC and their sacrifices.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
The Korean War Veterans Memorial honors the Americans who fought in the Korean War, who the National Park Service emphasizes “worked and fought under the most trying of circumstances, and those who gave their lives for the cause of freedom.” The memorial contains several statues of soldiers in a field, each soldier on patrol. Although I visited the memorial at night, the haunted expressions on their faces were still visible and astounding. The statues worked in tandem with a large mural of soldiers, a list of the names of the soldiers who died during the war, and a low marble wall with the inscription “Freedom is not free,” reminding every visitor of the immense impact of the U.S. involvement in the Korean War.
Vietnam Women’s Memorial
Although the Vietnam Women’s Memorial is less grandiose or well-known as the other war memorials on this list, the sculpture is an amazing tribute to the many women who served various roles in the Vietnam War and is the only memorial dedicated to military women on the National Mall. The statue portrays three women who tend to a wounded soldier and honors the incredible bravery and dedication of both military and civilian women during times of war.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The last memorial I visited was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a stretch of marble wall containing the names of the many soldiers who gave their lives during the Vietnam War. The sheer number of names was haunting in itself and there were many people who left flowers, gifts and pictures for the people in their family whose names are engraved on the wall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial serves as a reminder of the immense toll that the Vietnam War had on the personal lives of so many Americans.
Visiting DC’s war memorials was incredibly touching and reminded me of the true impact of war. As I study conflict and violence in my classes, it can be easy to forget that the events I read about have real consequences on real people. I’m extremely grateful for all of the opportunities I have in my life and I look forward to honoring the many people who dedicate their lives for the sake of our privilege this Veterans Day.