James scored major points Friday night when he took me on a very fun, romantic date in downtown D.C. Having grown up in the area, we had both been to see the monuments on the National Mall before, but this time was special. I had been craving the city lately, so James decided to take me to the National Mall Friday night for a little monument hopping.
We arrived at the Washington Monument around 7:30pm, just as the sun was starting to fall towards the horizon. The weather was warm and breezy, perfect for a walk. We went up to the monument and walked around, making jokes and just having fun. The view from the base of the monument is fantastic. If you look to the east you have a clear view of the Capitol. Turning toward the west is a spectacular view of the World War II memorial, the reflecting pool, and the Lincoln memorial.
It was just beginning to get dark as we made our way to the World War II memorial. This is my favorite of all the monuments, not only because of the glittering fountains, but also because of the emotions etched in stone. Walking around, reading the quotes from various contemporaries, it was so hard not to cry. Here was the memorial to the Greatest Generation, the Americans who stood to fight for the preservation of Liberty throughout the world. This was the monument to the Americans who fought to save the world from the greatest evil of the 20th century. The most gripping part of the memorial is the wall of gold stars, each representing 1,000 American casualties. The words below the wall read, “Here we mark the price of freedom.” My heart rises up to my throat every time I look at that wall.
This memorial holds a special place in my heart because my grandfather fought in the Navy during the war. He was in the south pacific fighting the Japanese. When I was a kid he was always telling me stories about the war. Every time I saw him, it seemed he was reading some book about World War II. He was very proud of his service, and even made copies of his wartime diary to give to his children. If he had lived to see this memorial, he would have been so proud.
James and I spent a lot of time at this memorial. At night when the fountains were lit, the scene was breathtaking. After reading everything, we walked around holding hands, looking at everything and seeing only each other. It was perfect. At one point James looked at me and asked, “So, is this romantic? Because the website said it’s supposed to be romantic.” I laughed. “Yes James. It’s perfect.” He was so cute. I wonder if men really have the same concept of romance as women do, or if “romance” is something that girls invented and men put up with to make them happy?
Eventually it was time to move on the Lincoln memorial, which was absolutely crowded. It’s always the most crowded monument at night. Abe looked stunning in white.
On a serious note, the Lincoln memorial took on a whole new meaning for me now in 2009, more serious than ever before. Inside the memorial, two of Lincoln’s speeches are carved in stone: the Gettysburg Address and his Second Inaugural Address. Both are equally powerful, in their own ways. The Second Inaugural Address is about how the country split, and the way the war was fought to preserve the union. Today, there is so much talk about secession. The American people are once again divided. Like last time, many people feel that the federal government is trampling on their rights. 37 states have now raised the issue in their own legislatures. Americans are being taxed out of everything they own—this in a country that was created by a war fought against over-taxation. This has led some people to suggest secession. Secession… it’s like divorce in the political world. Theoretically it shouldn’t happen, but it does. And when it does happen, it rips the world apart. The Union that Lincoln and millions of other fought so hard to preserve is once again beginning to break apart. I hope there is a way to resolve our differences without losing the great country that I have loved all my life.
After the Lincoln Memorial, we went around searching for the Vietnam Memorial. Neither of us had seen it before, so we weren’t sure where it was. In the meantime we stumbled across the Korean War Memorial. Like the Vietnam memorial, this once involved a big black wall. There aren’t names, but there are lots of faces. In front of the wall stand a dozen or so life size statues of soldiers, posed to look as though the are moving through the jungle together. It’s very haunting. You expect the soldiers to start moving at any minute.
The Korean War memorial was also special to me, as my other grandfather fought in the Korean War as an MP. Unlike Poppie (my mom’s dad) who loved to recount his time in World War II, Grandpa was virtually silent about Korea. During his service, he won the medal for distinguished service for manning his post for 40 consecutive hours when his replacement failed to appear. That’s all I really know at present about his time over there, though I’ve seen plenty of the muscle-man pictures he sent to my grandmother. 😉
After the Korean War memorial, we finally found the Vietnam War memorial. This truly is the saddest, most heart-wrenching place on the Mall. At all the other monuments and memorials, people talk and laugh and carry on normal conversation. But not here. Here people are silenced by over 58,000 names of the dead and missing. Like a cemetery, people leave flowers and teddy bears under the names of their loved ones. James and I were quiet as we listened to a tour guide tell the stories of various individuals whose names were on the wall.
After all that, we walked back up to the metro. Delays on the red line meant our trip home took an hour longer than it should have, but we had fun. The monuments were beautiful. Walking around at night together, enjoying the breeze, what more could you ask for? Seeing our people’s history preserved in stone and remembering the cost of our freedom made the experience truly memorable.
All this talk about war and politics makes it seem like the date was extremely heavy, but it wasn’t. It was spectacular. It was as if we had a date traveling through time, stopping along all the most important parts in our nation’s history.
We had a wonderful time together, walking through tree-lined paths on a summer’s night. We’ll never forget it.