Home > Holiday, Reflection > A Most Memorable Day – Memorial Day 2012

A Most Memorable Day – Memorial Day 2012

 

Sunday, my son and I took a short ride to Washington D.C.  He was home for the holiday weekend and we both thought it might be nice to spend some quality time together, taking in the sights and sounds of Memorial Day weekend in the Nation’s Capital.  I say sounds because every year, hundreds of thousands of motorcycles with riders from all over the Country, many of them vets, roll in a rather impressive procession starting from a parking lot of the Pentagon, riding through the streets encircling the Mall along Constitution Avenue, circling past the Capitol Building, and finishing the ride at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial for services and some good old-fashioned rousing speeches.  This year marks the 25th anniversary of the event.  There were nearly 400,000 riders from every State of the Union.  The procession of motorcycles lasted nearly 5 hours, starting at 12 noon, and finishing up around 5 pm as we left.

Crossing the street to enter the walkways of the Mall took some dodging skill, as the endless line of hundreds of thousands of motorcycles created a bit of a challenge.  The following picture was taken at the corner of Constitution Avenue and Pennsylvania Avenue.  You can see the rear side of the National Gallery of Art in the background.  Also, if you’re really bored with nothing else to do, or if you just like the sounds of motorcycles, you can view a quick video taken at the same spot.

 

 

 

It was a scorcher of a day, with highs hitting about 93 degrees (nearly 34 degrees C for my Fahrenheit challenged friends), so we took some refuge on our walk into the National Gallery of Art, a most favorite place of mine.  We took in some DaVinci, Rafael, Rembrandt, Van Gogh, Monet, and a lot of other outstanding art (subject of a future post), not to mention a bit of air-conditioning, before heading back out past the Washington Monument on our westward trek to the Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial.

 

 

But I digress.  I don’t want this post to turn into some sight-seeing, guided tour of D.C.  Not on this day for sure…

Reflections of the Day

 

Upon arriving at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, you could feel the mood slowly transforming, far more somber than anywhere else along the Mall.  The most famous feature of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is the Wall, shaped in a V, increasing in height as you approach the apex, all made with black granite, polished to a high luster that creates a mirror-like perfect reflection.  The wall is etched with the name of each soldier carved into the granite who died in the war.  The effect of viewing the names, which seem to float in the air as the reflection of yourself and others appear behind, no matter where you move about is quite powerful.

 

As I looked at all the names, I was struck with the sheer number – over 58,000, each a young man or young woman more or less the age of my son standing next to me.  I knew a few myself; friends who never made it home to live out their lives alongside the rest of us.  Then upon further reflection, I began to wonder with each name I see – how many wives or husbands left behind?  How many children?  How many parents?  How many friends?  Suddenly the number mushrooms.  As if the sheer numbers alone were not daunting, the visit today reminded me of another factor – time.  Here it is 40 to 50 years later, and the collective sadness and memory has not subsided with so many of those losses.  For many, the grief is still as raw today as it was so many years ago in a world so very different than today:

 

 

We who are left how shall we look again
Happily on the sun or feel the rain
Without remembering how they who went
Ungrudgingly and spent
Their lives for us loved, too, the sun and rain?

~Wilfred Wilson Gibson~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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  1. May 29, 2012 at 9:30 am

    Great post, great photos, great poem.

    I sometimes wonder why women bother giving birth to what amounts to cannon fodder.

    U

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:50 am

      Ursula, thank you. I’m of mixed emotions about it all. I am not naive and realize there are reasons for some conflicts and war, yet the idealist inside me wishes it weren’t so, and sees the enormous and tragic waste in terms of the human toll. I’m reminded of a quote by John F. Kennedy:

      “War will exist, until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.”

      I don’t want to mar the memory of those who died to provide us with the very freedom to sit at our screens and write and discuss such matters, yet I cannot help but at least nod in understanding at the sentiment he expresses.

  2. May 29, 2012 at 11:36 am

    I remember the first time I walked down through the Vietnam Memorial. Although I didn’t know anyone who died in the “conflict,” I was sobbing by the time I emerged through to the other side. The sheer weight of the names overwhelmed my senses and my heart.

    I never understood the fixation of erecting monuments until that day. Then I got it. Oh, did I get it.

    And I remember the sweltering early summer days of D.C., too. You brought me back to my years living in your neck of the pavement, Phil. Thanks! 🙂

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:56 am

      Lorna, I am moved every time I visit the place. I know the very feeling you experienced, as it affects me the same way. Each time it is a little different. Sometimes my mind wanders to those I knew, other times it is just watching the reaction of others being affected in their own way, still others when I bend down to look at personal effects left at the base of the wall, making the loss very real, and lastly this time, having my son walk alongside me and being struck by the fact that most names on that wall were young men and women about his age.

  3. May 29, 2012 at 12:14 pm

    This is a beautiful tribute to this day of remembrance. I have always wanted to go to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. This articles spurs me on even more. I know many who lost their lives. I can never say enough about these brave men or the others before them. We owe our freedom to them. They should be honored and respected always.
    Thank you for sharing …
    Isadora

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:58 am

      Isadora, I do hope you will manage to take in the experience some day. It is an emotionally powerful experience.

  4. May 29, 2012 at 3:39 pm

    this post kind of dovetails into or around mine today
    thank you phil
    thought provoking x

    • May 30, 2012 at 8:59 am

      Thank you John. I agree, both thought provoking, and emotion provoking.

  5. Red
    May 29, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    I have never actually stopped in DC. It is normally somewhere which is in the middle of a tank of gasoline on the way to somewhere, anywhere else. Of all the things in the Capitol, the Wall is the only thing of interest for me. I have a tight bond with that particular war, so much so the Wall is on my checks.

    I know it will affect me in a similar way to seeing Ground Zero. I believe the only difference will be the magnitude. 9/11 does not hold a candle to the number slaughtered in Viet’nam. I wonder, though, in this antiseptic age if there will be memorials for those whose lives were wasted in the desert. How abominable are we not to sufficiently recognize those who never return?

    I agree with the prayer in my post.
    Red.

    • May 30, 2012 at 11:35 am

      Red, I do hope you’ll decide to stop by and take in the Wall someday. When there, you may enjoy some of the outstanding museums and galleries along the Mall promenade that are not “government” driven. The Smithsonian venues, as well as the National Gallery of Art are incredible, along with the Air and Space museum. All walking distance from each other and most are free.

      The Rolling Thunder riders have done much to protest about the treatment of POW – MIA issues, and bring the government to task for doing more to provide resources to locate and account for these poor souls who never returned.

      • Red
        May 30, 2012 at 9:01 pm

        If you could not tell from my place, POW-MIA is a cause I support endlessly. I will not miss the Air & Space museum. One of my fave places in the world is the Museum of Science and Industry in Chicago.
        Red.

  6. May 31, 2012 at 8:52 am

    ~~~Moving. Beautiful.
    The poem broke my heart.
    I love the photo of the bikers praying/huddled together. WOW.
    Hope you are well, Mr. Phil. Xx

  7. June 2, 2012 at 6:05 pm

    must have been a spectacular sight phil and very emotional great to see you on my space been neglecting it lately xjen

  8. Androgoth
    July 1, 2012 at 11:39 am

    Hi Phil I am just leaving you this link back
    through my comment, it will direct you to my
    Space, whereas any older one will have you
    wondering where the hell I went to 😦

    It’s a long story Phil so I won’t bore you to
    death with it and instead just leave you this
    Vampire gift for your darkly pleasures 🙂 😉

    Have a fun Sunday now and be wicked 🙂

    Androgoth

  9. May 26, 2014 at 9:19 pm

    hey phil good repost

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