It’s 26th May and I find myself heading home, sailing above the Continental United States at some 37,000 feet. My stay in Washington, DC with Jo and my brother has been one of my favorite holidays, because it allowed me to achieve two of my pastimes in one visit: spending time with family and seeing new things.
Both Jo and I had been to Washington, DC before, so seeing the city was not new to us. But what was fun was going to places together and seeing new things within its borders. What also made the trip great was having a personal guide in my brother. Here are some of the highlights from our trip. I had originally planned a video featuring some of the sights, but thought a written account would be better suited for memory.
Jo and I took the opportunity to visit the US Capitol Building when we got to DC. While I had been there before, it has been nearly 25 years since I last took a tour of the seat of government. One of the things that has recently been changed at the Capitol is its Visitor Center. The facility is awesome with a full scale casting of Freedom. It’s here that you pick up your tour tickets and see a brief history of the building, but the gem is the exhibit hall. While photography is not allowed (Jo and I saw docents yelling at patrons to stop taking pictures), the items on display are fantastic. One could easily spend two or three hours learning about the Capitol through its two hundred plus years of existence.
After the tour, we sat for a brief time in the House Gallery. Only a few Representatives were on hand to debate a new Aviation transportation bill, but none-the-less, it was interesting to see our government in action. Following this observation, Jo and I walked over to the Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress.
Upon entering the main hall, I was instantly transported back to my 8th grade field trip to DC. I recall seeing the golden images on the ceiling and using the word “rad” the first time as I sought to capture it all. Jo and I walked the halls and viewed the exhibits as best we could, because our time was short (we had a wedding rehearsal to attend). While some of the items on display were interesting, nothing caught my attention more than the viewing gallery of the main hall. There’s just something special about seeing all those books.
As I mentioned before, we had a great guide in my brother for an amazing night tour of the city’s monument. While both Jo and I had seen many of the monuments before, some new ones had been dedicated or completed since our last visits. In fact, for me, the last time I had seen most of these monuments was back in 1984.
The first stop on the tour is the Marine Corp Memorial, or more commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial. Its massive rendering of the famous picture of those service men erecting the flag is certainly iconic. One of the things that I didn’t realize was that it was President Kennedy that ordered the flag to fly 24/7, one of the few monuments that allows this.
Stop number two is the FDR Memorial. This was something new to me, and to be honest, one of the most impressive. While dedicated in 1997, I had never heard of its existence until this trip. It’s a massive monument sprawling over 7.5 acres and recalls the history of America’s only four term President. For those who have never been to the monument, it has an amazing water feature that flows through it. Each of the four sections (depicting different eras) has a waterfall. As the events became more complex, so do the waterfalls. Sculptures also depict the life and times of Americans as he rebuilt the country.
The next two stops honor American Presidents Jefferson and Washington. Both monuments had long construction cycles with various enhancements added at latter dates. For example, the bronze statue of Jefferson was added in 1947, even though the monument was completed in 1942. Also, many may not realize this, but the Washington Monument was the tallest structure in the world until the Eiffel Tower dethroned it in 1889.
The Capitol Building was the next stop, but was poorly illuminated (we saw the back side). What was interesting was that crews were setting up for Sunday’s concert. Since it was starting to get late, we opted to pass on a drive-by of the White House and move on to some of my favorite places.
The World War II Memorial resides on the Mall at what was once the Eastern Rainbow Pool. It opened in 2004 and sees about 4.4 million visitors each year. It’s dedicated to the men and women who served and contributed during the war. Since we were visiting on Memorial Day weekend, the memorial was even more beautiful due to the flowers honoring those who have passed.
The Lincoln Memorial is probably one of my favorites. There’s something about this Doric Temple that just moves me. In fact, for me, it is the icon of Washington, DC – even more so than the Capitol Building. The memorial of course boasts the large statue of Lincoln, but also two of his speeches. Many flock to its steps to sit and reflect as the night passes and couples converse on dates.
By far the most eerie of the monuments we visited was the Korean War Memorial. Both Jo and I felt uneasy walking its grounds. There was a sense of heaviness that weighed on my shoulders and at times made me feel like I was being watched. The monument has an amazing layout as noted in Wikipedia:
The memorial is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the triangle are 19 stainless steel statues designed by Frank Gaylord, each larger than life-size, between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fifteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, two are from the Marine Corps, one is a Navy Corpsman, and one is an Air Force Forward Air Observer. They are dressed in full combat gear, dispersed among strips of granite and juniper bushes, which represent the rugged terrain of Korea. When reflected in the pool, there appears to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming one side of the triangle. Behind, to the south, is a 164 foot-long black granite wall, created by Louis Nelson Associates, with photographic images sandblasted into it depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war. This forms the second side of the triangle. The third side of the triangle, facing towards the Lincoln Memorial, is open.
To the north of the statues and path is the United Nations Wall, a low wall listing the 22 members of the United Nations that contributed troops or medical support to the Korean War effort.
The circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow 30-foot-diameter pool lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of trees with benches. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque in inscribed: “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Additionally, right next to the numbers of American soldiers are those of the United Nations troops in the same categories. In the south side of the memorial, there are three bushes of the Rose of Sharon hibiscus plant, South Korea’s national flower.
A further granite wall bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free”.
Perhaps why I am so moved by this monument, is that I call Korea home for much of the year, and with recent tensions growing with the North, we may find ourselves one again in combat.
The Vietnam Memorial was our next stop. It had just opened when I first visited Washing, DC as a boy, but seeing at night really moved me. The Three Soldiers Statue almost brought me to tears, as I wondered how many men and women we’ve lost not only in this conflict, but in all combined.
The last stop on the tour took us to something I never knew about, yet was unveiled in 1979 – The Einstein Memorial. It sits adjacent to the National Academy of Sciences and consists of a large bronze statue of Albert Einstein and his manuscripts. The large base is a celestial map, accurate to the date of the Monument’s dedication. Another feature of the display is its curved wall that is able to reflect sound back to you when standing at the focal point.
On Sunday, we made the two-plus hour drive down to see Monticello. This estate of Thomas Jefferson is quite impressive. The new visitor center has many exhibits from his life and times and one can easily spend a couple of hours reading and exploring this area of the grounds. Then take the short walk up past the graveyard to the actual residential area.
While Monticello is really impressive, I think Jo and I were more enamored with the vegetable garden than anything else. It’s still in use today along Mulberry Row (where the slaves lived) and offers some amazing views of the Virginia countryside. Vegetables grown today are shared among the employees of the site, which I think is quite amazing. Its vineyard has also won many awards.
After such a long day on the road, we slept in and opted to visit the American History Museum at the Smithsonian Institute. While I had been to several museums on the Mall, I had never stepped into this one. Jo really wanted to see Julia Child’s kitchen, and we managed to do that just before closing; however, the most moving exhibit was Old Glory: The Star Spangled Banner. It’s the original flag that flew over Ft. McHenry during the War of 1812 that inspired Francis Scott Key to write our national anthem. I am not ashamed to say it moved me to tears. The flag is massive and no picture I can present (photography is prohibited), can possibly prepare you for its size when you come and see it.
Our final day in DC was marred by rain. Nonetheless, Jo and I ventured out to see some historic sites. First, we stopped off at the Sully site (a location my brother hasn’t even visited!). It’s two farmhouses that were owned by Unionists during the Civil War. After Virginia had seceded, the men fled north and left the women to take care of the farmland. During the course of the war, it was used as a hospital and both Northern and Southern troops stopped over. Following this visit, we took a few hours to tour the Udvar-Hazy annex of the Air & Space Museum.
So that completes my retelling of the week’s past events… for more photos you can visit the album.