I had the opportunity in June of 2003 to visit the Korean War Memorial and the Vietnam Wall in Washington DC. Although I can't say anything positive about the driving experience in the USA capital, the experience of seeing these two memorials was a memory that will last forever.
Seeing photographs of these memorials doesn't come close to being there in person. As I came over the small rise and the Vietnam Wall came into view, I stopped and took the scene in.
There, in front of the long black granite wall, was a crowd of people, taking pictures or name rubbings.
I had been given the perfect day to make my visit. By Washington weather standards, it wasn't too hot or humid and the sun was just peeking out from white fluffy clouds. I could hear birds chirping in the woods close by, but I never heard anything from the people in the crowd above a low whisper. The Wall seems to inspire awe and respect, no, that isn't quite right, it commands these emotions. Commands respect.
I walked slowly down the wall, my fingertips barely touching the smooth surface in places, until I came to the panel that had my adopted POW/MIA's names. I looked up, and the sunlight glinted off the stone. The names were too high up for me to touch them, so I repeated their names over several times to let them know that I was there. I can tell you, without shame, that my tears flowed fast and furiously. I thought about the mission that they were lost on, and the missions after to try to recover them. They were both young men, leaving family and friends behind to try to unite a country that was frought with civil war. They fought in the most unpopular war that the United States has ever been involved in.
When I finally left The Wall and made my way to the Korean War Memorial, the scene was much the same. The crowd of people was almost silent as they walked by the representation of a unit on the move, the pathway lined with stones that had the UN nations names that were involved and the memory wall.
Seeing the statues of the various military members in the memorial was something that struck me hard. Expressions have been keenly chisled into those faces, almost as if they were larger than life men on the march watching for trouble in the Korean countryside.
I spent a lot of time looking into those weather worn faces. I studied their expressions, their postures. I walked back and forth, looking at them from all angles and views. I tried to imagine what those haunting eyes saw as they looked off into the distance.
A glance to my right, and I saw that the figures were reflected in the smooth
black granite of the wall. As I got closer, the effect had a dreamlike quality,
enhanced by the etchings of the faces of support personnel in the stone. It is not surprising to me to hear that some swear that they recognize faces in the stone, for they are finely carved and very much detailed.
Aside from all the things included in that memorial, I think the thing that made me the most aware of where I was, was the inscription on the wall next to the Reflection Pool. It is a simple, short statement, but very profound and full of truth.
FREEDOM IS NOT FREE
To be a patriot, you must understand those words.