As I was riding past The Lincoln Memorial on this lunchtime bike ride, I noticed a tall three-sided tower in a grassy area on the other side of where some tour busses were stopped on the street that encircles the Memorial (MAP). The tower appeared to be made up of shiny sheet metal bricks, and next to it were an Army-surplus tent and several signs with information. So naturally I rode over to get a better look and find out more about it.
It turned out to be a memorial known as the Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower, and is sponsored by a group named Veterans For Peace. The organization was founded as a non-profit organization in the state of Maine in 1985, and was initially made up of U.S. military veterans of World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the Gulf War and other conflicts, as well as peacetime veterans and even non-veterans. It has more recently expanded, with active chapters and members in communities throughout the United States, Puerto Rico, and Vietnam, as well as a very active offshoot in the United Kingdom.
The Swords to Plowshares tower is a touring memorial dedicated to all of the victims and veterans of war on all sides of all conflicts. The 24-foot-tall tower was modeled after the 115-foot-tall World War I-era bell tower on the campus of North Carolina State University. One of the cleverest aspects to the design of the touring tower is that it’s covered with over a thousand inscribed memorial “plaques,” which upon close inspection I discovered were made from recycled cans that had been cut and turned inside-out. The plaques are loosely attached to the structure, which causes them to move whenever there is the slightest breeze, resulting in a shimmering effect which, in part, is what initially caught my attention.
I was told that wherever the tower appears, visitors add personal inscriptions to the plaques. They then ring the large old bell, which originally came from the Church of Reconciliation in Chapel Hill, but is now located in the center of the structure. And share their stories about the many ways people suffer on all sides of a war.
The arrival of the installation in D.C. coincides with the Memorial Day weekend, as well as with the Veterans For Peace “Lobby Days,” during which the organization lobbies members of Congress on a variety of issues of concern to the organization. These issues include the Obama administration’s priorities in the national budget, the continuing effects of Agent Orange used during the Vietnam War, and the increase in hate speech in society, particularly during the current presidential election season. The tower’s presence also is timed to coincide with the arrival of the annual “Sam’s Ride For Peace,” led by 91-year-old World War II combat veteran Sam Winstead. The Marine Corps veteran and avid bicyclist rode the inaugural 350-mile Ride for Peace, from Raleigh, N.C. to D.C., in the spring of 2012, so that he could “ask our leaders to stop wars.”
The Swords to Plowshares Memorial Bell Tower will only be on display here in D.C. through May 31st, so you’ll want to make it part of your agenda for the Memorial Day weekend if you want to see it while it’s still here. But if you can’t see it in person, you can follow it here on Facebook.