Posts Tagged ‘Columbia Island’

The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial

The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial

Just a short bike ride over the George Mason Memorial Bridge is The Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial.  While it is technically located in D.C., the memorial is only assessable by going through Virginia by land, or the Potomac River by sea (so to speak).  The Memorial is located just off the Mount Vernon Trail as it passes through Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island (MAP).  It is a national monument honoring sailors of the United States Navy and the United States Merchant Marine who died at sea during World War I.

The United States Merchant Marine is the fleet of civilian-owned merchant vessels, operated by either the government or the private sector, that engage in commerce or transportation of goods and services in and out of the navigable waters of this country.

During peace time, the Merchant Marine is responsible for transporting cargo and passengers.   In times of war, the Merchant Marine is capable of being an auxiliary to the Navy, and can be called upon to deliver troops and supplies for the military.  Unlike the Navy, however, the Merchant Marine does not have a direct role in combat, although a merchant mariner has a responsibility to protect cargo carried aboard his or her ship.

Nicknamed “Waves and Gulls,” the memorial depicts seven seagulls above the crest of a wave, and reads: “To the strong souls and ready valor of those men of the United States who in the Navy, the Merchant Marine and other paths of Activity upon the waters of the world have given life or still offer it in the performance of heroic deeds this monument is dedicated by a grateful people.”

When you go to the memorial, if you are fortunate enough to encounter one of the men or women to whom it is dedicated, you should refer to them by their preferred designation, Mariners.  The terms seamen, seafarers and sailors is also acceptable for a member of U.S. Merchant Marine.  The term Merchant Marine is incorrect and should not be used to refer to an individual.  And never call one of them a Marine.

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The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac

One of the more unusual Presidential memorials in the D.C. area is the one dedicated to Lyndon Baines Johnson.  There is no street address for the memorial, which is located on D.C.’s Columbia Island, across the Boundary Channel from the Pentagon (MAP).  The park has three entrances, one on the George Washington Memorial Parkway, another on Boundary Channel Drive, and the third is a footbridge from the Pentagon parking lot.

Shortly after his death in January of 1973, some of President Johnson’s friends and colleagues began to consider creating a national memorial to the 36th President.  They decided that a grove of trees, a “living memorial,” would be symbolically appropriate for a man who valued nature in his personal life, and supported conservation and preservation of our America’s natural heritage during his presidency.  By the end of the year, the memorial was authorized by Congress.  It was also administratively listed on the National Register of Historic Places at that time. The memorial was dedicated in September of 1974, and is overseen by the National Park Service under the George Washington Memorial Parkway.

Officially known as The Lyndon Baines Johnson Memorial Grove on the Potomac, the memorial consists of two parts. The first area is commemorative in nature, and features a 19-foot tall, Texas red granite monolith in the center of a flagstone plaza.  The grove, consisting of approximately 900 mature white pine trees encloses the plaza on three sides, and creates a dramatic feeling of enclosure for visitors walking serpentine pattern of walks and trails surrounding and leading to the plaza.  A variety of azaleas, rhododendron, flowering shrubs, wildflowers, and spring bulbs cover the ground beneath the trees.  The remaining side of the plaza is an open and leads to the second area of the Memorial.

The Memorial’s second area focuses on the grassy meadow and overlooks the Potomac River vista of the Capital city.  More informal than the plaza area, it provides a tranquil refuge for reflection and a variety of passive recreational activities.  Benches along the gravel walkway that winds around the meadow give visitors a chance to sit and relax, and there are picnic tables under the trees that frame the meadow.  It is this tranquil area where President Johnson often went when he needed to immerse himself in deep thought, or just escape from the stresses of his Presidential responsibilities.

The dramatic departure of the national memorial to President Johnson, in comparison to the imposing architectural monuments to previous Presidents such as the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials, makes it less alluring to tourists.  Additionally, the somewhat isolated location of the memorial has contributed to making it one of the lesser visited ones in D.C.  But it is for these reasons that I find the Johnson Memorial even more appealing.

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