Posts Tagged ‘The Reflecting Pool’

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A Memorial within a Memorial

Our nation’s capitol is so replete with memorials that there are sometimes actually memorials within other memorials.  Such is the case with the inscription on the steps of The Lincoln Memorial which commemorates the spot where Martin Luther King, Jr. stood when he gave his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.

It was August 28, 1963.  Approximately 250,000 people participating in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, which would later prove to be a high point of the American civil rights movement, descended on D.C. and occupied the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial and surrounded the reflecting pool. It was there, in the shadow of the memorial honoring the president who had issued the Emancipation Proclamation to free the slaves a century earlier, that Rev. King addressed those in attendance.

The elevated spot on the steps of the memorial was not only chosen for its symbolism and for its practical value in addressing the crowd, but for security reasons as well. Surrounded on three sides, it was thought that the spot was ideal in that if an incident occurred it would be able to be easily contained.

Twenty years later, on August 28, 1983, crowds gathered again to mark the 20th Anniversary of the March on Washington and reflect on the progress that had been made in the civil rights movement, and to recommit to the ideals of the march in correcting injustices.

In August of 2003 on the 40th anniversary of the March on Washington, the landing eighteen steps below Lincoln’s statue from where the speech was given was engraved to read, “I Have a Dream – Martin Luther King, Jr. – March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom – August 28, 1963.” This was still several years prior to the construction and opening of the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial, and is considered by some to be D.C.’s original memorial to Rev. King.

On this bike ride I rode to this memorial within a memorial, officially located at 2 Lincoln Memorial Circle (MAP) to stand on this historic ground and reflect on what occurred there in the past.

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The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building

Today is the anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s first post as President on The White House’s Official Facebook page. Using his iPhone, he posted a famous quote from George Washington, who once said, “The thing about quotes from the Internet is that it’s hard to verify their authenticity.”  After updating his online status, I can imagine him then going for an evening walk on a cool, crisp autumn day, much like it was today. Perhaps stopping by Saint John’s Episcopal Church across the street, and maybe even going past his memorial and taking a stroll around The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall on his way home.

Actually, today is the anniversary of the beginning of Lincoln era’s communications equivalent, the first transcontinental overland telegram.  It was sent on this day in 1861, after 112 days of construction, that Western Union completed the first transcontinental telegraph.  And the first telegram was sent to President Lincoln in D.C., from California Justice Stephen J. Field in San Francisco.  In the message, Field predicted that the new communication link would help ensure the loyalty of the western states to the Union during the Civil War.

The telegraph was received at the telegraph office within the War Department, which was located in a building to the west of the White House. It was known as the Annex, and became very important during the Civil War, with President Lincoln visiting the War Office’s telegraph room for constant updates and reports and walking back and forth to the “Residence”. The original structure was replaced in 1888 by construction of a new building of French Empire design, the “State, War, and Navy Building.” The building was later renamed to honor General and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, and is also commonly referred to as the Old Executive Office Building.

So on for this bike ride, I chose to ride to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, which is located on 17th Street (MAP) in northwest D.C., and is situated just west of the White House between Pennsylvania Avenue and New York Avenue, and West Executive Drive.

The Eisenhower Executive Office Building was designed by Alfred B. Mullett as the supervising architect, with much of the interior designed by Richard von Ezdorf. It was built between 1871 and 1888, and is now maintained by the General Services Administration. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1969, and was designated as a National Historic Landmark in 1971. It was vacated completely in the late 1930s, and the building was nearly demolished in 1957. Then in 1981, plans to restore it began. The building is currently occupied by various agencies that compose the President’s Executive Office, such as the Office of the Vice President, the Office of Management and Budget, and the National Security Council. Many White House employees have their offices in the massive edifice. Its most public purpose is that of the Vice President’s Ceremonial Office, which is mainly used for special meetings and press conferences.

Interestingly, the building was the site of another telecommunications first. Dwight D. Eisenhower held the first televised Presidential news conference in the building’s Indian Treaty Room in January 1955

As I paused to take a few photos with my cell phone, I couldn’t help but reflect on both the differences and similarities between then and now in terms of communications, politics, and the world. The telegraph line immediately made the Pony Express obsolete, which officially ceased operations two days later. The overland telegraph line then operated until it was replaced a mere eight years later by a multi-line telegraph that had been constructed alongside the route of the newly-completed Transcontinental Railroad. Much like today, I guess technology changed fairly often even back then too.

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The Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

On this ride Julius and I went to one of D.C.’s “major” memorials, the Korean War Veterans Memorial. Located in southwest D.C.’s West Potomac Park, just south of The Reflecting Pool on the National Mall (MAP), the memorial commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the three-year period of the Korean War.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean military forces surprised the South Korean army, and the small U.S. force stationed in the country, and quickly headed toward the capital city of Seoul. The U.S. responded by pushing a resolution through the United Nations Security Council calling for military assistance to South Korea. The Soviet Union was not present to veto the action as it was boycotting the Security Council at the time. With this resolution in hand, President Harry Truman rapidly dispatched U.S. land, air, and sea forces to Korea to engage in what he termed a “police action.” The U.S. intervention turned the tide, and U.S. and South Korean forces marched into North Korea. This action, however, prompted the massive intervention of communist Chinese forces in late 1950. The war in Korea subsequently bogged down into a bloody stalemate. On July 27, 1953, the U.S. and North Korea signed a cease-fire that ended the conflict. The cease-fire agreement also resulted in the continued division of North and South Korea at just about the same geographical point as before the conflict.

The Korean War was the first “hot” war of the Cold War. Korea was the first “limited war,” one in which the U.S. aim was not the complete and total defeat of the enemy, but rather the “limited” goal of protecting South Korea. For the U.S. government, such an approach was the only rational option in order to avoid a third world war and to keep from stretching finite American resources too thinly around the globe. It proved to be a frustrating experience for the American people, who were used to the kind of total victory that had been achieved in World War II. The public found the concept of limited war difficult to understand or support and the Korean War never really gained popular support.

The war was one of the most hard-fought in American history. During its relatively short duration, 54,246 Americans died in support of their country. Of these, 8,200 are listed as missing in action or lost or buried at sea. An additional 103,284 Americans were wounded during the conflict.  An estimated 2.5 million civilians were also killed or wounded.

The main portion of the memorial honoring these men and women is in the form of a triangle intersecting a circle. Within the walled triangle are 19 stainless steel statues, which represent an ethnic cross section of America. Each statue is larger than life-size, measuring between 7 feet 3 inches and 7 feet 6 inches tall, and weighing nearly half a ton. The figures represent a squad on patrol, drawn from each branch of the armed forces; fourteen of the figures are from the U.S. Army, three 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.

The main reflection wall along the south side of the triangle is 164 feet long, 8 inches thick; and made from more than 100 tons of highly polished “Academy Black” granite. More than 2,500 photographic, archival images depicting soldiers, equipment and people involved in the war are sandblasted onto the wall. When the statues are reflected on the wall, there appear to be 38 soldiers, representing the 38th parallel. To the north of the statues is a path, forming another side of the triangle. Alongside the path, forming the second side of the triangle 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 third side of the triangle, facing towards The Lincoln Memorial, is open.

The memorial’s circle contains the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool 30 feet in diameter lined with black granite and surrounded by a grove of linden trees with benches. The trees are shaped to create a barrel effect, which allows the sun to reflect on the pool. Inscriptions list the numbers killed, wounded, missing in action, and held as prisoners of war, and a nearby plaque is 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, next to the information about the American soldiers is information about the United Nations troops.

The meaning of the memorial is perhaps most captured by a message embedded in one of its granite walls, which bears the simple message, inlaid in silver: “Freedom Is Not Free.”

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The National World War II Memorial

The National World War II Memorial

On this day in 1944, approximately 100,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of the heavily-fortified beaches of Normandy, France, while an additional 150,000 personnel were concurrently coming across the English Channel by sea and air, to fight Nazi Germany and “The Axis of Evil.”  The Supreme Commander for the Allied Powers, General Dwight D. Eisenhower, originally picked June 5, 1944, as the date for the largest military invasion in history, code-named “Operation Overlord,” but bad weather forced a postponement.  After meteorologists told him that the weather would clear the next day, the invasion was on.  As it turned out, however, the weather was nearly as bad during the attack on June 6th.

General Eisenhower described the operation as a crusade in which “we will accept nothing less than full victory.”  More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the invasion, and by day’s end on June 6th, the Allies had gained a foot- hold in Normandy.  However, the cost was extremely high, with more than 9,000 Allied soldiers killed or wounded.  But the success of Operation Overlord, which would also come to me know as “D-Day,” was the beginning of the end of World War II, and the evil that was Nazi Germany.

I did not have adequate time during my lunchtime bike ride to go to The National D-Day Memorial, because it is located a couple of hundred miles away in the small, rural town of Bedford, Virginia.  Proportionally, Bedford suffered America’s severest D-Day losses.  Recognizing Bedford as symbolic of all communities, large and small, whose citizen-soldiers served and sacrificed on D-Day, Congress approved the placement of The National D-Day Memorial there.

So for this ride, I instead chose to commemorate the anniversary of this event by riding to and writing about the U.S. National World War II Memorial, which is located on the National Mall in D.C., on the former site of the Rainbow Pool at the eastern end of the Reflecting Pool, between The Lincoln Memorial and The Washington Monument (MAP).  The National World War II Memorial is dedicated to Americans who served in the military, and to civilians, for the various services and sacrifices made during World War II.

The design of the Memorial consists granite pillars arranged around a plaza and fountain, with two arches located on the northern and southern ends of the plaza.  Each of the 56 pillars is inscribed with the name of one of the then 48 states in the United States, as well as the District of Columbia, the Alaska and Hawaii territories, and the commonwealths of the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa, and the U.S. Virgin Islands.  The northern arch is inscribed with “Atlantic” and the southern one with “Pacific,” representing the two fronts of the war.

The meaning of the memorial to honor members of “The Greatest Generation” is best summed up by the inscription at the main entrance to the Memorial, which reads:  “Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth century father and the other the nineteenth century preserver of our nation, we honor those twentieth century Americans who took up the struggle during the second world war and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice.”

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