Posts Tagged ‘Veterans Day’

The Poppy Wall of Honor

During today’s last lunchtime bike ride before Memorial Day, I was riding along the National Mall near The National World War II Memorial when I saw some sort of red display in the distance on the southwestern side of The Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool. So, naturally, I rode over to get a better look and find out about it. It turned out to be a new, temporary monument in honor of Memorial Day called The Poppy Wall of Honor.

Since World War I, more than 645,000 men and women have given their lives in combat to defend our freedom. And the poppy flower serves as a symbol of that sacrifice. Wearing a poppy flower, known as a Remembrance Poppy, is done on Memorial Day and Veterans Day as a way to honor these fallen heroes. I remember my Dad always had a remembrance poppy at both Memorial Day and Veterans Day.

My Dad would also recite a poem from memory entitled “In Flanders Fields,” written by Lieutenant-Colonel John McCrae, a Canadian Physician during the First World War. McCrae was inspired to write it on May 3, 1915, after presiding over the funeral of friend and fellow soldier Lieutenant Alexis Helmer. According to legend, fellow soldiers retrieved the poem after McCrae, initially dissatisfied with his work, discarded it.

“In Flanders Fields” was first published on December 8th of 1915. And it became so popular that the poem and poppy became prominent Remembrance Day symbols throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, particularly in Canada. The poem is also widely known in the United States, where it is associated with Veterans Day and Memorial Day. Inspired by the poem, the poppy flower also became an American symbol of remembrance in 1920 when it was brought forward by Moina Michael, an American professor and volunteer for the American YWCA, during the National American Legion Conference.

Sponsored by the USAA Company in cooperation with the National Park Service, The Poppy Wall of Honor is a 133-foot-long, 8 1/2 foot-tall translucent structure filled with more than 645,000 synthetic Remembrance Poppy Flowers, one for each fallen American service member. This year the exhibit also honors the 75th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The Poppy Wall of Honor is open to the public daily for viewing from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., through Memorial Day. But if you can’t visit it in person, there’s also an online virtual reality experience for viewers to explore.

 

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The Poppy Wall of Honor

In Flanders Fields
by John McCrae

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you, from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow,
In Flanders fields.

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The Cannabis for Countrymen Rally

During today’s lunchtime bike ride as I was passing by the park at McPherson Square I noticed a lot of activity and tents being set up. So I stopped to find out what was happening. This is the same park where a few years ago demonstrators from the Occupy D.C. protest movement camped out for several months to protest against social and economic inequality around the world. And I thought they might be back. But it turned out that today’s demonstration, which is scheduled to continue through tomorrow’s Veteran’s Day holiday, was a very different kind of demonstration.

The event currently going on is called “Cannabis for Countrymen,” or D.O.P.E (Don’t Oppress People Ever) Festival, and is being sponsored by a number of groups and organizations, including Weed4Warriors, The Drug Policy Alliance, The People’s Champ, LLC, GreenTech Industries, the National Association for Concerned Veterans, DC NORML, and many others. The purpose of the event is to raise awareness about potential medical benefits of marijuana in treating veterans who suffer from post traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries, and other illnesses related to war trauma. The event will include a protest at The Department of Veteran’s Affair Headquarters, which is only a block away from the park, as well as a march to The White House for a first amendment demonstration. In another corner of the park I watched as an artist was setting up an exhibit comprised of twenty-two American flags surrounded by pill bottles, which I was told symbolizes the number of veterans who commit suicide each day in this country. They also advised that tomorrow they will also be handing out free marijuana to military veterans. Today there were booths set up offering samples of different hemp products, including everything from clothing to skin care products to flavored teas. I stopped and talked with a number of people, and they advised their products are in compliance with local D.C. law. When I asked if the products violated any Federal laws, I found out that some didn’t but others did. I explained that I appreciated the information they were offering but because of my position with the Federal government, I would have to decline any of the free samples.   

I did stop on the bike ride back to work, however, and treated myself by picking up some Kung Pao chicken at Soho Café & Market to take back to the office. It was a good ride today, despite the fact that it was raining. And of course, it was interesting too. It just goes to show you that there’s always something going on in D.C., and it is often something unusual. 

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The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs

Veterans Day is an official Federal holiday intended to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces, who are also known as veterans. It occurred earlier this week, and is observed every year on November 11th. Veterans Day coincides with other holidays such as Armistice Day, which is observed in other parts of the world and marks the anniversary of the end of World War I. Major hostilities of World War I were formally ended at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, when the Armistice with Germany went into effect. The United States also originally observed Armistice Day, but in 1954 it was changed to the current Veterans Day holiday.

Veterans Day is not to be confused with Memorial Day. Veterans Day celebrates the service of all U.S. military veterans, while Memorial Day is a day of remembering the men and women who died while serving.

In recognition of Veterans Day, on this bike ride I went by the offices for the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which is located at 810 Vermont Avenue (MAP), just north of The White House and Lafayette Square in northwest D.C.’s Downtown neighborhood.

The Department of Veterans Affairs employs nearly 280,000 people at hundreds of Veterans Affairs medical facilities, clinics, and benefits offices throughout the country, and is responsible for supporting Veterans in their time after service by administering programs of veterans’ benefits for veterans, their families, and survivors.

The Department has three main subdivisions, known as Administrations. They are: the Veterans Health Administration, which is responsible for providing health care in all its forms; the Veterans Benefits Administration, which is responsible for initial veteran registration and eligibility determination, and oversees benefits and entitlements, and; the National Cemetery Administration, which is responsible for providing burial and memorial benefits, as well as for maintenance of 147 veterans and nationally important cemeteries, the most well-known of which is Arlington National Cemetery.

Among its other responsibilities, a current initiative in the Department of Veterans Affairs entitled “The National Center on Homelessness Among Veterans” is underway end and prevent homelessness among veterans. The number of Veterans experiencing homelessness exceeds 100,000 former service men and women on any given night. Though 96 percent of homeless Veterans are male, the number of female Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans experiencing homelessness is increasing as is the number of homeless Veterans who have dependent children. In general, veterans have high rates of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury, and sexual trauma, which can lead to higher risk for homelessness. About half of homeless veterans have serious mental illness and 70 percent have substance abuse problems. Veterans are more likely to live outdoors, and experience long-term, chronic homelessness.

While this initiative is admirable, it still has a long way to go, as evidenced by the number of homeless veterans actually living on the sidewalk outside the Department of Veterans Affairs offices here in D.C.

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Veterans Memorial Regional Park

Veterans Memorial Regional Park

Today is Veterans Day, a Federal holiday observed annually on November 11th which is intended to honor all men and women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. It is one of ten official Federal holidays. Since I was given the day off from work, I took advantage of the opportunity and ventured away from the city to explore one of the regional or state parks in the D.C. metro area. So for a Veterans Day ride, I selected Veterans Memorial Regional Park, located at 14300 Veterans Drive in Woodbridge, in nearby Prince William County, Virginia (MAP).

The park is home to several sports leagues including swimming, soccer, football, baseball, softball, Little League baseball, basketball, and volleyball. The community center hosts open gym days for both basketball and indoor seasonal, as well as dance classes sports classes, playschool, summer and mini-camps. The park also boasts a large skate park which features a 6,300-sq. ft. concrete course, a vertical ramp half-pipe, and a 60-ft long kidney bowl for a challenging ride. The multifaceted park also includes a 50-meter outdoor pool, as well as concessions, outdoor grills, picnic tables, volleyball, basketball courts, tennis courts, horseshoe pits, pavilion rentals, and restrooms throughout the park.

But my favorite aspect of the park is the fact that the Potomac Heritage National Scenic Trail runs through it, with a trail entrance just off the main road that runs through the park. Available to hikers and bike riders, the trail head is marked by the green square on a post. The trail runs through some of the natural areas of the park, which is situated adjacent to the beautiful Marumsco Creek, Featherstone National Wildlife Refuge, and Occoquan Bay National Water Reserve.

Having a paid day off from work is always nice, but going for a long, leisurely bike ride in Veterans Memorial Regional Park made it even better.

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Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

Gravesite of Leonard Matlovich

On this bike ride I stopped by the gravesite of Sergeant Leonard Matlovich.  A vietnam era veteran, Matlovich was eligible to be buried in the cemetery most people identify with veterans, Arlington National Cemetery.  But he chose Historic Congressional Cemetery instead.  Located at 1801 E Street (MAP) in Southeast D.C., he discovered the cemetery on one of his frequent walks near his then Capitol Hill home.

Sergeant Leonard Matlovich was the first gay service member to purposely out himself as a homosexual in an attempt to fight their ban on gays serving openly in the military.  He did so by hand-delivering a letter to his Langley Air Force Base commanding officer in March of 1975.  His challenge became public knowledge a couple of months later, on Memorial Day, through an article on the front page of The New York Times, and in a story that evening on the CBS Evening News with Walter Cronkite.  During his fight to stay in the military, his case became a cause célèbre within the gay community, and resulted in numerous articles in newspapers and magazines throughout the country, television interviews, and a made-for-television movie.  Matlovich also appeared in his Air Force uniform on the cover of Time magazine above the headline “I Am a Homosexual.”

Despite his exemplary military record, tours of duty in Vietnam, and high performance evaluations, Matlovich was subsequently given a “General,” or Less than Honorable, discharge in 1975 by the U.S. Air Force.  He continued his fight after being separated and won a much-publicized case against the Air Force in 1979, which ordered him reinstated into the Air Force and promoted. The Air Force offered Matlovich a financial settlement instead, which he accepted, and his discharge was upgraded to “Honorable.”

After being discharged, he moved from Virginia to D.C., then to San Francisco, and then Guerneville, California. After then moving to Europe for a few months, he returned briefly to D.C., before moving back to San Francisco again.  He remained active in the gay rights movement throughout the rest of his life.  On June 22, 1988, less than a month before his 45th birthday, Matlovich died in Los Angeles of complications from HIV/AIDS.

Matlovich personally designed his internationally known tombstone, incorporating the same kind of reflective black granite that was used in the construction of The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall.  It is inset with his famous quote, which reads, “When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one.”  The headstone also incorporates pink triangles in reference to the emblem used to mark gays in Nazi concentration camps.  What the headstone does not include, however, is his name.  That is because he meant to be a memorial to all gay veterans.  His last name inscribed at the foot of a granite grave border is the only indication that the grave is his.

Matlovich chose historic Congressional Cemetery because he loved its variety of individual stones versus Arlington’s hundreds of thousands of identical markers. He also was amazed to learn that Peter Doyle, Walt Whitman’s great love, is buried there.  He also couldn’t resist the last laugh of being buried in the same row with FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover’s gravesite, and Hoover’s associate director, longtime best friend, heir, and some believe romantic partner Clyde Tolson.  Hoover was staunchly anti-gay, although speculation and rumors had circulated beginning approximately 30 years before his death that Hoover was homosexual.  Tolson’s grave, marked by a pink granite stone, is just five plots to the right of Matlovich’s, and the Hoover family plot is a few yards further down.

In a tribute no one anticipated, a growing number of other out gays, including veterans and couples, have since chosen to be buried in the same once obscure graveyard such as gay rights pioneers Randy Wicker, Barbara Gittings and Kay Lahusen, and others.  Members of American Veterans for Equal Rights have purchased eight nearby adjoining plots to create a LGBT veterans memorial. And at his graveside every Veterans Day, there’s a gay veterans memorial service.  His gravesite has also been the scene of protests, vigils and ceremonies for LGBT rights activists, and even a same-sex wedding.

His gravesite and the surrounding vicinity within the cemetery, and the activities that have taken place there, would certainly be pleasing to Matlovich, who once said, “I believe that we must be the same activists in our deaths that we were in our lives.”

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