Posts Tagged ‘World War II’

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Artwork on Wheels (Click on photo for a larger, detailed view.)

D.C. is such an unusual and interesting city that even after years of riding around it on my lunchtime bike rides I still look forward to what I might discover during my next ride. Two of my favorite types of discoveries are outdoor artworks and unusual vehicles. And on this bike ride I found both in the form of an elaborately-painted Volkswagon Beetle that I saw in the Capitol Hill neighborhood.

The Volkswagen Beetle, or “Bugs” as we used to call them, was originally designed by Ferdinand Porsche, who in addition to the original Beetle also designed a number of different high-performance sports cars manufactured under the Porsche brand name, as well as the Mercedes-Benz SS/SSK. He designed the Beetle based on the exacting standards and at the request of Adolf Hitler, who was seeking a cheap, simple car to be mass-produced for the new road network of his country known as the Autobahn.

However, World War II began the year following the development of the first Beetle, and mass production was put on hold. Thanks largely to the intervention of the occupying Allied forces after the war mass production began in 1945 when a British army Major, Ivan Hurst, was placed in charge of the Volkswagen factory. Volkswagen (which is literally “folks wagon” in German) Beetles would go on to be manufactured between 1938 and 2003, making it the longest-running and most-manufactured car of a single design. The classic Beetle was then redesigned and reintroduced in 1998 and is still be manufactured today.

I think I can safely say that the unusual Beetle I saw while on this bike ride is fairly unique among the more than 21 million which have been built thus far. The multi-colored car I saw is festooned with elaborate depictions of peacocks, parrots and other exotic birds, as well as exotic flowers, all depicted together in an appearance reminiscent of the psychedelic counterculture of the hippies of the 1960’s, who were also partial to Volkswagen Beetles. So I guess there were a variety of people, from Hitler to hippies, who were involved in my being able to find and enjoy such an unusual piece of “artwork on wheels” during today’s bike ride.

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The Japanese Embassy

The Japanese Embassy

Today is the 73rd anniversary of the United States’ declaration of war against the Empire of Japan, which occurred as a direct result of the previous day’s attack conducted by the Imperial Japanese Navy against the United States naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In recognition of this anniversary, on this lunchtime bike ride Julius and I rode to the Embassy of Japan, located at 2520 Massachusetts Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Embassy Row neighborhood.

Beginning at 7:48 a.m. Hawaiian Time on December 7, 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes, bombers, and torpedo planes in two waves, launched from six aircraft carriers, launched a surprise strike against the American naval base at Pearl Harbor near Honolulu, Hawaii, which was the headquarters of the United States Pacific Fleet. The attack was intended as a preventive action in order to keep the U.S. Pacific Fleet from interfering with military actions the Empire of Japan was planning in Southeast Asia against overseas territories of the United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and the United States.

The damage incurred by the United States as a result of the attack was extensive, including 2,403 Americans killed and 1,178 others who were wounded.  Additionally, all eight U.S. Navy battleships were damaged, with four being sunk.  All but one, the USS Arizona, were later raised, and six of the eight battleships were returned to service and went on to fight in the war. The Japanese also sank or damaged three cruisers, three destroyers, an anti-aircraft training ship, one minelayer, and 188 U.S. aircraft were destroyed.

Described the following day by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt in an address to a joint session of Congress as “a date which will live in infamy,” the result of the attack was the exact opposite of what had been intended. Instead of intimidating the United States, the attack led to President Roosevelt asking Congress the very next day to declare war on Japan. Congress approved his declaration with just one dissenting vote, leading to the United States’ entry into both the Pacific and European theaters of World War II. Three days later, Japanese allies Germany and Italy declared war on the United States, and again Congress reciprocated. More than two years after the conflict had commenced, the United States had finally joined World War II.

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial

When it comes to Presidential memorials in D.C., there have been occasions when people decide after the memorial is completed that it is not quite right, or not big enough, or somehow unbefitting the president who it is intended to honor. And instead of accepting or even modifying the original memorial, they build a second, grander presidential memorial, often in what is considered a more prominent location. And interestingly, it is usually the second memorial with which the public is most familiar.  This happened when The Original Washington Monument was deemed insufficient, and the giant obelisk on the National Mall was erected to honor our nation’s first president.

The same type of thing happened again more recently when the existing memorial to our nation’s 32nd president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, was deemed inadequate, and another, larger memorial was constructed near the Tidal Basin (MAP), which is considered one of the most prominent locations in the national capitol city. It was to this memorial that I went on today’s bike ride.

The Original FDR Memorial, which relatively few people know about, is located near the corner of 9th Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. In accordance with Roosevelt’s expressed wishes, the original memorial was erected in 1965 “in the center of the green plot in front of The National Archives and Records Administration Building (and) consists of a block about the size of (his) desk.”

Thirty-two years later, in contradiction to Roosevelt’s specific wishes, the more well-known FDR Memorial was dedicated.  The newer memorial is large, even by D.C. standards. Spread out over seven and a half acres on the southern side of The Tidal Basin, it traces 12 years of the history of the U.S. through a sequence of four outdoor “rooms,” one for each of his terms in office, from 1933 until his death in 1945.

The design of the memorial, by landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, was chosen in 1978, and it opened to the public in 1997 after a dedication ceremony led by President Bill Clinton.  As an historic area managed by the National Park Service, the memorial is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The memorial contains a number of sculptures inspired by famous photographs of Roosevelt. One depicts the 32nd president alongside his pet Scottie named Fala. It is the only presidential pet to be memorialized. Other sculptures depict scenes from the Great Depression, such as listening to a fireside chat on the radio and waiting in a bread line. Also included is a bronze statue of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt standing before the United Nations (UN) emblem, honoring her dedication to the UN. It is the only presidential memorial to depict a First Lady. Water is also used prominently in the memorial as a metaphorical device, including waterfalls depicting World War II and the Great Depression, and a still pool representing the 32nd president’s death.

However, like many memorials and monuments in D.C., the FDR Memorial is not without controversy. Taking into consideration Roosevelt’s disability, the memorial’s design is intended to make it accessible to those with various physical impairments. For example, the memorial includes an area with tactile reliefs with braille writing for people who are visually impaired. However, the memorial faced serious criticism from disabled activists because the braille dots were improperly spaced and some of the braille and reliefs were mounted eight feet off of the ground, placing it physically above the reach of most people.

Another controversy involves one of the statues of Roosevelt. Against the wishes of some disability-rights advocates and historians, the memorial’s designers initially decided against plans to have Roosevelt shown in a wheelchair. Although Roosevelt used a wheelchair in private, it was hidden from the public because of the stigma of weakness which was associated with any disability at that time. So instead, the main statue in the memorial depicts the president in a chair, with a cloak obscuring the chair, which is how he usually appeared to the public during his lifetime. In a compromise, casters were added to the back of the chair, making it a symbolic “wheelchair”. However, the casters are only visible from behind the statue, and this compromise did not satisfy either side. Eventually, an additional statue was added and placed near the memorial’s entrance which clearly depicts Roosevelt in a wheelchair much like the one he actually used.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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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The Marine Corps War Memorial, commonly referred to as The Iwo Jima Memorial

I frequently use the anniversary of an historical event as the basis for my choice of a destination for my daily bike ride.  Since today is the anniversary of the beginning of the U.S. Marines’ invasion during World War II of the island of Iwo Jima, I chose to ride to the Marine Corps War Memorial, also commonly referred to as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

It was on this day in 1945 that the Marines’ invasion of Iwo Jima, named “Operation Detachment”, began.  At the time, Iwo Jima was a barren Pacific island guarded by Japanese artillery.  But to American military minds, it was prime real estate on which to build airfields to launch bombing raids against Japan, only 660 miles away.

The battle began with an American military aerial bombardment of the Japanese defenses on the island.  This lasted 74 days and was the longest pre-invasion bombardment of the war.  Underwater demolition teams known as “frogmen” were then dispatched by the Americans just before the actual invasion. When the Japanese fired on the frogmen, they gave away many of their “secret” gun positions.  The amphibious landings of Marines subsequently began on the morning of February 19th.

As the Marines made their way onto the island, seven Japanese battalions opened fire on them. By evening, more than 550 Marines were dead and more than 1,800 were wounded. The capture of Mount Suribachi, the highest point of the island and bastion of the Japanese defense, took four more days and many more casualties. When the American flag was finally raised on Iwo Jima, the memorable image was captured in a famous photograph by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press that later won the Pulitzer Prize.  It is this photograph upon which the Iwo Jima Memorial was designed and built.

The Iwo Jima Memorial is a military memorial statue located just outside of the walls of Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia (MAP).   As inscribed on the front of the memorial, it is dedicated “In honor and memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 1775.”  The location and date of every major Marine Corps engagement up to the present are inscribed in chronological order around the base of the memorial, including the battle of Iwo Jima.

The official dedication of the memorial by President Dwight D. Eisenhower occurred on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the Marine Corps.  In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that flag of the United States fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, one of the few official sites where this is required.

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[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]