On our recent trip to Washington DC with my school’s eighth graders, the monuments and memorials were probably the things they were least interested in. But for husband and me, these were some of the most interesting things we saw. I especially loved hearing the guide tell the back story behind how and why each one was built.
We’ll start with the iconic Washington Monument. We were able to go up to the top of it and look out, and we also squeezed in a selfie from further away. Do you notice how the top half is a different color? The government had to stop building the monument halfway through because of the Civil War, and when the finally finished it, they could not get the exact same stone. Some of the corner pieces have also been replaced over the years, which would make me super nervous to do. What if the whole thing falls when you pull one out, like a giant Jenga tower?!?
The Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial was pretty impressive as well. It’s made to look like one block has slid forward from the surrounding ones, and there are quotes all around. According to our guide, one of the quotes on the side of the memorial was actually mis-quoted, and they had to remove it with sand blasting.
I was most looking forward to seeing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I don’t know anyone who was in the war, but I used to teach the fantastic poem “Facing It” when I read The Things They Carried with my seniors. It’s about the symbolism of the reflective quality of the wall, and how it was created to be a place for others to process what happened. The experience — seeing my own reflection amongst the names — was just as moving as I’d expected, maybe more so.
We were also able to see the Korean War Memorial, which is similar in design to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The area in front is filled with statues of soldiers wading through a rice paddy, with granite slabs representing the rice. From every angle as you walk around, at least one soldier appears to be looking directly at you. The wall behind them is etched with images of actual veterans. Our guide said the Korean War is often called the “Forgotten War” because it’s not popular in movies or other media, but the memorial did a nice job of representing what it was like to be there.
The World War II Memorial was massive in contrast, with a large water feature in the middle, and commemorations for various allies all around the oval. On another day we saw the Iwo Jima Memorial, a tribute to the Marines from WWII that is modeled after the Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph by Joe Rosenthal.
Of course, you can’t forget the classics: the Lincoln Memorial and the Jefferson Memorial. While the Lincoln Memorial will forever remind me of the scene in Forrest Gump, it was neat to see these two iconic places in person. We went to the Lincoln Memorial right at dusk, so we were able to see it all lit up!
On the last day we visited Arlington National Cemetery. It was staggering to see all the white marble headstones lined up — so many who fought and died for our freedom. I did not realize how large the cemetery is, but we walked a good bit of it. We saw JFK’s final resting place and his “eternal flame,” which our guide said was Jackie Kennedy’s idea, and some students were even able to find their relatives there. We tried to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, but it was so crowded I only caught glimpses.
Although the students may not have been as excited about the monuments and memorials, it was a big part of what Husband and I enjoyed in Washington DC. I felt like we were able to see so many of them because we were on a school trip! Are there any we missed that we should add to our itinerary next year? Any DC experts have interesting facts to add about any of these?