DC Explorer: City of Memorials

Washington D.C. is a city of memorials – with over 160 memorials, monuments and parks to honor the spectrum of America’s diverse history.

Earlier this month we toured The Lincoln Memorial, Jefferson Memorial and Washington Monument…

Today we’re continuing our ‘monumental’ exploration with ‘grand tour’ of DC’s memorial trail.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial:

Dedicated on October 16th, 2011 (the 16th anniversary of the 1995 Million Man March in Washington), The MLK Memorial stands as a testament to Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy as justic worker and promoter of peace with accountability.

Inspired by Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream Speech’ quote: “with this faith, we will be able to hew out a mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” the memorial stands 30-feet high and consists of three granite pieces. A figure of Martin Luther King is carved into the “Stone of Hope,” which stands past the “Mountain of Despair.” It tells the story of the fundamental values of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during his quest for freedom; civil rights; democracy and opportunity for all.

The memorial’s serene location on four beautiful acres lined with cherry trees in the southwest corner of the Tidal Basin challenges visitors to pause and reflect on King’s legacy and are own role in peacemakers and workers for justice.

MLK facts:

  • He was the face of non-violent activism in the civil rights movement
  • He entered college at age 15!
  • He was imprisoned nearly 30 times for civil disobedience in his fight to end segregation
  • Deeply influenced by his Christian faith and doctrine of non-violence.
  • In 1963 he was named Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year”
  • In 1964, Dr. King was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize
  • He worked to end poverty and the Vietnam War
  • He was assassinated in 1968 in Memphis, TN, but his light was not dimmed even in death. MLK continues to inspire all people to stand up for justice, work together for peace and love as Christ loved us!
  • In 1983, President Reagan honored MLK’s legacy by creating a new federal holiday – Martin Luther King Jr. Day. It falls on the Monday closest to King’s birthday (January 16th).
    • The only other person with a federal holiday on their birthday is President George Washington (although President Lincoln had a good run before they consolidated his birthday celebration with George Washington’s on Presidents Day)

Vietnam Veterans Memorial:

Photo by Hugo Magalhaes on Pexels.com

One of the most moving memorials on The National Mall, The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1982, fulfilling one veteran’s promise to never forget those who served and sacrificed during the Vietnam War.

  • The Vietnam Memorial is located northeast of the Lincoln Memorial in the peaceful Constitution Gardens
  • Over five million visitors pay respects each year to the 58,220 people who died in Vietnam. Many families and friends of the fallen, use paper and pencil to etch the names of their loved ones as a keepstake to honor their service.
  • Vietnam was a controversial war and unfortunately many of the vets were not treated honorably upon their return. Many young men and women died in the conflict. Our Veterans deserve respect and at least this memorial helps to tell the story of Vietnam veterans and the fallen who served defending their country.
  • Maya Lin, a student at Yale University’s School of Architecture, won the memorial design competition in 1981.
  • Unlike most other monuments which are built to be seen from a distance, the Memorial Wall lies close to the ground. The walkway in front of the wall goes below ground level in the center and rises up at the ends of the wall
  • While the design is iconic and a moving testimony to the heartache and sacrifice of war, at the time someVietnam veterans did not feel it reflected the heroism, patriotism and honor found in most war memorials.
  •  The Three Servicemen Statue, designed by Frederick Hart, was a compromise to that controversy and honors the American military who served in Vietnam.
  • The Vietnam Women’s Memorial sculpture, designed by Glenna Goodacre, depicts three uniformed women with a wounded soldier. While one nurse comforts the soldier, another kneels, and the third looks to the skies.
    • Over 265,000 women served in the war; including 11,000 women stationed in Vietnam (including many nurses)
    • The eight servicewomen who died in the war are listed among the 58,200 names of those who died in the conflict. 59 civilian women died in the war as well. (Reference)
  • May Lin’s key design element is the shiny black granite wall in a wide V shape – it is a pilgrimmage spot for those who served in Vietnam, their families and the next generation who honors the past and strives to work for a better future.
    • The two 200-foot-long sections that make up the wall contain the 58,200 names of the fallen. The veterans’ names are listed in chronological order by date of their death and begin and end at the center of the memorial where the two sections meet. Having the names begin and end at the center is meant to form a circle- a completion to the war.
    • One section of the wall is directed toward the Lincoln Memorial, and the other is toward the Washington Monument.
  • Learn more about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on The National Park Foundation site and NPS site

World War II Memorial:

Dedicated by President George W. Bush on May 29th, 2004, this memorial pays tribute to the sacrifices of the greatest generation – those who fought and died for freedom in World War II. No war has quite shaken the human core and tested good versus evil quite like World War II. The United States lost over 400,000 enlisted servicemen and women and civilians in World War II.

The memorial was designed by Friedrich St. Florian. It is split into two sides, representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters.  There are pillars surrounding the entirety of the structure, each with the name of a US state or territory from which a person was involved in the war. The east-facing wall of the memorial, the Freedom Wall, is covered with 4,048 gold stars, one for every 100 Americans who lost their lives in some aspect of WWII.

FDR Memorial:

One of the greatest men and leaders to serve as president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt faced seemingly insurmountable challenges to lead the United States through many of our darkest days (The Great Depression to World War II). The 7.5 acre monument was dedicated by President Clinton on May 2, 1997 and is located halfway between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials

  • FDR served as the 32nd President; despite being stricken with polio and paralyzed from the waist down, he emerged as the guiding light for America through the dark days of the Great Depression and World War II
  • His New Deal helped create jobs and fund public projects in the heart of The Great Depression
  • His Civilian Conservation Corps worked to employee thousands during The Depression to build many of the most iconic and lasting state and national park buildings, dams, lakes, etc…
  • He was a great orator and his speeches kindled hope in dark times. “The only think we have to fear is fear itself” continues to reverberate as a beacon of perserverance today.
  • In his lifetime, FDR joked that if they ever built a monument to him he would like it no larger than the size of his desk and placed in front of the National Archives. Congress obliged and honored his request with a desk-sized stone plaque in honor of FDR outside the national archives.
  • It was decided that the plaque was not a sufficient way to honor a beloved president so it the larger memorial was created in 1997.
  • The memorial is unique as it uses elements of stone, water and landscaping to tell the story of FDR’s presidency across his four terms. The statues and quotes are eye level to engage individuals to step into the history and reflect.
    • The memorial consists of five outdoor rooms; one as a prologue and four for the unprecedented four terms of FDR
  • The Memorial was designed by:
    • Designer and Landscape Architect Lawrence Halprin
    • Sculptors: Robert Graham, George Segal, Neil Estern, Tom Hardy, Leonard Baskin
  • Over 100,000 gallons of water flow through seven founds and pools
  • Learn more here.

Korean War Veterans Memorial:

Often called The Forgotten War, The Korean War helped carve out freedom and independence for South Korea in the 1950s. This memorial displays the courage shown by those who served as larger-than-life soliders arise, seemingly in the midst of battle. Learn more about the Korean War Veterans Memorial here.

Next time on American Nomad we’ll return to The Smithsonian…subscribe below for email updates or Follow American Nomad on Facebook for more travel tidbits and adventure.

Purpose of American Nomad: To share my love of travel, history and museums with others.

About: American Nomad is written by Adele Lassiter, a travel enthusiast with a background in history, art and technology sales. In addition to running American Nomad, Adele is an artist and published author of cozy romances. Check out her cozy romance novel, Solitude Lake on Amazon (Adele Darcy)

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