by Bob Sparrow
Co-Editor’s note: Yes, I’m still part of the Sparrow-Watson writing team and no, Suzanne did not restrict me from getting near the blog for the last three weeks, it’s just that . . . OK, maybe I was told to stay home and get rid of this virus. As usual I only half-listened, I got rid of the virus, but I didn’t stay home.)
Most of our readers have been to Washington D.C., so telling you about my trip and how cool the Air & Space or Spy Museums were or how I could spend all day in the Natural History Museum is a waste of time, so I’ll tell you about my top four emotional experiences in our nation’s capital and environs.
1. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
To those around my age, the Vietnam War happened when we were in college and the years shortly thereafter, which was a time of great social conflict in our country. So seeing all the names on ‘The Wall’ was a sad reminder of that horrible time in my young adulthood. Suzanne does a great job of honoring fallen soldiers from our hometown of Novato each Memorial Day. Among those honored is Allen Joseph Nelson Jr., who was one of the only people I knew personally who was killed in action in Vietnam. Allen and I played high school football together as well as a year a Marin J.C. I knew his sister, Joanne, who was in my class at Novato, and is no longer with us, but I believe the younger brother, Steve, who was in Suzanne’s class, is. I would ask that anyone who knows him please pass along to him that I located Allen’s name on the wall (Top line of panel 13E) and said thank you and a silent prayer.
2. The Holocaust Museum
First opened in 1993, this museum is relatively new to ‘The Mall’. The tour through it is detailed and emotional. Upon entering you receive a passport-like document of one of the victims of the Holocaust, which traces their country of origin and their life prior to being incarcerated as well as what ‘death camp’ they were in, and the date they died or were freed – it really personalizes the tragedy of it all. The museum is filled with photos, artifacts and videos of events leading up to and through the loss of the war by Germany and the subsequent release of the surviving prisoners from the concentration camps. The exhibit that shows hundreds of victims’ confiscated shoes is particularly gut-wrenching. While most people are generally familiar with the story of the Holocaust, the museum does an excellent job of bringing home the sheer brutality of this heinous crime against humanity. It still seems incredible that it even took place and how many people it affected and particularly how an entire country could let this happen within their borders.
At the suggestion of a friend, who said that if you’re going to D.C. you need to get up to Gettysburg, we rented a car and made the hour and a half drive to this famous Civil War battlefield in Pennsylvania. The information center there is filled with all kinds of memorabilia and ways to learn about one of the bloodiest and arguably the most pivotal battle of the war. We chose the in-car CD version which allowed us to stop for as long as we wanted at any particular site. The battle field, which was much larger than I thought (over 9 square miles) is dotted with over 1,300 memorials, markers and monuments. Being there and listening to the narration, some stories about brother fighting against brother, gives you a real sense of how and where things were taking place. In the 3-day battle on July 1-3, 1863, the total of casualties for both armies was approximately 50,000. I was astounded to learn that while we have had approximately 1,264,000 casualties in all of our wars up until now, nearly half, 620,000 were casualties of the Civil War.
4. Arlington National Cemetery
Just across the Potomac River from The Jefferson Memorial, on property once owned by Robert E. Lee, our national cemetery is a tearfully beautiful place. While the tour through the cemetery talks about all the famous people who are interned there, you cannot help but be struck by the total number of simple gravestones all in a line, “like soldiers at attention”, that are there representing fallen soldiers from every one of our nation’s wars – there are over 400,000 in all buried there. We witnessed a changing of the guard at the ‘Tomb of the Unknown Soldier’, a classy and somber ritual that occurs every half hour this time of year. The grounds offer hundreds of amazing stories that go with the brave service men and women who make this their final resting place.
While we really didn’t appreciate the rain that fell everyday we were in Washington D.C. and Gettysburg, it seemed to particularly lend itself to the atmosphere of these four historic landmarks that reminded us that our freedom is not free.
Thursday: A few photos to finish our visit to the capital