On Saturday evening, following an energizing cuppa joe, my buddy and I walked down the to the Ben Franklin Statue (which I failed to photograph) in front of the Old Post Office (which I also failed to photograph), to meet our Tour Bus for a Moonlight Monument Tour.
I started thinking that really, I was paying for the privilege of sitting on my tuchus and being driven from monument to monument in the comfort of a soft chair. I ending really glad that I took the tour.
Our first stop was the Capitol Building, which fairly glows in the dark.
I learned that the flags which fly above the House and the Senate are the only American Flags in DC that serve as signals the way the flags on other government houses do. In England, for example, the flag flies over the castle when the Queen is in residence. The flag over the White House flies regardless of where the President is. The flags over the House of Representatives flies when the House is in session. Similarly, the flag over the Senate building flies when the Senate is in session.
We also learned that by tradition, no statue in Washington DC can be taller than Lady Freedom, who stands atop the Capitol Building. The fairy tale is that Lady Freedom faces east because "the sun never sets on Freedom". Unfortunately, the reality is that Lady Freedom faces east because that's the front of the building.
Turning around, we saw the Washington Monument in the setting sun.
(Okay, it's true, in that part of Washington, you can pretty much see the Washington Monument everywhere. And I'm sure it will show up in the background of half the pictures I took. Sorry. I'm pretty sure they did that on purpose.)
After the Capitol Building, we reloaded our comfy bus, and headed off to see the War Memorials. Well, okay, the NATIONAL war memorials. There are a number of local war memorials, some of which we drove past and learned a bit about. There is, for example, a World War I memorial for those soldiers from DC who died in that war, but it's a local thing. There is not yet a National World War I memorial.
We started our tour with the World War II Memorial. It is the most recently built memorial, and is the memorial for the war farthest back in history that we've built so far. There was evidently quite a struggle to come up with a workable plan for the memorial, as it had to do it's thing without interrupting the view between the Capitol and the Lincoln Monument. They got it done, and done well.
I was stunned by how moved I was, walking through this memorial. There are pillars for every state, and every US Territory. The pillars appear to be in a rather random order, which meant that only there (well, and possibly my heart) are Maine and Illinois next to each other.
The pillars are placed in the order that each state or Territory became part of the US, alternating between the two arcs of the Memorial. Each pillar has an oak wreath and a wheat wreath -- to symbolize the industry and agriculture without which we could not have waged that war. The memorial has two entrances, archways, symbolizing the two arenas (Atlantic and Pacific), and each of these has a wreath under which one walks.
The center of the memorial was really hard to photograph at night. Between us, my friend and I got a decent shot or two, but I'm pretty sure that this one is hers
as is this one
In addition to recognizing that every state and all of our then existing territories participated, there's a spot to honor the 400,000 men who were killed. Evidently, it was the practice during the war for each house that had a soldier in either arena hung a flag in the window. That flag had one silver star for each soldier. When a soldier was killed, the star was replaced with a gold one. (The movie Private Ryan was based on a true story in some ways... one family had four silver stars... then three and one gold... then two and two; when it got to three gold and one silver, the army decided to pull that fourth son out). Anyway, these 4,048 gold stars each represent 100 soldiers killed in World War I
As with many (most) memorials I saw, they had all sorts of quotes carved in the stone walls. This is my favorite of the ones there. If only it were true now as well
In case it's hard to read, it says "The war's end. Today the guns are silent. A great tragedy has ended. A great victory has been won. The skies no longer rain earth. The seas bear only commerce. Men everywhere walk upright in the sunlight. The entire world is quietly at peace."
There were tears in my eyes for much of my tour of this Monument, but that quote really got me. They are sneaking back even now. And yet.
And yet, this somber monument is not without it's bit of fun.
Killroy was a real man. He was a shipyard inspector. He had to keep track of every ship he inspected, and mark it. He took to marking his inspected ships with this... because it was faster than the original way. As the war stepped up, inspections got rushed, and men knew that if their ship had THIS on it, it really had been inspected. Over time, the men started leaving this sign around elsewhere, and eventually, the Germans began to think that Killroy was a spy, and were amazed that he got everywhere. In recognition of that bit of graffiti, spread throughout the world by GI's, he appears at the back of the monument.
After World War I, we moved forward in time to the Korean War Veterans Memorial. This memorial is reported to be dramatically different at night than it is in the daytime. I can't vouch for that, having never seen it in daylight, but it's definitely spooky at night. The memorial has 19 statues, which between them represent all of the branches of the armed forces who served in Korea. They are spread out, on patrol, walking through what, at night, looks like a rice paddy -- with soft light reflecting off of marble slabs looking a lot like water.
Unlike all the other monuments, this one isn't floodlit at night. The pinpoint lights make it more like the night in Korea through which these men walked.
There is a polished granite wall, which allegedly reflects these statues in daylight, bringing the number you see to 38 (for the 38th parallel, where the war was fought). But at night, and possibly only at night, you can see countless faces etched into the wall. These folks are real folks, but only the people whose pictures were used know who they are. The anonymity of the faces was intentional
We also saw the Vietnam War Memorial. Oddly, though I know people who fought in Vietnam, this one moved me the least. Of course, I may still have been on overload from World War I when we were there. I took no pictures, as it really doesn't lend itself at all to night photography. When the memorial was first conceived, there were no statues. But people wanted a face... so they added the statue of three servicemen (each of a different race). Then, later, women wanted to acknowledge that though they were not technically in the service, many women served in the VietNam war. ... indeed eight nurses died in what they call combat. They added a statue at the other end of the monument of three nurses holding a wounded soldier. That statue is surrounded by eight trees, which are supposed to represent the eight women who died.
From the war memorials, we returned to the people memorials, and went to visit Abraham Lincoln's memorial. He's HUGE!
This was no sneaky lie-on-the-floor to make him look big shot. This was just me looking up to this massive statue. It's 19 feet tall. And yet, despite being so massive, he still looks rather like his lap would be a welcoming place. I tried to get a decent shot with the sock here, but none of them came out at all.
Among the things I learned about this one was that construction didn't begin until 1914. The country was a bit raw right after the Civil War, and his death. Even though Congress incorporated the Lincoln Monument Association in March 1867 (two years after his death) no progress was made until 1901.
Once again, one can turn around and see the Washington Monument
From here, my buddy and I took a sneaky detour. We were yards, mere yards from the Einstein memorial in front of the National Academy of Sciences when we went back to the bus. I asked the bus driver whether, during the day, they included him on the tour. I never got the answer, but he told us that we had time to trot up to see it since the rest of the folk weren't back to the bus yet.
He's also huge. But the best we could do for pictures was this
Frankly, like the outside of the building better (though I think I did take a picture of every long quote in the place). We were just never in the right place to photograph the outside. However, while leaving, I did get another lovely shot of that ever visible landmark
this time from the "side".
We reboarded the bus and returned to the White House
and learned various stories, none of which I'll bore you with now. I persuaded our tour guide, Diana, to pose with the sock
And... after he drove us back to the Post Office, I got the driver to do the same.
Even though Diana got all the credit, it's quite clear that he knows a LOT about DC... and he shared quite a few tidbits with us along the way.
I highly recommend these folks. If you're ever in DC... take their tour! It's so worth it!