Memorial Day in Washington D.C.


On my recent visit to Washington D.C. I knew to wear comfortable shoes, keep an umbrella handy and carry a bottle of water. What I’m never prepared for is the emotional experience. Climbing up the steps to the Lincoln Memorial, turning to face the Washington Monument across the Mall and seeing the nation’s capital building in the distance remains a humbling experience. Hundreds of visitors share my response, each one stopping and reflecting at the sight. People from every state in the country and every nation in the world, stand nearby, speaking in native languages, dialects or with distinctive accents. We stand in awe at the scene with the giant figure of Lincoln and his words cared in marble behind us. Slowly moving on. Still much to see and so little time.

The next site, the Viet Nam Memorial. My generation. The draft, the protests, the ugliness that tore our country apart, and those who served without hesitation. Names of men and women listed in high school yearbooks and eventually and painfully added to the Wall with honor. We come across a group of people congregating in the center, where the wall begins. They tell us they’re here remembering the USMA graduates of the class of 1958. It’s the 26th annual memorial service. Though the faces are wrinkled and the hair lines receding and gray, they are eager to tell their personal stories and the stories of companions lost. I hear the pride in their voices, a job honorably done.

The pride continues through the World War II Memorial. This is the Sunday before Memorial Day and assistants help World War II veterans from mini-vans to the entry arch. With wounds of old age, they parade through the entry arch. A row of young cadets stands at attention as the wheelchair bound veterans pass by. Those standing nearby clap: thank you.

One man confined, in a wheelchair and with an assistant, tells me his story. He served in the battle in the Aleutian Islands, the only piece of American soil held by Japan during World War II. His eyes light up and suddenly I’m talking with a nineteen year old man who slept on the frozen ground, cold, and hungry and prepared for Japanese attacks. He helped reclaim the territory and survived to tell us his story and the story of those who served with him.

Other visitors wander through the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The statues are frozen in haunting poses. A pause for reflection: the cost of that war and the divided Korea today. A half a country free and the other half held in captive. Off to the side of the Mall, a chance encounter, I find the World War I Monument. Its dome so characteristic of the time. A few people stop, reading the plaque, but those who lived during that time are understandably absent.

I only have time to visit only one of the Smithsonian offerings. I decide on the American History Museum. Good choice. I find Dorothy’s shoes, science fiction computers, lunch boxes and Julia Child’s kitchen. The displays tell the history of life in America, our everyday activities, culture, style, machines, and even the discovery of the ever important light bulb. I pause. How would any of these inventions or our life style exist without the sacrifice of the American soldier?

The Cadet Prayer from the Program: In Remembrance of USMA Graduates of the Class of 1958:

O God, our Father, Thou Serarcher of men’s hearts, help us draw near to Thee in sincerity and truth. May our religion be filled with gladness and may our worship of Thee be natural.

Strengthen and increase our admiration for honest dealing and clean thinking and suffer not our hatred of hypocrisy and pretense ever to diminish.

Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with a half truth when the whole can be won.

Endow us with the courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy. Guard us against flippancy and irreverence in the scared things of life.

Grant us new ties of friendship and new opportunities of service. Kindle our hearts in fellowship with those of cheerful countenance, and soften our hearts with sympathy for those who sorrow or suffer.

Help us to maintain the honor of the Corps untarnished and unsullied and to show forth in our lives the ideals of West Point in doing our duty to Thee and our country.

All of which we ask in the name of the Great Friend and Master of men.

Psalm 23: Program Invocation:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; they rod and they staff, they comfort me. Thou prepares a table before me in the presence of mine enemies; thou annointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.