Going Places Educational Travel Blog - 3 Must-See Sights in Washington, DC
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November 14, 2017

3 Must-See Sights in Washington, DC

By Kathleen Mueller


The weekend before Veterans Day, I had the unusual opportunity to travel to our nation's capital, something I had (believe it or not) never done before. Yes, I've been all over Europe, yet never had been to our own capital! Until now.

My friend and I spent all day Saturday seeing the sights including the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, the National Museum of African American History, and The White House (from a well-secured fenced area across the street, of course).

As a World War II buff, because of my love of history, and because my own parents were part of The Greatest Generation, I was most intrigued by the war memorials commemorating World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War. 

These three sights in Washington, DC should be on every traveler's must-see list!


Washington DC Korean War Memorial

1. Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial and its slogan 'Freedom Is Not Free" is one of the most lifelike and stunning tributes to our war heroes. The memorial includes 19 stainless steel sculptures, representing soldiers from each branch of the U.S. Armed Forces. Each statue weighs 1,000 pounds, and if you look carefully at their reflection on the granite wall beside the monument, the number 19 appears to be doubled to 38. This number represents the 38th Parallel -- the line that divided North and South Korea during the war. 

Visitors place memorial wreaths at the granite wall that holds the statement "Freedom Is Not Free", a statement that signifies how much American soldiers sacrificed to keep our freedom whole while embroiled in an overseas war.

Similar to the Vietnam "wall" (see below) the nearby Pool of Remembrance includes a list of soldiers wounded, killed or missing in action, and prisoners of war during the Korean conflict. 

Former servicemen are often seen visiting these memorials, and it can be incredibly emotional to see these men pay their respects and gain some closure and recognition for the sacrifices they made in service to their country.  


Washington DC Korean War Memorial

Korean War Memorial


 Washington DC Vietnam War Memorial

The three statues of "just regular guys" -- at the entrance to the Vietnam War Memorial

 2. Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In the 1960s, when I was growing up, my eldest brother served in Vietnam; and so did some of our friends and neighbors.

The most moving and emotional part of my recent visit to DC was the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Firstly, the statue of three young men at the entrance to the memorial was a powerful reminder that "I knew those guys". These were men my brother's age. Guys I knew. The statue, aptly named "The Three Servicemen" (aka "The Three Soldiers") so accurately depicts them, I stopped in my tracks and began to cry in front of the statue.

Once we gained our composure, we asked a park ranger to explain to us about the names on the Vietnam memorial "wall". The names appear in chronological order by the date that the soldier was "lost to us". A cross beside the name indicates that the soldier was Missing in Action. If a diamond is super-imposed over the cross, it means that the soldier was missing in action originally, but his remains were since recovered at some point in time, and he was declared deceased. A diamond beside the name means that the soldier was Killed In Action. Only eight women are named on the wall. In order for visitors to search for a specific name, there are two printed directories where names are listed. Many visitors will "rub" their loved one's name on the wall by taking a piece of paper and rubbing crayon or graphite over the name. The day we visited, the park rangers were actually doing this themselves based on a number of requests. It was fascinating to watch.

As if all of this was not emotional enough, as we made our way over to the World War II memorial, we witnessed one of the most emotional things I've ever seen in my travels. A group of Vietnam Veterans from Ohio were visiting DC that day, and were being honored with a round of applause from regular bystanders as the veterans made their way, some of them wheelchair-bound, into the memorial area. Whenever we could, we spoke to a few of them and thanked them for their service, between tears pouring down our faces. These are gentlemen who you see every day, in every community in this great country. These men are your neighbors, your co-workers, your friends. You see them in the grocery store, filling their cars at the local gas station, at the bank, on the beach, living their lives. Because... they returned home. When you thank them for their service, you can tell they are not exactly comfortable hearing how we feel about them, they will nod, they'll say "You're welcome" or sometimes just smile. They are our greatest heroes.


Washington DC Vietnam War Memorial

Only a small section of the wall of names of those lost in the Vietnam War



Washington DC WWII Memorial

The World War II Memorial and its fountains


3. National WWII Memorial 

My father served in WWII as a sergeant and wrote a series of letters to my mother from 1942-1945. I treasure those letters as one of my most prized possessions, my parents now long gone themselves. My father served with the 15th Army in England, France, Germany and Belgium. His unit was the very last unit to leave Europe after the war ended, and they were also the last to serve under General Patton. My dad's unit was responsible for post-war intelligence, under Patton's direction, which continued long after V-E Dayand after all the other soldiers had gone home. 


Washington DC WWII Memorial

World War II Memorial



Washington DC WWII Memorial Greatest Generation

They were dubbed "The Greatest Generation" by NBC News anchor and journalist Tom Brokaw, because the young people who served during WWII also grew up in The Great Depression. To endure both of these monumental moments in history (and most of them vowed to never talk about it much) is a testament to their strength, determination and perseverance. The bronze bas relief sculpture above*, part of a larger pictorial series at the WWII Memorial in DC, depicts typical young people of the 1940s WWII era. In the middle is a couple doing "The Jitterbug" a popular dance of the time. To the right is a depiction of a young couple hugging near a U.S. Mail box. Soldiers wrote home to their wives as often as possible, and the wives saved the letters. Mail was an integral part of the World War II experience, by young people serving overseas in Japan and Europe, and by those waiting at home for their safe return. Today, many people, like me, have those letters because the young brides preserved and kept this part of history -- perhaps knowing some day the younger generations would discover them in the back of closets and hope chests, the way I did when cleaning out my parents' home. (*Specifically, this particular panel is on the "Pacific" side of the memorial, and commemorates V-J Day (Victory-Japan Day) when the Japanese and American governments officially agreed to end the war.) 

The World War II Memorial, the Vietnam War Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial are just three of the 380 parks managed by the National Park Service. Park rangers take care of these parks, and help preserve our national heritage so that we never forget.

On Veterans Day, and every day,....honor our heroes -- thank a veteran for their service! 

Freedom Is Not Free!





 All photographs courtesy of Kathleen Mueller
Category: For Teachers, Travel Inspiration


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