The year I spent Memorial Day in Washington DC was one of the most memorable weekends I have ever had in my life. My kids were part of the Elmwood-Murdock marching band and participated in the annual Memorial Day parade. But, what meant more to me was being able to witness the outpouring of love, honor, and support for our military and having my kids be a part of the ceremonies. From marching in the National Memorial Day parade down Constitution Avenue to their school laying a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.
Every war memorial was decorated with flowers and tributes. I know this happens throughout the year, but on Memorial Day weekend the effect takes your breath away. Veterans and their families pour into the Washington area to participate in Rolling Thunder and for many this trip is a once in a lifetime destination.
I have visited the Vietnam Memorial during other times of the year, and although the wall speaks to you with with it’s design and overwhelming names on the wall of those veterans lost, on Memorial Day it’s different. The mementos carpet the wall and the surrounding memorials and cry out as if to say “Don’t forget me.” It is this outpouring of gratitude that stays with you for a lifetime and causes everyone to shed a tear or two.
Even the teenagers, far removed from Vietnam were quiet, respectful and introspective at “The Wall”. The men and women who died in battle were real, not only did they have names, but their friends and family were real and every memory from dog tags to a pair of boots, beer bottle, or letter touched an emotional nerve with the visitors.
Each veterans memorial in the Washington area has a different feeling and tone. The World War II Memorial is inviting and welcomes people is open, expansive, welcoming, and peaceful. Many people sit by the fountain to relax and even in middle of the massive pillars it’s a place that makes you smile instead of cry. It’s a memorial that celebrates freedom, recognizes triumph, and honors the heroes who served.
Memories of my Dad, who served on a Navy destroyer, in WWII came to mind. My son had lots of questions, of which I had very few answers. Since then I have learned more about his military record, but there are still many gaps.
I caught my youngest son standing and staring at the Wall of Stars and as a Mother who just had her first son graduate from Marine Boot Camp this scene was very poignant. Each gold star represents 100 servicemen and women who died, or are still missing in action in World War II. There are 4,048 gold stars on the wall. In my heart I was praying I would never be a Gold Star Mother. A year later my youngest son would join the Marines.
The entire trip it was almost as if my Dad was speaking to me and I half expected to see him as we turned the corner to the Korean War Memorial. This military memorial projected an almost reverent feeling, almost as ghosts of the past were walking out of the fog.
Again, more wreaths adorned the walkway and were placed on the walls, everywhere you saw tributes from people who just wanted to show their appreciation and thanks to our military for service to our country.
If you haven’t been to Washington DC during Memorial Day it is indeed an experience. There will be more people than you will ever encounter any other time. But it is well worth it. Make sure to take the metro into town and be prepared for a lot of walking. At my age I’m going to take a scooter, bike or a Segway tour. Well worth the money. Or maybe those rental bikes.
Have you ever been to Washington DC during Memorial Day? If so what is your favorite memory? Leave a comment below.
Memorial Day in Our Nations Capitol