We walked the National Mall today. The whole thing. From the Smithsonian to the Lincoln Memorial down and around the Jefferson Memorial and back to the Smithsonian. It was a big walk for these old legs and it was rainy, windy and cold. I'm so glad I did it, too because it was one of the most humbling and moving days of my life. Beav and I saw all of the memorials and I cried at three of them. Which is sort of melodramatic and ridiculous because I've never lost a family member to war. My late uncle was a decorated WWII soldier, my cousin was married to a medic in Vietnam, I have multiple cousins who were in the service, my ex brother-in-law ran the officer's club in Germany in the late sixties (Hooah!). So it isn't like my loss is extreme. I can't imagine the emotions running through people as they saw this and there were people looking for their loved one's names and they wept and prayed over them. There were too damned many names:
If that wasn't enough we stumbled onto the Korean memorial and the artist explicitly depicts a look of betrayal and loss in each of the statue's eyes.
But more evocative is the wall running along the statues with faces which aren't visible until you are very close. At first I wasn't sure I was seeing faces and I thought it was an optical illusion but then I stood very close and I could see the faces which still weren't really clear until I reviewed today's pictures and they are very clear. You only notice them later in the form of memory. Which is exactly how we have noticed the Korean veterans. But they are from the generation that survived the Great Depression and later watched older brothers march off to WWII so it wasn't like them to speak up and say they suffered in Korea and didn't come home whole. It is perhaps the most poignant statement I've ever seen in a work of art. Our shadow veterans.
By this time on our long long walk in the rain, I'm trailing behind the Beav because I'm about to cry and I don't want to embarrass or upset him. Again, I've not lost anyone to war and I barely remember Vietnam. We are plodding along the path when I see a cluster of people gathered and it took a minute for me to realize why they were stopped: The Vietnam's Nurse's Memorial. As crazy as my calling can make me, I am deeply proud to be part of this brave sisterhood and I remember how hard women fought for this memorial to be a part of the National Mall after they have been passed over for medals time and time again. I urged the Beav to follow me as I almost break to a run. I was wet and I was cold and the urge to just find a cab and go back to our hotel was strong but I was graced with standing next to a memorial for my sisters who volunteered to fight in a war most didn't understand and many protested. Aesthetically, the bronze statue is unspeakably beautiful and the tenderness of the nurse's touch is unmistakable. The artist gets to the heart and art of being a nurse. I felt the tears well up and spill onto my cheeks, Beav wasn't sure what the statue was all about and I tearfully explained to him it was hard fought but a well deserved tribute to nurses in war. He had the good sense to walk ahead of me while I sobbed on the path behind him. Had I been alone or with TG, I would have sat on the bench and wept for all the lives lost and the disrespect and discount of the sacrifices made. I doubt I would have been so brave to fight in a misunderstood war. Or any war for that matter.
It was a memorable day.