Snapshots by Gloria Freeland - Nov. 11, 2004

A time to remember

A recent trip to our nation's capital with Uncle Stan and Aunt Kay underscored for me the importance of Veterans Day. Stan, who served in the South Pacific during World War II, had planned to attend the May dedication ceremonies of the memorial in Washington, D.C., but opted to wait until the crowds thinned out. It was a whirlwind trip, but we packed a lot into our three-plus days there in October.

Although both Stan and Kay are in their early 80s, I had to practically run to keep up with them. When Stan is on a mission, there's no slowing him down.

When we reached the World War II Memorial, I took a photo of Stan at the entrance marker. Then we walked to the Rainbow Pool and central fountain, where I took more photos. Two main pillars - representing the Atlantic and Pacific theaters - stand at the ends of the pool. Fifty-six smaller pillars representing the U.S. states and territories during World War II are lined up along the edges.

From the central fountain, we walked to the Pacific Pavilion. At its base were the names of the locations where our veterans served. I asked Stan to sit beside the New Guinea and Buna inscriptions since he was at both. Kay and I took pictures of him and then I asked another visitor to take a picture of the three of us.

When we were done, a man asked if he could take Stan's picture because his Dad had also served in the South Pacific.

"Should I take my hat off?" Stan asked.

"No," the man answered. "You remind me of my Dad. He wore a hat like that."

After taking the photo, the man told Stan his father had died the previous year.

Scenes such as that played out during the entire day. Veterans explained to family members where they served, veterans talked with each other about their experiences, and tourists became hushed when they passed the Freedom Wall and Field of Gold Stars, which honors the 400,000 Americans who lost their lives.

Kay took a photo of Stan and me beside the Kansas pillar since he was a Kansas farm boy when he entered the service in 1943. When we passed the Wisconsin pillar, we saw that someone had draped a U.S. flag and left a photo of a young serviceman on its ledge.

Similar mementos were left at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, where several people were making "rubbings" of names etched on the black wall. Wreaths, notes and carnations were placed along the base of the wall, symbols of love for those who were lost.

A navy blue hat had these hand-written words, "To Robert Hugh Weston. Our first day in Vietnam you lost your life, but you will never (be) forgotten. 199th Brother Greg DeMalle.."

Ghostly faces of those who served in the Korean War were etched in the wall at that memorial site. Visitors gently touched the faces and wondered aloud how the photographs were processed to make those images.

Even those lost in our nation's most-recent war were honored.

Hundreds of flag-draped cardboard coffins were lined up along the edges of the Reflecting Pool that runs between the World War II and Lincoln memorials. One of the people organizing the placement of the coffins explained that they represented the some 1,100 Americans killed in Iraq. The haunting song "Ashokan Farewell," the theme from Ken Burns' 11-hour Civil War documentary, was playing over loudspeakers nearby.

Remembering our veterans will take on a national aspect this week. Across the country, in small towns and large cities, we will honor our veterans with parades, prayers and patriotic music. The nation's tribute to its war dead - symbolized by the laying of the presidential wreath and a bugler sounding "Taps" - will take place today - at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month - in Washington, D.C.

"Taps," which can be traced to the Civil War, is a sad, but peaceful melody. Although several verses have been created to go with the music, the following fits well with today's ceremonies:

"Go to sleep, peaceful sleep,
May the soldier or sailor,
God keep.
On the land or the deep,
Safe in sleep."

Aunt Kay, Uncle Stan and I at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C.
in October 2004. Stan served in the South Pacific during the war.

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