Part of my job here in Washington, D.C. at the moment is taking middle schoolers to our national monuments and memorials. As I walk them through the sites, I am reminded of how powerful our history is, how far we have come, and how many have fallen to protect us. It’s easy to forget everything that has been sacrificed to give us the protected and bountiful life that we have today. We visit most of the major memorials and monuments: Lincoln, Vietnam, Korean, MLK and FDR. For this segment, though, we’ll just focus on what the tourists call the “Big 3”: the Lincoln Memorial, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, and the Korean War Memorial.
For me, someone who studied these wars in school but doesn’t really have any personal connection to them, the Civil War, the Vietnam War and the Korean War… it’s easy to forget how many people lost their lives and how significant the wars are in how we live our lives today. Of the three, I’m probably most conscious of the Civil War, having studied it extensively in US History classes. The Vietnam War next, because of all the protests and such associated. But I have to admit (and I’m ashamed to say) that I know very little about the Korean War. I’ve learned so much from teaching others about the monuments, and so much about what I do not know, what I want to learn. Almost as many people died in the Korean War as in Vietnam, but we do not remember that war. Do you know that even in the war-focused exhibit at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, the Korean War is only granted one wall of space, while the Vietnam War is granted a large exhibit space? It is no wonder that there are conflicts we do not remember.
Many of our soldiers who have made the ultimate sacrifice rest in peace at Arlington National Cemetery, a short Metro ride away from the national monuments and memorials, and definitely worth a trip. The next time you find yourself in DC, stop by to honor our soldiers. It’s a powerful experience for you, and not necessarily a solemn one, but don’t forget why you’re standing in front of that stone.