Washington D. C. 2nd time around

... "Freedom is not free"

by Jim Tierney

When we visited Washington a year ago, we said we have to go back to see things we didn’t see. After going back, we are AGAIN saying we have to go back to see the things we didn’t see. There is so much there, multiple visits are absolutely necessary to see it all. We found the security just as tight as before, not being able to get very close to the White House or Capitol, but we did manage to again see close-up other traditional sites like the Lincoln, Jefferson, and FDR Memorials, the Washington Monument, the Vietnam Wall, the Korean War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and Arlington National Cemetery. No matter how many times we see these memorials, there is always something new to reflect on. The words on the Korean Memorial, “Freedom is not free” is very moving and emotional when we think of what the COST of freedom has been in all the wars.

The World War II Memorial was not quite finished on our last visit, officially opening on Memorial Day, 2004. Another example of “Freedom is not free” with 400,000 killed in a war that spanned six of the seven continents and all the oceans, with a total of 50 million killed. The Freedom Wall has 4000 gold stars, each star representing 10,000 killed in action. Called the Greatest Generation, 16 million served in World War II. There is an Atlantic and Pacific Pavilion representing the theaters of war and a column for each of the 56 states and territories, lined up in order of admission to the Union. Inscriptions included “not to conquer but to liberate a world fast falling to the forces of tyranny”-----“our goal is liberty and justice for all”.    

The Holocaust Memorial Museum was visited this time and put what happened more vividly in perspective for us. From 1933 to 1945, Nazi Germany’s government led by Adolph Hitler promoted a nationalism that combined territorial expansion with claims of biological superiority — an “Aryan master race”— and virulent anti-Semitism. It was driven by a racist ideology legitimized by German scientists. The Holocaust was a state-sponsored, systematic persecution of European Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators. Jews were the primary victims with six million murdered. Roma (Gypsies), people with disabilities, and Poles were also targeted for destruction or decimation for racial, ethnic, or national reasons. Millions more, including homosexuals, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Soviet prisoners of war, and political dissidents, also suffered grievous oppression and death under Nazi tyranny.

Entering the Permanent Exhibition of the museum, we were given an identity card with a picture and biographical profile of an individual who lived through it to help personalize the history. The graphic pictures and exhibits were beyond comprehension. The actual railroad car to transport victims and the ovens were displayed, as well as the bunks built for one individual but housed five or six. A large bin contained thousands of shoes. This museum clearly depicts the enormous
cost to the peoples of Europe and emphasizes even more that freedom is not free.

Not to be confused with the “old” National Air and Space Museum on the National Mall whose main attraction is Lindbergh’s “Spirit of 76”, the new facility, named the National Air and Space Museum’s Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center, opened in December, 2003 near Dulles Airport in Northern Virginia and will ultimately house more than 200 aircraft and 100 space artifacts. To put its size in perspective, the old Museum contains about 10 percent of the aviation and space collection, and among the aircraft is the B-29 Super fortress Enola Gay that dropped the first atom bomb and the Air France Concorde. The Space Shuttle Enterprise is the centerpiece of hundreds of space artifacts on display.  

To make it easier to relate to the museum, it is organized into thematic stations. The themes are --- Business Aviation, General Aviation, Commercial Aviation, Sport Aviation, World War II Aviation, Korean Conflict and Vietnam aircraft, Cold War Aviation, Modern Military Aviation, Space Hangar Preview, Pre-1920 Aviation, Vertical Flight (in progress). These themes further indicate the mammoth size of this facility. It has the largest collection of historic air and spacecraft in the world and, also, a vital center for research into the history, science, and technology of aviation and space flight. Reflecting on the Enola Gay and its impact on the outcome of World War II, the cost in Japanese lives further proves that freedom is not free for the Japanese as well as the rest of the world.

Another highlight of this trip was a luncheon cruise on the Potomac. While dining, we revisited the Washington Monument and Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials from a different angle, as well as the Kennedy Center, Watergate, Washington Harbor, and Georgetown.      

Along the route we picked up some items of interest.

--- The Washington Monument, the tallest all-masonry tower in the world, was built in stages, started before the Civil War, stopped because of lack of funds, and finished in 1885 AFTER Washington died. Even though they used the same quarry, a different color is obvious one-third of the way up. The exterior marble is from Maryland, the interior granite is from Maine, and the interior stone steps were donated from all the states.

--- The statue at the top of the Capitol is called Statue of Freedom. It is 20 feet tall, 3 feet taller than expected, requiring revisions to the Dome design.

---Flags flying on the Capitol denote the Senate on the left and the House on the right, are 8 by 12 feet and are flying 24 hours a day.

--- The Senate Building has a tram underground to transport Senators quickly to the Capital when a vote is called for.

---The term “lobbyist” came from the famous Washington Hotel Willard where President Grant went for a drink at the Willard Bar occasionally and was ambushed by representatives of special interests. The exasperated Grant said he was “lobbied by every highbinder with an eye to a government contract or project”.

---Constitution Ave. was originally Tiber Creek, and later Washington Canal. Tolls were collected along the canal and some of the toll houses remain there today—Washington has 600,000 permanent residents and increases to two million with the working population.

---FDR wanted a simple statue engraved simply with “in memory of”. He got four outdoor “rooms”, one for each term in office, spread over 7.5 acres. The memorial took so long, a sculptor was retained to comply with FDR’s wishes. A simple statue of FDR in a wheelchair with a simple engraving still sits on the sidewalk in front of the National Archives on Pennsylvania Ave.

Visiting Washington is always a humbling experience. We have our own individual feelings and reactions to all the memorials but we can’t help feeling grateful and indebted to those who made it possible for us to live in freedom. We leave there as proud Americans, knowing very clearly that “Freedom is not free”.  

August 5, 2005

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