Friday 26th and Saturday 27th May 2022
Robert had not realised when he was planning this trip that we would be in Washington for the Memorial Day weekend. In fact, this proved to be a mixed blessing. The city was busy with visiting families but there were also activities and celebrations afoot along the National Mall and a stage had been set up in front of the US Capitol.
The many food and ice cream trucks ruined the views slightly.
Setting off to walk along the Mall to see some of the sights we first encountered the Eisenhower Monument which opened in 2020 and so has had relatively few visitors. A helpful gentleman started telling us how neglected it was and where the best place was to take photos. We were a little reluctant to engage with him in case he was trying to sell us something but when we realised he was one of the Memorial Day weekend volunteers, we relaxed.
At one end of the Mall, the US Capitol has a distinctive yet familiar outline.
Part way along, the 555 foot Washington Monument towers over the city.
It was some time in the planning.
The idea to erect a monument to Washington was agreed in 1783 but the design was not approved until 1847. In includes stone from all 50 states and the capstone was finally laid in 1884 over a hundred years after the original concept was agreed.
We assumed the flags were lowered in preparation for Memorial Day on Monday.
At the opposite end to the Capitol, is the equally recognisable Lincoln Memorial.
Robert had been told that the presidential helicopter would be undertaking training flights.
Between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial is the World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004. Fifty-six columns form a guard of honour around the site, representing the 48 states of the union during the war and the eight territories, including Alaska, Hawaii and the Philippines, they are arranged in the order in which the states ratified the Constitution, and admittance as a state or acquisition as a possession.
Robert decided to go low for this shot of the Lincoln Memorial.
This grand edifice was built to honour the man, known as the saviour of the Union, who guided the country through civil war and freed four million enslaved people only to be assassinated.
Matilda remembers the Vietnam war being reported on the news when she was young and Robert remembers watching M*A*S*H but being confused about where this was set. The conflict has subsequently been the subject of films and protest songs. Paul Hardcastle’s hit 19 memorably repeated that the average age of the combat soldier in Vietnam was 19. In WWII it had been 26.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial one of the volunteers was overheard saying that 61% of the US soldiers were 21 years old or younger.
The names of 58,318 Americans are listed chronologically by date of loss on the polished black granite wall. The National Park Service website explains that ‘the names of the first men killed (in 1959) start at the highest point of the wall, on the right arm, and continue toward the shorter end. The names resume on the far, short end of the left arm, continuing back toward the junction of the two walls. This way the first deaths and the last deaths (May 15, 1975) meet in the middle. Directories are placed near the wall for visitors to look up names.’
Volunteers were also there to help visitors to find the name of a relative and had paper available for a rubbing for people to take away with them if they wished.
It was moving to hear people recognising the veterans there by thanking them ‘for their service’.
This year the Wall of Poppies had been installed for the Memorial Day weekend. The Poppy Memorial is a wall of bright red poppies, installed to commemorate the American men and women who have died in uniform in the century since World War I.
In stark contrast to the huge monuments to the armed forces and past presidents, the Lock Keepers house was built in 1837 and used to be at the end of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal. It is now the oldest structure [and probably the most modest] on the Mall.
We had a distant view of the White House.
As this was the Memorial Day weekend, there were many veterans visiting the city and the Nam Knights were there in force. Motorcycle police were there to act as an escort and we discovered what time they would be leaving and stood to watch the cavalcade go by [see the in the video below].
We decided that the tail end had deliberately held back so that they could ride off at speed.
Due to the late arrival of our train in Washington, we had missed our film showing the day before but Robert had rebooked. So we went to rehydrate at the Hard Rock Café before seeing Top Gun: Maverick
The route to the cinema took us past Ford’s Theatre, the site of Lincoln’s assassination.
The original Top Gun film is Robert’s favourite and he has been waiting to see Top Gun: Maverick for many years having originally booked tickets to see it at the iMax in London for his birthday in 2021.
Robert was pleased to find he had reclining seats. The film did not disappoint: there were tears before bedtime.