Thursday, November 13, 2008

Veterans Day

At home, we have Remembrance Sunday; here, there is Veterans Day. The same thing, you might think, but after observing 11 November in DC I'd beg to differ. With many more recent veterans in the US than in the UK, the day has an immediacy that it can lack in Britain. Nowhere brought that home more forcibly than the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is unique among the many war memorials on the Mall for its simplicity and power. Perhaps understandably, it lacks the hubris of the World War II memorial, pictured above with its fountains galore; instead, the 58,000-plus names etched into the site's black granite walls, visible behind an appropriately solemn Louis, simply tell the story of war's futility.   

It must have been the Mom thing, because walking through the wreath-strewn memorial yesterday afternoon with Louis I couldn't help but hope fervently that somehow the President-elect can see a way to make good with his election promise and end the blood shed in Iraq. It's hard to believe that Bush, during the eight years he has spent in Washington, could ever have even visited the memorial if he thought that sanctioning the war was a good idea. The Mom thing meant I found myself worrying in case Louis ever had to - or wanted to - fight for his country. 

We missed the service proper to mark the day, but did catch an enduringly poignant Last Post being played at the Vietnam Women's Memorial (it gets an apostrophe, the Vets, apparently, don't). There is nowhere like Washington's Mall on 11 November. The memorials read like a roll call to battles past and draw a crowd commensurate as a result. While in Britain, it can be hard to spot a war veteran, here there is no such difficulty because men - and women - shout it out loud and proud, most obviously from their Vietnam Vets-branded baseball caps. And if you'd forgotten to bring one with you, then no worries: the souvenir carts lining the sidewalks along the Mall had plenty spare, plus Veterans Day caps, T-shirts, pins, flags and medals. After all, a federal holiday is not a holiday without a shopping opportunity. We left empty handed but with a better sense of America's recent history. Where will they put the Iraq Vets Memorial, I wonder? 

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