Thursday, May 24, 2007

An early Memorial Day run.

Memorial Day came early for me this year. At noon yesterday M and I took a run down the Mall in honor of the sacrifices others have made for us all.
We left the Federal Triangle and ran west down Constitution Avenue. Soon we were running by the Ellipse in front of the White House where there's a memorial to the Second Infantry Division. It honors the service in WWI of the AEF (Allied Expeditionary Force) sent "Over There" to help reeling Britain and France defeat exhausted Germany in that bloodletting. More than 50,000 doughboys didn't return. The Indianhead Division also engaged in combat in WWII from D-Day to VE day and served in Korea.
A little further on we walked by the Vietnam Wall, with its stark reminder of the terrible price of war. Over 58,000 names lie silent and immobile on its polished ebony face, a roll call of slain youths in the order they departed from us.

After running by the head of the reflecting pool, where Martin Luther King, Jr. gave his I Have A Dream speech a few years before his death in the Civil Rights struggle, and past the Lincoln Memorial, honoring the president who lost his life in overseeing the shockingly costly internecine war that extirpated the stain of slavery from our land, we walked by the Korean War Memorial. It depicts a group of wary soldiers moving forward or backward in that back-and-forth war that established the furthest reaches of our Cold War influence and crystalized our strategy of containment.

Next we walked through the glen containing the District of Colmbia WWI Memorial. Although hidden away and largely unknown, it is a tall, handsome marble memorial with the names of the DC residents who served in that conflict written across its base.

A short while later we walked through the imposing WWII Memorial. We stopped by the Pacific fountain at one end of this polarized memorial and paused at the names written into its base of the two horrific battles my father took part in, Peleliu and Okinawa.

Advancing to the Atlantic granite column, I silently reflected on the service done by a friend's father with whom I had recently spoken. He had modestly told me about his participation in D-Day and the Battle of the Bulge as part of a tank destroyer unit. Both of these great battles were etched in stone on this side of the memorial. "From Long Island to Gay Paree, leaving broken French hearts in my wake everywhere," he laughingly said. Have you spoken meaningfully with a WWII veteran about his or her service recently? Better hurry.

Next we ran by the Washington Monument, the towering obelisk honoring the man who sacrificed for years in holding together the rag-tag Continental Army which eventually defeated the mighty British in the Revolutionary War and which was the midwife assisting our nation's birth.

As we ran, M and I talked about what we knew of the service of our forbears in WWII . I related the little I knew about my father's service in his two terrible battles in the Pacific.

I have an uncle who was a shipboard Marine directing AA fire, and he earned a bronze star for his service during his day of hell on earth. After a fast-carrier fleet strike on Tokyo, the fleet retired to safety out of range of land based Japanese planes during the following night. They left behind a disabled carrier, escorted by my uncle's ship and one other light cruiser as it limped away at a few knots an hour. At daylight, the crews of these three ships grimly commenced upon their terrifying day of sacrifice for us as all day long they fought off Japanese planes roaring in at treetop level to strafe and bomb the three beleagured ships.

I had another uncle who saw service with the Army in the Philippines during combat operations there. I had yet another uncle who flew a B-25 bomber in the Mediterranean Theater during the war. My children's Grandmother had a brother who was in the Coast Guard on June 6, 1944, running troops to shore in an LST on that that harrowing day in Normandy. According to her, death strode easily into his boat on D-Day and seized a machine-gunner, who was shot to death right next to her brother. God bless. No war ends until the last mother dies who had a child killed in that conflict.

M had some interesting stories to share. While his mother is American, his father is German. His American grandfather was too old to be in the service. His German grandfather was older as well but he was drafted late in the war and assigned to garrison duty in Greece. When the war ended, he attempted to make his own way back to Germany. He was captured in Italy by the Italians and held as a POW for several years on an island near Sicily. It apparently wasn't too bad for him because he often went back to Italy on vacation after that.

M's German grandfather had a brother who was a Luftwaffe fighter pilot on the Eastern front until one foggy day he flew his plane into the side of a mountain while flying over the Carpathians. M's father remembers being in bomb shelters as a child while American bombers plastered the rural German town he lived in which had a munitions plant.

Forty-two minutes, 3.8 miles, eleven-minute miles including our respectful walking tours. It was a non-stop, reflective homage to the sacrifice of others, compressed into a scant noon hour. This is what running in DC can give to you.

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