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Memorials

In May I visited Washington, D.C., along with 150 electric co-op leaders from Kentucky. We met with senators and representatives, telling them where electric co-ops stand on several legislative issues. (For more on the meetings, see “Co-op Postcard” in the Commonwealths section.)

One evening I took my exercise jog along The Mall—that strip of grass and gravel paths stretching the two miles from the Capitol to the Lincoln Memorial. I planned to turn around at the newly opened World War II Memorial.

As I neared the hill to the dominating spire of the Washington Monument, a khaki-colored security fence blocked the way. Tall as a basketball player, the barrier ringed the large city block where, on last year’s congressional visit, I saw the field dotted with people flying kites and flinging Frisbees. I know that walling off those grounds makes sense. That signature on the Washington skyline would surely make a tempting terrorist target. But this kind of change I can’t seem to learn to love.

I detoured to the large, bowl-shaped pavilion commemorating WWII. Its plainness disappointed me at first. The pillars, blocks, and columns display workmanlike quotations about the success of the war efforts and recognitions of battles and participating countries and states. A bank of 4,000 gold stars represents the more than 400,000 Americans who died in the war. Still, it seemed to lack the heroism of the Iwo Jima flag-raising statue, the humanity of the soldiers stepping through the Korean commemorative, or the reflective effect of the Vietnam Wall. But maybe this more traditional style mirrors the unflashy, matter-of-fact traits attributed to The Greatest Generation that rose from the Great Depression to defeat tyrannical threats across both oceans.

Then I noticed the walkways around the central fountain busy with groups of that generation, and younger generations, huddling, talking, and exploring. The mood combined the noisy exuberance of the kids who run up and down the Lincoln Memorial steps, and the hushed voices that seem appropriate for the Vietnam Memorial.

But the location struck me most. A half-mile west you plainly see the strong, bunker-like Lincoln Memorial anchoring The Mall. Turning east, your eyes travel up the rocket-like column of the Washington Monument. That view revealed the secret of the place. It invites you into the middle of the symbols of our nation’s events and leaders, and asks you to figure out how they all connect. I finally decided the WWII Memorial is a profound and fitting tribute to its heroes and their accomplishments.

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