An update from Sara, a sophomore majoring in English and public relations with a minor in History. She is a Dedman Scholar and a Second Century Scholar:
How strange it is, the tension between past and present that a memorial offers simply by existing. Monuments are always seen in real time, but for some reason echoes of the past rush to the forefront of our memories even as we stand before them. I have never felt the collision between history and my present more strongly than at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The World War II Memorial stands forebodingly between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, simple and complex at the same time. So many textbooks go on about the bronze depictions, the state wreaths, the fountain, and their interpretive meanings. But somehow, black ink on a page simply cannot capture the presence of a memorial.
The timing of our visit to the memorial coincided with a service for some of the living World War II Veterans, and I couldn’t look at them without remembering my great-grandfather, who fought in France during World War II. His service had an enormous impact on my entire family, even today. Though he passed away a few years ago, I still have memories of him sitting around at holidays, laughing and talking, and I wonder what he would have said if I had taken the time to ask him his story. Instead, all I know is what his paper documents reveal to me and the few stories that he willingly passed along to family members. Upon seeing the service at the memorial, I couldn’t help but remember my great-grandfather. In fact, I could almost see him in the faces of the gentlemen posing for pictures in front of the fountain. The sheer power of that moment rather overcame me, and I felt the need to do something. I couldn’t describe what — only that the power of the cold stone memorial, combined with the living, breathing faces of war veterans and the memories I have of my great-grandfather overcame me in that moment.
I had to do something, rather than just take pictures. I walked around the memorial, stopping when I crossed paths with any of the veterans. It wasn’t much, but I shook their hands and thanked them for their service, which was something I never thought to do for my great-grandfather. A trip to the Registry Kiosk to search for one “Daniel Moczygemba” was also in order. Upon finding that he wasn’t in the registry, I started gathering information to put in the system.
They were simple actions, which might not have meant a single thing had I done them at any other time. For some reason, at that moment, the memorial became less of a physical object, more of an intangible force. The faces of bronze soldiers on the walls became those of the men I could see around me and in my memory, producing a strange blend of reality and perception. One in particular showed an American soldier leading a Jewish man, fragile and emaciated, out of a concentration camp. Around me, people walked by, glancing at it and moving on, as if it was a tiny glitch in the great timeline of their lives. But I balked and zeroed in on that single drawing. Was that what my great-grandfather saw? How did he feel? The horror I experienced even seeing a replica couldn’t be nearly as much as that produced by the real thing.
Looking back, I see that little piece had the same effect as the entire memorial. Sticks and stones can’t recreate a moment in history, nor can they accurately convey reality. But the creation of an interpretive memorial is the closest we can come. When I look at the Washington Monument, I see nothing but a stone obelisk, acting as a symbol of patriotism due to social construction, rather than personal interpretation. On the flip side, the World War II Memorial possesses something different. There are interpretive elements that bring it to life, and because of that, a strange sort of ripple effect occurs. For just a moment in time, two paths collide — two generations, young and old — and the spirit of liberty and patriotism can shine through. The solemn combination of bronze and stone brought back memories for me, intertwining my personal history with our nation’s, and it gave me the courage to approach people that I have never met before, a skill I find quite difficult at times. Perhaps its impact on me can’t change the course of history, but it was obvious that the memorial did exactly what it was supposed to do: intertwine past and present to capture the essence of humanity in the best way we know how.