by Carl Michaletz, ’13
Over the course of this trip, our group had the privilege to visit many monuments and memorials. While all of these monuments were powerful and moving, it became clear that not all monuments are created equal. The 9/11 memorials at the Pentagon and Flight 93 and the World War II Memorial in Washington, DC illustrated these different ways to make a memorial.
The 9/11 Memorial at the Pentagon had a very hopeful message of perseverance and focused more on life than death. The memorial was on the side of the Pentagon that was struck by the plane, and it was filled with trees and other flowers. Benches represented each person killed by the terrorists, and under each bench there was a small stream of water. The side of the Pentagon that was struck was obviously rebuilt. The water and greenery around the benches made this a much more hopeful monument than the Flight 93 Memorial. While it may seem like a minor detail that the Pentagon was rebuilt, it is significant because this rebuilding was a testament to American perseverance. It showed that we would not be intimidated. This memorial celebrated the lives of the victims of 9/11, sending a message of hope to those who visit.
The Flight 93 memorial had a very different, much darker tone. The dark walkways with deliberate, slashed lines presented a bleak message to visitors. Not bleak in the sense that America was intimidated, or that there was no hope, but bleak insofar as it recognized that the very spot where we stood was where more than thirty heroes lost their lives in the defense of our nation’s capital. Nothing was romanticized. The walkway to the list of names was a quarter of a mile long, and the names were printed simply on white concrete. Very simple, yet very powerful. While the crater that was created by the impact was filled in, the hemlock trees that were damaged by the impact have not been replaced and remain damaged. This is very different than the Pentagon memorial as it made the September 11th attacks more real and tangible to visitors. It was a solemn remembrance of the heroic actions of the victims aboard Flight 93 and their ultimate sacrifices.
The World War II memorial combined the solemn nature of Flight 93 and the hopeful message of the Pentagon into a memorial commemorating victory. It very much romanticized the actions of the soldiers who fought and of those who lost their lives (in a positive way). The quotes on the walls of the memorial spoke of individual heroism and the sacrifice of the American soldiers in Europe and the Pacific. Each state received a memorial monument commemorating the soldiers from that state. For me, the most powerful part of the memorial was a wall of 4,048 stars called “The Price of Freedom.” Each star represented 100 American servicemen who died or were missing during the war, with the total being 405,399 dead or missing. While this number is incredibly high and demonstrates the bravery and heroism of hundreds of thousands of soldiers, the total that died during the Civil War was upwards of six hundred thousand. The World War II Memorial was a somber representation of the heroic actions of the men in Europe and the Pacific.
Viewing these three memorials was a great addition to our Civil War adventure. The wars and attacks that these monuments represented defined their eras, much like the Civil War defined the latter stages of the nineteenth century. These memorials made us reflect about wars and conflicts, and they set us up for Manassas, Antietam, and Gettysburg. The stories of individual heroism reminded us of our study of heroes like Barton Mitchell and Jerome Watrous. Each of these memorials was distinct. Each was important. They were all powerful.