|My Washington, D.C., vacation trip|
|Sunday, November 10, 2013 9:00 PM|
BY ANGIE WIECHART
For as long as I can remember, I wanted to visit Washington, D.C., to visit all of the memorials such as the Vietnam Wall, Iwo Jima (United States Marine) memorial and Arlington National Cemetery, just to name a few. Many of the senior classes from my high school traveled to Washington, D.C., on their senior class trip. Unfortunately, my class and three classes ahead of mine were denied the trip to Washington, D.C., for reasons that I don’t know about.
My father was a Vietnam War veteran and I was hoping to get to go to Washington, D.C., with him and my mom as a family. Unfortunately, he passed away before we had that chance.
About two years after my Dad died, I was given the opportunity to visit Washington, D.C.
As we drove in, I could see from the road the famous Iwo Jima (United States Marine) Memorial statue. We learned at the hotel that we could sign up for a night tour of Washington, D.C., to see all the memorials. It was amazing to see all of these beautiful memorials. It was amazing to see all of these beautiful memorials lit up at night. The best one to visit at night would be the World War II because of the lights reflecting off of the water and just knowing that this memorial was in honor of the Greatest Generation. We didn’t get back to our hotel until about 10-10:30 that evening, exhausted but excited. What a great start to the trip.
The next day we woke up early and got ready to head into the city. Our hotel was only about a 10-minute walk to the Iwo Jima Memorial. When I saw this huge bronze statue, it almost took my breath away. The Iwo Jima Memorial is the world’s largest bronze statue and depicts one of the famous photographs in history — that of the six brave young soldiers raising the American Flag at the top of a rocky hill on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, during World War II. I learned from our tour the night before that if you start at the front of the statue and walk around to the back you could see the flag being raised up. As I walked all the way around, on the right side of the statue I saw an inscription that read: “Uncommon valor, was a Common Virtue.” I felt that this was something our military men and women still carry with them today.
Finally, we made it to the city and instantly went to the Vietnam Memorial area. The first thing I saw was the bronze statue of the three soldiers that represented the three main races of Americans that served during the Vietnam War. While I was looking at the statue, three men walked up that I instantly knew they were Vietnam veterans. As I was watching and admiring in awe of these three that served our country with pride, they did something that took my breath away. Each man walked up to the statue, rendered a hand salute and then turned away slowly with tears in their eyes.
To the left of the statues was a small memorial that many people do not know of, unless they are one of the many Vietnam veteran families that are affected by it. This is the monument that is there to honor and remember all of the Vietnam veterans that were able to return home but later died as a result of service-connected illness or injury from their time in service. I knelt down by this memorial and gently pulled out a beautiful red rose from the bouquet we brought. I placed the rose by the memorial in memory of my Dad, who died two years ago due to esophageal cancer and complications from Malaria that he had contracted while serving in Vietnam.
We slowly walked up the path to the Vietnam Wall, determined to find the name of my dad’s war buddy. The whole time looking at these names I was thinking “Why?” There are over 50,000 names on that black granite wall. Over 50,000 young men that lost their lives too soon in the most controversial war in this country’s history. Then I thought about all of the men who came home to a country that turned its back on them. These brave men at the time were just young men. Many of these men were spat on and called baby killers because they only did what their country and government asked them to do. Many but not all of these men were mentally scarred for life after the way they were treated when they came home from the war. Still many of these men would go back to serve our country again for our freedom, if ever called upon again. My dad said that he would go back again in a heartbeat if ever needed to keep our country’s freedoms.
Finally, after what seemed like forever we found his name: William H. Thigpen. This man served alongside my dad during the war. William was killed a day or two before he was able to return home. I knelt down and placed the red roses under his name. I stood up and gently placed my hand on the hot, black granite wall next to his name. I saw my own reflection bouncing off the wall staring back at me. Then all of a sudden a gentle breeze broke through the hot, humid day and moved my hair and sent a sense of peace through me. I knew at that instant that my dad and William were both with me at that moment. As mom and I turned to walk away from the wall, I remembered something my dad said many times to me, “The heroes of the war were the men that did not come home, Did Not Come Home. The names of over 50,000 young men on that black granite wall at Washington, D.C., are the true heroes of the Vietnam War”.
All I could think of after that was “Dad now I know, now I understand what you meant by saying the 50,000 names on the wall being the heroes of the war. Your friend William was one of the heroes of the war, but you will always be my hero for the person that you were, how you treated everyone you met and everyone around you. Everyone including myself respected you for who you were and how you respected others. You still are a hero for what you gave for us and this country and paying the ultimate price, for serving many years later You are and always will be my hero; I love you and miss you every day.”
The last place we went to before going back to the hotel was Arlington National Cemetery. To finally get to see this hallowed and sacred ground is beyond what words can express. As we walked into the cemetery all I could see was white, marble tombstones everywhere. Too many of our young men and women have lost their lives to war. There are funerals held everyday at the cemetery. I could hear the “pops” from the rifle fire from the firing party of a funeral taking place. I could also hear “Taps” faintly being played in the distance. That hollow sound of “Taps” sent chills down my spine and will always cause tears to roll down my face. We talked to a man that worked at the cemetery; he informed us there were 22 funerals that took place on that day.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier was also very neat to see. The tomb guard will always have my respect for the job that they do so well. It could easily be seen how these men take their job as a tomb guard very seriously. They were so precise on how they clicked their heels and how their rifle always remained on the shoulder farthest away from the tomb. These men kept guard over the tomb during Hurricane Sandy and on 9-11 when he Pentagon was hit by the plane; They remained at the tomb doing their duty. As we left the cemetery I realized once again that freedom is not free. Every day, someone is paying the ultimate sacrifice to keep this beautiful country free
The trip to Washington, D.C., was an incredible experience and one that I won’t soon forget. I hope to go back again sometime, maybe if my dad gets inducted into the In Memory Program that the Vietnam veterans Memorial Fund holds. This program honors the veterans that died from an illness that was a result of the Vietnam War, but whose deaths do not fit the criteria to be included on the Vietnam Wall. The In Memory Program honors the sacrifices these veterans and their families made. Each year on Flag Day, they honor these fallen veterans and their families at the In Memory Day Ceremony. Only time will tell if this is a possibility. Until then I will always be proud of my dad for his service to our country and I will always remember and keep him in my prayers and all of the men and women who are still fighting to keep us free.
God Bless them all and God Bless America!