Three memorials at west end of the Capitol Mall in Washington, D.C., have had a long-lasting effect on me. I had seen a multitude of photos and countless numbers of television clips about them, but it wasn’t until I approached them in person that they had their intended impact, just as they do to most others who visit there.
In the Lincoln Memorial, the seated president’s gaze is both penetrating and compassionate. The Vietnam Wall thunders although it rises from the earth in silence. However, the Korean War Veterans Memorial haunts me, even months after my visit. It is stark, and the soldiers depicted are so lifelike that you feel the cold they suffered through in that dark time. There are 19 statues in the memorial. They’re made of stainless steel and they’re all gray, which furthers the illusion of bitter cold. They were sculpted by Frank Gaylord, a Vermont artist. Each stands about 7-foot-3, and they represent a cross section of the military branches and an ethnic mix of the men who fought there.
The figures are surrounded by juniper bushes, meant to symbolize the rugged terrain of the Korean battlefields. The granite stripes inlaid in the ground represent the obstacles they had to overcome. Some of the soldiers wear World War II equipment because that was the military issue when the Korean conflict started. They are all partially covered by ponchos that are not only historically accurate, but also create a sense that the entire column is moving toward some unknown target.
What I found most impressive were the eyes. They look directly into your soul, and they speak to you and they ask you if this sort of madness will ever end.
The memorial can be viewed almost any time because they’re illuminated at night with a special white light that brings out the finer details of the sculptures. And, according to some, it also brings out the ghosts.