In this part of the country Memorial Day marks the unofficial start to summer, with neighborhood pools opening and grills being fired up for the first time since winter. But we also take time to remember and honor those who lost their lives serving our country.
One of the most iconic monuments in the D.C. area is the Iwo Jima Memorial, which actually is located in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from the Lincoln Memorial, which you can see in the background.
Its official name is the Marine Corps War Memorial, but it depicts the taking of the island of Iwo Jima during World Word II. This is how the National Park Service website explains it:
The tiny island of Iwo Jima lies 660 miles south of Tokyo. Mount Suribachi, an extinct volcano that forms the narrow southern tip of the island, rises 550 feet to dominate the ocean around it. US troops had recaptured most of the other islands in the Pacific Ocean that the Japanese had taken in 1941 and 1942. In 1945 Iwo Jima became a primary objective in American plans to bring the Pacific campaign to a successful conclusion.
On the morning of February 19, 1945, the 4th and 5th Marine Divisions invaded Iwo Jima after an ineffective 72-hour bombardment. The 28th Regiment of the 5th Division, was ordered to capture Mount Suribachi. They reached the base of the mountain on the afternoon of February 21 and, by nightfall the next day, had almost completely surrounded it. On the morning of February 23, Marines of Company E, 2nd Battalion, started the tortuous climb up the rough terrain to the top. At about 10:30 am men all over the island were thrilled by the sight of a small American flag flying from atop Mount Suribachi. That afternoon, when the slopes were clear of enemy resistance, a second, larger flag was raised by five Marines and a Navy hospital corpsman: Sgt. Michael Strank, Cpl. Harlon H. Block, Pfc. Franklin R. Sousley, Pfc. Rene A. Gagnon, Pfc. Ira Hayes, and PhM. 2/c John H. Bradley, USN.
Not just a monument to that event, the memorial is inscribed to honor all marines.
In honor and in memory of the men of the United States Marine Corps who have given their lives to their country since November 10, 1775.
A less well-known monument is the Navy and Merchant Marine Memorial, also located on the Virginia side of the Potomac River.
I’ve always admired the beauty of the sculpture–seven gulls soaring over a cresting wave–and didn’t realize it was a monument until we ventured up to it on a recent bike ride and saw this inscription.
To the strong souls ready valor of those men of the United States who in the Navy & Merchant Marine and other paths of activity upon the waters of the world have given life or still offer it in the performance of heroic deeds this monument is dedicated by a grateful people.
Of course, nothing is more moving than visiting Arlington National Cemetery.
Every time I see those grave markers stretching across the rolling hills, my heart swells with gratitude and sadness for all those who gave their lives so that we can enjoy the freedoms and rights we have as citizens of the United States of America.
Even though Memorial Day is for remembering those who gave their lives, I’d like to share this prayer from the Book of Common Prayer “For those in the Armed Forces of our Country”:
Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
How are you observing Memorial Day?