The summer 2015 class of Newsmax interns hit the streets of Washington, D.C., to explore, report, and learn. This series features a look at D.C., including monuments, memorials, and museums, through the eyes of a Millennial.
Lying between the memorial commemorating America’s founder, George Washington, and preserver, Abraham Lincoln, sits the World War II Memorial, which remembers all those involved in the war, from the soldiers and afflicted nations to the women working in the factories.
To a 20-year-old, World War II is an atrocity read about in textbooks. Most have met or may have a family member who is a Holocaust survivor or who fought for their country, but still, an American in their 20s cannot fully understand the weight of a war that completely consumed even domestic life in our country.
While standing on the monument’s eastern pavilion recently, 25-year-old Amanda McDougal said one word came to mind.
“I think that bold is a really strong word and something that is strong and unshaken. This is going to be here for a long time. It’s going to be a reminder, hopefully forever, for the future generations of what happened,” she told Newsmax.
More than one generation separates McDougal and her peers from those who fought in WWII.
“It was before my generation too,” said Michael Tikunoff, 53, who lost a great uncle who fought overseas. “I have a great deal of respect for those who died for all of us and the causes we fought for as a nation."
The bronze and granite memorial erected in 2004 is both large and ornate. The structure exudes a sense of permanence. The monument’s 4,000 stars, each of which signifies 100 fallen Americans, portrays the permanence of death; the bronze images along the entrance show the permanence of war; the four bronze eagles signify the permanence of the country; and, most notably, the 56 pillars connected by a bronze rope show the permanence of the unity of the United States.
Though most 20-somethings born and raised in America today cannot first-handedly understand the permanency of the sacrifice and unity of World War II, the memorial’s inscriptions provide a simple explanation for why the monument must be as permanent as its message:
“Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned out undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.” — President Harry S. Truman, 1945
The memorial commemorates an era in which all Americans felt the war. In addition to the losses and struggles military families endure in every war, women left their traditional domestic roles and headed to the factories, families rationed food and gathered metal for the war effort, and children practiced hiding under their desks in fear of a foreign attack.
“This monument is dedicated to them, they gave the ultimate sacrifice and they didn’t try to evade what was going on, fulfilling what this country required of them,” Adrian Raines, 55, said while standing on the memorial’s Atlantic Pavilion recently. Raines, whose father fought in World War II, told Newsmax that the memorial represented “the thousands of men and women who valiantly died to protect the peace of our country, and actually, the peace of the world.”
Like the monument’s pillars, American citizens united together to aid their government in the war. That kind of widespread and unwavering commitment to country is almost inconceivable in the short lifespan of a 20-year-old today.
While there are countless young Americans who show the deepest levels of patriotism, it is hard to imagine those who chose to participate in the step-on-the-American-flag social media “challenge” that swept across Millennials’ newsfeeds earlier this year paralleling the patriotic unity and commitment that World War II memorial commemorates.
The “Eric Sheppard Challenge” prompted American college students
to post pictures and videos of themselves stepping on the American flag to protest race relations. The social media trend’s namesake, Eric Sheppard, started the “challenge” after Georgia authorities discovered he had a gun at a Valdosta State University anti-flag protest.
The irony of the “Eric Sheppard Challenge” shows how some have drifted away from the unfaltering unity and patriotism of the World War II era that the memorial aims to immortalize.
“It’s a piece of the whole story,” McDougal said of WWII.
And the part of the story the memorial tells is not one that can be fully understood simply through textbooks.
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