Memorial Day: Honoring America's War Dead
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Welcome to THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English. I’m Faith Lapidus.
And I’m Steve Ember. Memorial Day is a national holiday observed on the last Monday in May. Memorial Day honors the men and women who have died in military service to the United States.
This week on our program, we describe several military memorials that people often visit when they come to the nation's capital.
Part of the tradition of an American military funeral is the playing of a bugle call known as taps. On Memorial Day, taps is played at military burial grounds throughout the country.
Many cities and towns hold Memorial Day parades in which soldiers march. These parades also include high school marching bands and local leaders.
Many events will honor members of the armed forces now in Iraq and Afghanistan. This year, observances in San Francisco, California, and other places will also honor those killed in World War Two. This year is the sixtieth anniversary of the end of the war.
And, for San Francisco, this is the one hundred thirty-seventh Memorial Day observance.
Memorial Day honors those who died in all of America's wars. But the holiday began as a way to honor soldiers killed during the Civil War between the North and the South. On May thirtieth, eighteen sixty-eight, flowers were placed on the graves of Union and Confederate soldiers at Arlington National Cemetery.
Today, more than two hundred sixty thousand men and women are buried there. Some fought in the Revolutionary War in the seventeen hundreds. The eighty-hectare cemetery is in Arlington, Virginia, across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C.
Up and down rolling hills, lines of simple white headstones mark the graves.
Others buried at Arlington National Cemetery include government officials and Supreme Court justices. Presidents John F. Kennedy and William Howard Taft are buried there.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the idea of a former soldier named Jan Scruggs. He fought in the Vietnam War. The war ended in nineteen seventy-five. Many soldiers came home only to face the anger of Americans who opposed the war. So Jan Scruggs organized an effort to remember those who never returned.
In nineteen eighty, a group of former soldiers announced a competition to design a memorial. The winner, Maya Lin, was twenty-one years old. She was studying architecture at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut. She designed a memorial made of two black stone walls.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial opened in nineteen eighty-two.
The black stone walls are set into the earth. They are about seventy-six meters long. They meet to form a wide V. Cut into the walls are the names of more than fifty eight-thousand Americans killed or missing-in-action.
Nearby is a statue of three soldiers. They are looking in the direction of the names. Another statue honors the service of women in the war.
Now there are plans for an underground educational center. It will inform the public about the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam War.
Each year about one-and-a-half million people visit the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It is one of the most-visited places in Washington.
Almost any time of day, you can see people looking for the name of a family member or friend who died in Vietnam. Once they find it, many rub a pencil on paper over the letters to copy the name.
After the success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Congress approved a memorial to veterans of the Korean War. The Korean War Veterans Memorial opened in July of nineteen ninety-five near the Vietnam memorial.
The Korean War lasted from nineteen fifty to nineteen fifty-three. The memorial honors those who died, as well as those who survived.
The memorial includes a group of nineteen statues of soldiers. These soldiers appear to be walking up a hill, toward an American flag. The Korean War has been called "the last foot soldier's war."
Artist Frank Gaylord created the statues from steel. Each is more than two meters tall. People who drive along a road near the memorial sometimes think the statues are real.
On one side of the Korean War Veterans Memorial is a stone walkway. It lists the names of the twenty-two countries that sent troops to Korea under United Nations command. On the other side is a shiny stone wall. Sandblasted into the wall are images from photographs of more than two thousand five hundred support troops.
The last part of the memorial is the Pool of Remembrance. This round pool shows the numbers of American and United Nations forces killed, wounded, captured or missing. The total is more than two million. Cut into the wall above the pool is a message: "Freedom is not free."
One of the least known memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., is often called "The Temple." It is a round stone structure, partly hidden behind trees. It honors troops from the District of Columbia who died in World War One.
It was completed in nineteen thirty-one. John Philip Sousa led the band at opening ceremonies for the memorial.
In nineteen eighty-six, President Ronald Reagan signed legislation to honor women in the military. Since nineteen ninety-seven, a memorial near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia has done just that. It is called the Women in Military Service for America Memorial.
It recognizes the service of all the women who have taken part in the nation's wars. More than two million women have served or currently serve in the armed forces.
Michael Manfredi and Marion Gail Weiss designed a place of glass, water and light. The memorial has a large wall shaped in a half-circle. In front, two-hundred jets of water meet in a pool.
Inside the memorial, the stories of women in wartime are cut into glass panels. Information can also be found by computer. There are names, pictures, service records and personal statements of about two hundred fifty-thousand military women.
In Washington, the newest major memorial is the World War Two Memorial. It rises between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument on the National Mall. America entered the war after Japan bombed the Navy base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, on December seventh, ninety forty-one.
Sixteen million men and women served in the American military between nineteen forty-one and nineteen forty-five. More than four hundred thousand died.
The World War Two Memorial stands in the open air. It is built of bronze and granite. In the center, at ground level, is a round pool of water. Except in very cold weather, water shoots from a circle of fountains in the middle.
When the sun is just right, rainbows of color dance in the air. Fifty-six stone pillars rise around the pool. These represent each of the American states and territories, plus the District of Columbia, at the time of the war. On two tall arches appear the names of where it all took place. One says Atlantic; the other says Pacific.
Many older men and women who served during World War Two visit the memorial. One visitor, a former Navy man, once said: "The only good thing about my fighting in the war was that I was too young to be terrified."
In nineteen eighty-six, Congress approved the idea for another memorial on the National Mall. This one is to be called the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial. The purpose is to honor about five thousand slaves and free black people who fought for American independence.
The Black Patriots Foundation has been collecting money to build the memorial. Its Web site says nine-and-a-half million dollars is needed by September fifteenth, or the group will lose control over the land.
Our program was written by Jerilyn Watson and produced by Caty Weaver. I'm Steve Ember. And I'm Faith Lapidus. Our programs are online at voaspecialenglish.com. And our e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org. Please join us again next week for THIS IS AMERICA in VOA Special English.