Monday is Memorial Day in the United States. It is the national holiday when Americans honor the military men and women who died in battle. Visitors to Washington, DC, can see four major memorials to these men and women. I'm Shirley Griffith. And I'm Sarah Long. The story of Washington's war memorials is our report today on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.
That music is called "Taps." It is played at military funerals to honor soldiers who have died. The sound of Taps is being heard at cemeteries throughout the United States as America honors its war dead.
The Memorial Day holiday started in Eighteen-Sixty-Eight. The purpose was to honor soldiers killed during the Civil War between America's northern and southern states. Back then, the holiday was called Decoration Day. People used flowers and ribbons to decorate the burial places of those killed during the war. Today, Memorial Day honors the men and women who died in all of America's wars.
The first yearly observance of Memorial Day was at the National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia. The cemetery is across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C. It is the largest and most famous national burial place in the United States. It includes about two-hundred hectares of rolling hills. Up and down the hills are lines of simple, white stones marking the graves where the soldiers are buried. About two-hundred-thousand soldiers are buried there. They include military and political leaders, cabinet officers, and Supreme Court judges.
Only two American presidents are buried at Arlington National Cemetery. One is William Howard Taft. He was president in the early Nineteen-Hundreds. The other is John Kennedy. He was president in the early Nineteen-Sixties. He was murdered during his first term in office. A fire burns all the time over President Kennedy's burial place. More people have visited his grave than any other in the United States.
Memorial Day ceremonies also are being held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington. The ceremonies honor Americans killed in fighting in Vietnam. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was the idea of Jan Scruggs. Mr. Scruggs fought in Vietnam. After the war, he was deeply troubled. He and others felt that American soldiers killed in Vietnam had been forgotten. So, he organized efforts to build a monument to honor them. He wanted to put on the monument the name of every American who died or was missing in the Vietnam War.
In Nineteen-Eighty, a group of former soldiers announced a national competition. The veterans' group invited American artists to create a memorial to help unite the nation after the Vietnam War had divided it. Eight famous designers and artists were the judges. They judged more than one-thousand-four-hundred designs. They chose the design of Maya Lin. Ms. 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 memorial opened in Nineteen-Eighty-Two.
The two black stone walls are set into the earth. They are about seventy-six meters long. They form a wide letter "V". As you walk down into the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the walls rise above you. Cut into the walls are the names of the fifty-eight-thousand-two-hundred-twenty-nine Americans who died or are still missing. The names are listed in the order that the soldiers died. Those who died together are remembered together.
Nearby is a statue of three soldiers. They seem to be looking at the wall of names.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial has become one of the most-visited places in Washington. About one and one-half million people visit it every year. People who go there experience powerful emotions. Many say it has become almost a holy place.
Almost any time of day, you can see people standing at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial wall. They are looking at the name of a family member or friend who died in Vietnam. Some reach out and touch the name. Some put a piece of paper over it. They rub the paper with a pencil so the name on the wall appears on the paper. In this way, they are able to take part of the memorial with them.
The success of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial influenced veterans of the Korean War to press for a memorial of their own. Congress approved the idea. In July, Nineteen-Ninety-Five, the Korean War Veterans Memorial opened. It is near the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. It honors the men and women who served, and those who died, in the Korean War from Nineteen-Fifty to Nineteen-Fifty-Three.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial has several parts. The war has been called "the last foot soldier's war." So, the memorial includes a series of nineteen statues of soldiers, walking. Artist Frank Gaylord created the statues from steel. Each is more than two meters high. The soldiers seem to be moving up a hill toward a large American flag.
On one side of the memorial is a stone walkway. It shows the names of the twenty-two countries that sent troops to serve in Korea under the United Nations command. On the other side is a shiny stone wall. It shows images of more than two-thousand-four-hundred support troops. These include nurses, cooks, and truck drivers. The faces were reproduced from photographs taken during the war.
The last part of the memorial is the round Pool of Remembrance. The pool shows the number of American and United Nations forces who died, or who were wounded, captured, or missing in the war. The number totals more than two-million. Cut into the wall above the pool is the simple yet powerful message: "Freedom is not free."
The newest war memorial in the Washington area has a long name. It is called the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. It is very different from the other war memorials. It recognizes the service of all the women who served in all of the nation's wars. One-million-eight-hundred-thousand American women were part of the country's military forces. Former President Ronald Reagan signed legislation in Nineteen-Eighty-Six to honor American women in the military.
A retired air force general, Wilma Vaught, was chosen to lead the effort to build the memorial. The memorial took eleven years to build. It cost more than twenty-one million dollars.
The women's military memorial opened in October Nineteen-Ninety-Seven. It is near the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia. Michael Manfredi and Marion Gail Weiss designed the women's memorial. It is a place of glass, water and light. The memorial has a large wall that is shaped in a half-circle. In front of the memorial, two-hundred jets of water meet in a pool. The designers say this water fountain celebrates the combined strength of many individuals.
Inside the memorial, the stories of women in wartime are cut into glass panels. The memorial also has information about military women on a computer. It includes names, pictures, service records and personal statements of about two-hundred-fifty-thousand military women.
General Vaught says it was important for women in the military to be honored because their efforts have not been recognized. She says the Women in Military Service for America Memorial will help tell a story that has never been told before.
(MUSIC: THE MARINES' HYMN)
This program was written by Shelley Gollust. It was produced by Caty Weaver. Our studio engineer was Efim Drucker. I'm Sarah Long. And I'm Shirley Griffith. Join us again next week for another report about life in the United States on the VOA Special English program, THIS IS AMERICA.