The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., honors the 16 million who served in the armed forces of the U.S., the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home.
Following a national design competition, architect Friedrich St. Florian’s design concept was selected for the National World War II Memorial. Consisting of 56 pillars and a pair of small triumphal arches surrounding a plaza and fountain, it sits on the National Mall, between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument.
Fifty-six granite pillars celebrate the unprecedented unity of the nation during WWII. Each state and territory from that period and the District of Columbia is represented by a pillar adorned with oak and wheat bronze wreaths and inscribed with its name; the pillars are arranged in the order of entry into the Union. The pillars are connected by a bronze sculpted rope that symbolizes the bonding of the nation.
Two 43-foot pavilions serve as markers and entries on the north and south ends of the plaza. Inlayed on the floor of the pavilions are the WWII victory medal surrounded by the years “1941-1945” and the words “Victory on Land,” “Victory at Sea,” and “Victory in the Air.” These sculptural elements celebrate the victory won in the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters.
The Memorial plaza and Rainbow Pool are the principal design features of the Memorial, unifying all other elements. Two flagpoles flying the American flag frame the ceremonial entrance at 17th Street. A series of 24 bronze bas-relief panels along the ceremonial entrance balustrades depict America’s war years, at home and overseas. Located at the 17th Street ceremonial entrance, the Announcement Stone of the Memorial says the following:
HERE IN THE PRESENCE OF WASHINGTON AND LINCOLN, ONE THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY FATHER AND THE OTHER THE NINETEENTH CENTURY PRESERVER OF OUR NATION, WE HONOR THOSE TWENTIETH CENTURY AMERICANS WHO TOOK UP THE STRUGGLE DURING THE SECOND WORLD WAR AND MADE THE SACRIFICES TO PERPETUATE THE GIFT OUR FOREFATHERS ENTRUSTED TO US: A NATION CONCEIVED IN LIBERTY AND JUSTICE.
The Memorial was funded primarily by private contributions. It received more than $197 million in cash and pledges. This total includes $16 million provided by the federal government. The memorial is a monument to the spirit, sacrifice, and commitment of the American people to the common defense of the nation and to the broader causes of peace and freedom from tyranny throughout the world.
Recently I joined Ambassador Geoffrey Pyatt, his family and an audience of over 10,000 on Independence Square to watch the World Breakdancing Championship. Sponsored by Burn Battle School, hundreds of young Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls “battled” (competed) in four categories: best youth b-boy, men’s, women’s and team or “crew.” I was blown away by the popularity of the event and amazed at the skill level of the Ukrainian breakers. Even more impressive was that, although competition was fierce, the atmosphere was positive — even festive — a bit like watching a college football game in my native Ohio.
Because our Embassy was one of the event’s sponsors, the Ambassador awarded the first place prize in the youth category. The winner was a 10-year old dancing tornado from Kyiv: Andrei Kirilin. Taking first was no small feat on Andrei’s side. The youth division included kids as old as 16, and many of the contestants were almost twice Andrei’s size. But in breaking, where preparation, innovation and speed trump strength, “Davids” often best “Goliaths.” Andrei’s victory was a testament to years of training and the support of his studio, Kinder Crew of Kyiv. Backstage, many of Andrei’s Kinder Crew friends were there to support him along with older b-boy mentors, coaches, and family.
Hip-hop and, by extension, breaking, has always faced an up-hill battle in the image department, partly due to a “gangster” motif that has eclipsed other aspects of the movement, and partly due to misconceptions of what b-boying is really about. If my experience on the Maidan showed me anything, it is that breakdancing can set a positive example for young people in Ukraine. No matter how hard two “crews” “ battled”, and no matter the color of their skin or where they were from, when the music stopped and the winner was announced the competitors always came together in the center of the stage, shook hands, embraced and showed signs of mutual respect.
These positive aspects are in keeping with breaking’s American roots. When it emerged from New York’s boroughs in the 1970s, break dancing’s “street” status meant there were no coaches, teams or leagues. For an aspiring b-girl or b-boy, getting in was easy but getting good was hard. You had to learn from somebody. Talk to any accomplished “old” b-boy or b-girl about how they learned and they will smile and rattle off the names of the best b-boys in the previous generation: people who inspired them, took them under their wing, and invited them to join a “crew” that could help them reach the next level. “Each one teach one” is a quiet mantra in breakdancing that still holds true.
Perhaps no other crew has internalized “each one teach one” like Seattle, Washington’s Massive Monkees Crew. Our Embassy was proud to support them as our country’s entry in the Burn Battle School’s team competition. As dancers, Massive Monkees have won at the highest international level. But what sets them apart is how they have parlayed that success into opportunities for their community, and particularly for the next generation. One example is their Extraordinary Futures NGO, which uses dance to teach self-discipline, boost confidence, and broaden the horizons of at-risk kids. In recent years they have even used city support and crowd sourcing to turn their Seattle dance studio, aptly called “the Beacon,” into a community center complete with afterschool programs, toddler dance classes, music and art. No wonder the Mayor of Seattle created a “Massive Monkees Day” in their honor.
Massive Monkees brought this spirit of civic activism with them to Kyiv. Over the course of three days they taught classes, visited summer camps, hosted hip hop films, judged dance contests and performed for thousands of young Ukrainians. They talked about breakdancing’s celebration of diversity and demonstrated its ability to break down barriers and to build young people up. But Massive Monkees weren’t alone in delivering this message. Their trip was supported by a national network of Ukrainian crews and dance studios. At each event they were joined by veteran Ukrainian b-boys and b-girls who shared their own experience with the younger kids or were there as chaperones, trainers and mentors.
In the end, one can say that this year’s Burn Battle School was a success because hundreds of kids competed and thousands more came to watch. But what is more important is that it proved that breaking is alive and well in Ukraine. Clearly, local b-boys and b-girls have developed a thriving community that stretches from Kyiv to Sevastopol, Lviv to Lutsk ….And that’s a good thing.
My first 4th of July celebration I marked in Washington D.C. with all its festivities, grandness, and thousands of people who came to participate and observe. The parade on Constitution Avenue was a picturesque kaleidoscope of American history and American heroes. All participants were dressed up in costumes to represent various important events in U.S. history, and in between the historical personas high school music bands and orchestras entertained the crowd. Thousands of tourists with cameras, alongside TV journalists, were filming the procession. The parade started at Capitol Hill and continued to the White House, thus representing the importance of two major pillars of U.S. Independence. Like everything else in the American capital – the parade was well organized, supported by dozens of police officers, rescue and ambulance teams.
I spent my second 4th of July celebration in Annapolis, a little Maryland town just outside of D.C. This one was totally different, but at the same time quite an entertaining experience. The city of Annapolis’s parade was a true tribute to city heroes and city residents. The police chief, fire brigade, city mayor, zumba class for senior citizens, and high school dancing group were all marching down the main city street dancing, playing music and giving out sweet treats to little observers. The atmosphere of joy and festivities was definitely welcoming and cheerful. The parade continued on to the yacht club, where everyone could enjoy a beautiful water view. Later in the evening under the sunset light, the Marine Academy orchestra was in full swing. People were laughing, dancing, eating ice cream or simply enjoying the beautiful melodies under the darkening skies…it was hard not to fall under the 4th of July celebration spell. I fully immersed myself into the spirit and shared the tremendous pride and joy that Americans have for their country and fellow countrymen. It’s impossible to describe how different people, often total strangers, are unified by a strong feeling of pride for America, American people and American Independence.
September 11, 2001 is one of those days in history that all of us remember in detail. I was the U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania at the time and had gone back to Washington to participate in a meeting at the White House between Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus and President George W. Bush. I had spent a very nice weekend in suburban Virginia with my daughters, Christine and Cathleen. Monday morning at 8:00am I went in to the State Department to prepare for that afternoon’s meeting with the Presidents. At 8:46am the first plane hit the North Tower of the World Trade Center. Someone in the Office of Baltic Affairs turned on the TV shortly afterward and we watched live as the second plane crashed into the South Tower of the World Trade Center at 9:03am. When the second plane hit and it was clear this was a terror attack and not an accident, my first reaction was, “Oh my God, my daughter in New York City!” My eldest daughter, Christine, lived in an apartment due west of Manhattan in Brooklyn, just one or two blocks off of the East River. She had returned to New York on the train late Sunday night. Her daily commute on the subway normally brought her right underneath the World Trade Center on her way to her law office in Midtown. Thank God, I was able to get through to her on her cell phone. I was never so happy that she kept lawyers’ hours, going into work a little bit later than most people, but of course working late every night. Had she gone just a little bit earlier she could have been on the subway when the towers crashed down. Christine told me that the smoke blowing west from Manhattan to Brooklyn was already so thick that she had to put towels underneath her doors and windows to keep the room from filling with choking smoke.
During this time, after the second plane hit in New York City, I was also able to call my younger daughter, Cathleen, who lived in Virginia and then talk to my wife, Mariella who had remained in Lithuania. I told her we were all safe in the United States. Mariella told me that she had been the first at the Embassy in Vilnius to learn of the tragedy. She had turned on the American Forces Network to watch the news and had been shocked to see what was happening. She then alerted other embassy families and the Chargé. She was very worried about all of us. Soon after calling my wife, the phones started going down. I could not reach my daughter in New York any more. Thankfully, I had been able to confirm everyone’s safety. I know many other families who were unable to communicate with their loved ones and who spent many frightening hours before they were able to get through.
Not long after making these phone calls, we heard and felt an explosion, the third plane crashing into the Pentagon at 9:37am. I immediately told everyone around me “it’s time to get out.” This was a terrorist attack in Washington. We were locking things up and preparing to leave, when the alarm sounded to evacuate the building. The word came down that we should try to get home. I was staying two blocks away in a hotel. I went back to my room and watched TV for hours mesmerized like everyone around the world by the horrible things I saw. Continue reading “9/11 Eleventh Anniversary: 11 Days of Remembrance. Day 11.”→
I could barely make out what the announcer was saying on a quiet radio in a noisy coffee shop when I heard the first reports of the September 11 terrorist attacks. Something about a plane hitting the World Trade Center and there being a fire. Those first reports on radio were not delivered with much urgency, as many assumed as I did that one of the many small tourist planes and helicopters that flew around Manhattan had been involved in an accident. I left the shop on Connecticut Avenue near the Van Ness-UDC Metro station and walked on toward Howard University Law School, more curious than alarmed. As Trade Policy Officer in the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, I was one of the Department’s main liaisons to the Free Trade Agreement negotiations between the United States of America and the Republic of Chile, which were beginning their second day of a week of talks hosted at the university.
When I arrived in the front lobby of the building where the negotiating groups were meeting, my colleague, Chris, asked me if I’d heard the news – a second plane had just hit the other tower. We immediately looked at each other and simultaneously uttered the same two words: “Al Qaeda.” One plane could be an accident; two was an attack. We had served together a few years earlier in Bosnia, while the war’s devastation was still fresh and violence still reared its head; and we were still there during the NATO action against Serbia in defense of the Kosovar Albanians. As we stared at the small black and white screen of the TV in the security guard’s booth and saw the Twin Towers burn, it felt like we were suddenly back in that element. And the news started to report a plane striking the Pentagon in DC, with at least one other plane in the sky still unaccounted for, possibly headed our way. There were even rumors of a car bomb at the State Department, although these soon proved to be false. As we prepared to head over to the lead negotiator’s room to decide whether to send everyone home, the guard announced that the South Tower had just fallen. Two months earlier, I’d stood there with my wife, her parents, and her nephew. Now it was gone.
The talks were cancelled for the day, with everyone fearful of what might come next. Another plane aimed at DC? Bombs or other attacks planned for the Metro? As government buildings in DC were ordered to evacuate and people told to go home, businesses and schools did likewise, and Howard U went along with this, so that talks could not have continued even if we’d wanted; and no one did. We soon learned that the day was already considered a dark one for Chileans, being the anniversary of General Augusto Pinochet’s 1973 military coup against President Salvador Allende. Many on the delegation were among those whose families had been in exile or suppressed during Pinochet’s 15-year dictatorship. Their sense of isolation from the families thousands of miles away in Santiago was acute. Our first concern as their hosts became to help them return to their hotel in a city where the Metro was considered a possible target for more attacks, taxis were not available, and most workers were evacuating. We rounded up enough cars among the US negotiators with some difficulty (many, like me, had ridden Metro that day) and managed to return them to their hotel before heading home ourselves. Chris gave me a ride most of the way to my apartment in Foggy Bottom, ten blocks from the White House. Virtually all traffic was going the other way.
My wife was home when I arrived and we spent much of the next couple hours glued to the TV and trying to call friends in New York City to make sure they were all right (it would be three days before I heard that my friend who worked in the World Trade Center had left her job a couple weeks earlier). We also fielded countless calls from friends and family around the United States and from Europe, all wanting assurances that we were OK. Mobile phone service was down most of the day, with the circuits overwhelmed by callers seeking news of loved ones. We finally decided we needed a break and went for a walk through Georgetown, Foggy Bottom, and over to Memorial Bridge, where we could see the smoke rising from the nearby Pentagon. The streets were mostly deserted, almost like on a snow day. Almost. It struck us immediately that there were armored military vehicles and soldiers with weapons on most intersections. Once again I had this feeling of displacement, as though I’d been transported back to the streets of Bosnia and Herzegovina in the 1990s. It was clear that the world had just changed for the United States of America.
We resumed trade negotiations with the Chileans at Howard the next day. What else could we do? Life had to go on and their delegation was stuck there, as all airports remained closed for the next few days. I had planned to host the Chilean delegation on behalf of the State Department as a Baltimore Orioles baseball game during the week, but all cultural and sporting events were canceled during those early days, so they were deprived of that distraction. In the end, I got a refund from the Orioles and we provided them with a tour bus and tickets for the National Aquarium in Baltimore so they were not stuck mired in their anxiety in the hotel. That weekend, the Chilean delegation was among the first to fly out of Washington Dulles International Airport. Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (much closer to the city) remained closed for weeks; I was among those to land there in the first days it reopened, coincidentally returning from Chile, and the place was like a ghost town, mostly deserted.
Washington remains a changed place since September 11, with greater security in most government and other public buildings, but we have fortunately moved past the uncertainty and fear that gripped so many those first days and in the weeks and months that followed. Gone are the frequent announcements of heightened security alerts, reports of anthrax mailed to government offices, and fears of riding the Metro. Bin Laden is dead. But people don’t forget that the United States cannot consider itself untouchable. And as we complain about how unpleasant airport security has become, thanks to September 11 and those terrorists who have attempted to add to its legacy, we know there is no return to the easier times of September 10, 2001, and before. I feel fortunate that my family and friends were not among the thousands of victims that day, but each year at this time I remember my sorrow for all those who were lost and my gratitude to the Chileans for being there, our duties as their hosts giving us no choice but to go on.
The morning of September 11, 2001, began like many. I was a bit late to work at the Commerce Department in Washington, DC, so I hurried to my desk a bit after 9:00. After I started to check my e-mail and get ready for the day, the office windows rattled with the sound of a distant explosion. Of course, I didn’t think it was anything to worry about – maybe falling cement at a nearby construction site, or cannons from a White House ceremony. In those days, there was nothing to prepare us for the thought that this could be the sound of nearly two hundred lives being snuffed out in one part of the largest ever terrorist attack on U.S. soil. It was simply not imaginable.
I kept working until one of my colleagues came in, visibly shaken. She said that a plane had hit the World Trade Center in New York, and that there was an attack on Washington. Then my phone rang. It was my wife, calling from her office in a building on the other side of the White House. She said that her organization was being evacuated, and that we should all get out. We agreed to find each other on the street outside of her building by Lafayette Park, directly across from the White House. By then, thousands of people were streaming out of the Commerce Department building onto the street. The rumors among those leaving were incredible, but no one knew what to believe. I heard that there was a car bomb at the State Department, then someone said that the New Executive Office Building had been bombed. The last rumor hit me particularly hard, as I knew that my wife was working in the building next door.
I tried to force my way through Lafayette Park, which was being closed off by security officials. By the time I made it to the place my wife and I had agreed to meet, the streets were crowded with so many thousands of people that finding any one person would have been impossible. The look on faces in the crowd showed me that the situation was serious, and that no one was convinced that the attacks were over. I wandered on the street for the next few hours, scanning the anxious faces hoping to catch a glimpse of my wife. With cell phone service down and no working pay phones, I went back to my office and reached my wife, who had made it home with a colleague. I then got on a city bus to get home – a twenty minute trip that took about four hours in the traffic, confusion, and chaos of that day.
When I arrived at home, the elation of seeing my wife turned into a depressed fascination with the news, still unable to process the enormity of what had just happened to our nation. Like so many Americans, we were glued to the television. Now my generation had its own Pearl Harbor, its own day of infamy. And as we went to bed, we knew that we now lived in a more dangerous world than we had woken up in that morning.
Although other territories became states after Washington, we were the limit of the contiguous United States. No one goes through Washington and decides to stop there, we are the end of the continent, the north western limit of the United States. The people who settle there always mean to go there. We are a land of individualists and pioneers.
The state is divided down the middle by the Cascade Range, part of the Pacific “Ring of Fire.” Mt. St. Helens, Baker and Rainier are all semi-active volcanoes. It is not impossible to stand on a rural road and see a “Tsunami evacuation route” sign pointing inland and a “Volcano evacuation route” sign pointing towards the coast. East of the mountains is dry, flat and brown. Most of the United States’ apples, potatoes, cherries and peas come from there. While nowhere near as fertile as Ukraine, the vast irrigation and power projects of the 1930s transformed the land from a high desert to a bountiful garden. That is also where the Hanford Nuclear Reservation is, one of the world’s oldest nuclear research sites. The moist air of the Pacific Ocean sweeps across the swamps and coastal plains to run into the Cascades. There it dumps large amounts of rain. It does not rain all the time in Western Washington, but it is gray and cloudy almost year round. In fact it rains over three meters a year in the Hoh Rainforest of the Olympic Peninsula, the wettest place in all of North America!
Over the years Washington has given the U.S., and the world, many iconic companies. Boeing, the inventor of the first widely successful jet plane for commercial use, Weyerhaeuser, one of the world’s largest timber companies, Microsoft and Nintendo, Amazon and Starbucks. Together, Seattle and Tacoma are one of the busiest ports on the West Coast, surpassed only by L.A./Long Beach. As the closest port to Asia, we ship out logs, grain and cars, and receive goods from around the world. While settled predominantly by Scandinavians and Northern European families, Washington is also home to a large Latino population and every East Asian country has a sizeable Diaspora population in the coastal cities, from Korean to Thai to Chinese.
Washington has something for almost everyone. High Deserts, culturally vibrant cities, peaceful ocean beaches, dark verdant forests, towering glaciated mountains and deep blue lakes. Not a day goes by that I do not think of Washington, my home.