On a recent visit to my son in Washington, D.C., I had the pleasure of seeing the memorials on the National Mall illuminated at night. They make a stunning display on a warm September evening. On one end, the Lincoln Memorial rises majestically over the Mall.
The words above Lincoln’s head read: “In this temple as in the hearts of the people for whom he saved the Union the memory of Abraham Lincoln is enshrined forever.”
The walls on either side are inscribed with the Gettysburg address and the second inaugural address, in which Lincoln urged, “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
Somehow, these wise and clearly heartfelt words seem just as appropriate today as they did in 1865.
The view from the Lincoln Memorial stretches over the long Reflecting Pool to the new World War II Memorial and the Washington Monument. Currently, the Washington Monument is undergoing reconstruction and is surrounded by scaffolding. Although a bit of an eyesore by day, the scaffolding creates a beautiful effect at night, as it illuminates the entire monument in brilliant light.
Walking the length of the Reflecting Pool, which takes about 15 or 20 minutes, brings you 80 years forward in time, to the World War II Memorial.
Fountains splash high arcs of water over a central pond, flanked by two arches, one named “Atlantic” and the other “Pacific.” The names of the battles in the European and Pacific theatres are inscribed on the respective sides. Tall pillars adorned with wreaths, each bearing the name of a state, ring the plaza. The effect is humbling, yet serene.
President Truman's words remind us that "Our debt to the heroic men and valiant women in the service of our country can never be repaid. They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices."
In the quiet of the night, the march of history seems alive in the lights of the National Mall, reminding us of the leaders and conflicts that have shaped our nation, and the hopes of peace through the years.