Washington, D.C. flag dates back to English battle

Sometimes you learn things from the craziest places, but one of my favorites is the Sunday comics. Flashbacks by Patrick M. Reynolds explains how traditions, names and general lore so simply anyone can learn.

Which brings me to my favorite story – the tale behind Washington, D.C.’s flag. Now anyone with a modest sense of local history will tell you the flag comes from George Washington’s family coat of arms. And that’s true.

Washington, D.C. flag

But the story behind that tale is really cool. As Reynolds tells it, a private in the English army killed an invading Danish king in 979 A.D. The onlooking English king rewarded the soldier with a coat of arms. The king dipped two fingers in the dead monarch’s blood and ran them straight across the soldier’s shield. Thus, the two stripes. The three stars were added later.

In 1657, the soldier’s descendant John Washington came to America toting that coat of arms. His great grandson was George Washington – the father of our country. George loved using that coat of arms. It’s seen regularly at Mount Vernon.

Today, you’ll see the flag around town, but the logo is also on street signs and license plates. It became Washington’s official flag in 1938.

Now is that a cool story or what?

OK, here’s a little more. Some say the Star Spangled Banner was also inspired by Washington’s coat of arms. That’s easy to see. The coat of arms is also visible in Washington’s ancestral region in County Durham in northeast England.

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Cuban Friendship Urn – we’re friends again

Cuban Friendship UrnNow that the U.S. is ready to restore relations with Cuba after a half century of the Cold War, the Cuban Friendship Urn reminds us of a time when we were friends.

Actually, U.S.-Cuban relations are a little complicated. The USS Maine blew up in Havana’s harbor on Feb. 15, 1898 and each side blamed the other. It led to the Spanish-American War that last 3 1/2 months — rivaling the War of 1812 as forgotten wars taught on a snow day in eighth grade U.S. history classes. You know, Teddy Roosevelt, the Rough Riders, San Juan Hill? The U.S. ended up gaining Guantanamo Bay that’s still an American base plus current territories Puerto Rico and Guam. We also bought the Philippines from Spain for $20 million as part of the deal.

Anyway, Havana created the USS Maine memorial dedicated to the 266 U.S. sailors that perished that day. The memorial was destroyed in 1926 by a hurricane and among the remains was the urn, which was given to U.S. president Calvin Coolidge in 1928.

Cuban Friendship UrnThe eight-foot, four-ton urn depicts the mast of the Maine with a message in Spanish saying the two countries would remain friends. It was first placed in Potomac Park before removed while the 14th St. Bridge was built in the 1940s. The urn stayed in storage until 2011 when the National Park Service placed it by the Potomac River in East Potomac Park in a little public parking lot few know almost underneath the 14th St. Bridge. (That parking lot is great for walking to the Jefferson Memorial.)

The U.S. and Cuba haven’t been friends in more than a half century, but one day I’ll be drinking rum in Havana and telling locals that Washington has an urn that says we’re friends.




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Supreme Court: The Guardian of Liberty

On the eastern side (facing away from National Mall) of the Supreme Court is the Guardian of Liberty pediment. I only managed to capture part of the 18 by 60 foot scene because of sun problems.

Moses and his tablets are the central figure. (If you look across the street to private homes a tablet of the 10 commandments sits a yard.) To Moses’ left is Chinese philosopher and lawman Confusius, to the right is Solon, interpreter of Greek law. To Confusius’ left is a kneeling man holding rods and an axe that was a sign of Roman law. On Solon’s right is a kneeling woman asking for mercy. Unseen in my photo are two Roman soldiers that essentially oversee the law, a reclining woman for study and judgment and a reclining man representing high character. A tortoise and hare are in the corners to show the slow but sure process of law.

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Joseph Darlington fountain makes you sneak a peak

Occasionally, statues make me feel like a voyeur. Why is that man or boy naked I’m sometimes asked. It happens all too often say at the Boy Scout or Von Steuben statues near the White House. I say I don’t know and move on.

So the golden naked nymph by courthouses near 5th and D Sts. N.W. always makes me feel a little naughty when lingering. She simply stands out aside a fawn and can’t be missed.

The statue is part of the Joseph Darlington fountain dedicated shortly after his 1923 death. He was a brilliant lawyer, hence the fountain’s location.

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7 names to be added to Vietnam Wall

The names of seven Army personnel that died during the Vietnam War will be added to the Vietnam Wall on Mother’s Day – May 10, 2015.

Full Name Date of Birth Date of Death Home of Record State Branch of Service
Francis Gerald Corcoran 11/15/1928 12/09/1967 Philiadelphia PA Army
Michael Paul Knight 2/28/1944 11/23/1969 Thomasville GA Army
Gannon Clark Milby Jr. 3/20/1947 6/10/1968 Easton MD Army
Charley Vernon Stanley 4/6/1927 7/7/1968 Houston TX Army
Stanley M Staszak 3/6/1920 4/4/1959 Rayville LA Army
Clarence Turpin 6/15/1931 11/23/1968 Baltimore MD Army
George Lincoln Wilson 8/24/1924 11/8/1967 Philiadelphia PA Army


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Pan American 103 marker at Arlington National Cemetery

Pan American 103 memorial


With Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi killed, American will remember the tyrant for his backing of terrorists who blew up Pan American Flight 103 in 1988.

A monument to the 270 killed from 22 countries, including 15 U.S. active duty military and 10 veterans, is in Section 1 of Arlington National Cemetery just behind the Arlington House amphitheater. The base simply describes what happened.

“On 21 December 1988, a terrorist bomb destroyed Pan American Airlines Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, killing all on board and 11 on the ground.

“The 270 Scottish stones which compose this memorial cairn commemorate those who lost their lives in this attack against America.”

A Scottish cairn can be an informal heap of stones or one that is patterned and mortared. This circular monument of 270 red Scottish sandstones is 10 ½ feet tall and seven feet wide.

The stones came from the Corsehill Quarry, which was under the flight path of Pan Am 103. The quarry has operated since 1820 and contributed stones for the Statue of Liberty’s base.

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The Torch of Freedom still shines brightly

Torch of Freedom

It’s not often one monument can essentially tell the history of the U.S., but the Torch of Freedom gives 12 scenes from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam.

Located in front of the Veterans of Foreign Wars building at Constitution Ave. and Second St. N.E. the three-sided bronze marker features relief scenes of major events.

The 35-foot marker was erected in 1976 and sculpted by Felix de Weldon, who is more famous for the Marine Corps War Memorial commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial.

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A memorial in an Arlington crossroads

It’s not unusual for a monument to be moved. Happens more often than you’d expect. And it’s not unusual for a memorial to be updated with a second use. But here’s one that includes three wars and was relocated to the middle of a busy intersection.

Yes, sometimes you just have to park the car and walk to the median strip to see a monument after passing it many times. I saw this one on Wilson Blvd. in Arlington, Va. and finally stopped to see what the stone marker with cannons was all about.

According to the signs, it was originally dedicated in 1931 in tribute to 13 native sons who died in 1917-18 in World War I. One marker said it was erected by Arlington Post 139 and Auxiliary Unit 139 of the American Legion and the citizens of Arlington County. It also notes “The stone was removed from the original location adjacent to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers in Arlington National Cemetery.” A third marker lists 35 killed in Korea and 52 that died in Vietnam.

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Czech leader Masaryk stands tall on Embassy Row

Tomas Masaryk stands tall – like 12 feet tall. It’s a good lifelike figure despite Czechoslovakia’s first president really only half that size.

The bronze statue at the corners of Massachusetts Ave., Florida Ave. and Q St. N.W. remembers Masaryk, his country’s declaration of independence from Austria in hand.

Masaryk was a University of Vienna professor of philosophy when his home region was part of Austria. He joined the Austrian parliament in 1891 and was known as a champion of women and minority rights. During World War I, Masaryk led the Czechoslovakia independence movement. He came to Washington seeking assistance and U.S. president Woodrow Wilson endorsed Czechoslovakia’s freedom during the 1919 Paris Peace Conference.

Masaryk was the country’s first president from 1918-35 before dying two years later. The statue was dedicated in 2002.

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Eleftherios Venizelos: Maker of Modern Greece

OK, I admit knowing nothing of Eleftherios Venizelos when coming across the statue along Embassy Row on Massachusetts Ave. by the Greek embassy. But that’s the cool part of being a tour guide – you learn, learn and learn.

Venizelos was prime minister of Greece from 1910-20 and 1928-32. During his time, Venizelos helped re-unite Crete and Greece, aligned with the Allied forces during World War I despite the monarchy’s opposition and doubled overall population and geography by gaining Macedonia, Epirus and the Aegean islands.

If you fly into Athens nowadays you’ll see its named for Venizelos.

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Statue of Dr. Philip Jaisohn looks like the real thing

Many statues kinda, sorta, maybe look like the person. Given many of the subjects are long dead, it’s not always easy to know how striking the likeness may be.

But outside the South Korean Embassy along Massachusetts Ave. is not only a statue of Dr. Philip Jaisohn, but a second monument explaining the first. The statue matches the photo very well.

Now that’s service. I’m just going to let the board speak for itself.

“Dr. Philip Jaisohn was a pioneer of independence, democracy and public awakening for Korean people. After the failed 1884 reformation movement, he was exiled to the United States where he became the first Korean-born to become an American citizen. A graduate of Columbian Medical College, he
practiced medicine in Washington DC, later serving the US government as a wartime physician. Both in Korea and in the United States, Dr. Jaisohn made relentless efforts for the independence of Korea. In 1895, he briefly went back to his native soil where he founded the first Korean language newspaper. In 1919, he organized the Korean Independence campaign in Philadelphia. Dr. Jaisohn will forever be remembered as a leader of Korean-American community and a leading spirit for Korea’s democracy and modernization.”

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Boy Scout Memorial combines past and present

The Boy Scout represents the aspirations of all past, present, and future Scouts throughout the world. He carries a staff that has been taken from the male figure’s branch of peace. The scout wears the traditional uniform of the group complete with kerchief around his neck.

The bronze monument with a granite base has three figures. They represent the boy scout in the middle with an adult male and female behind him.

The male figure is a classic ancient statue that’s nearly unclothed but through his strong figure represented physical fitness. In his right hand is also the branch of peace.

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Society of the Cincinnati and Larz Anderson House

When first hearing the Society of the Cincinnati was not about the town but a Roman soldier, I thought how strange. Weren’t all Roman warriors named Spartacus or something like that?

Well, it was something like that. The Society is named after Lucius Quinctius Cincinnatus, a farmer who served as Roman Consul and Magister Populi with lawful dictatorial control of Rome in case of war. After winning a battle, Cincinnatus returned power to the Senate and resuming farming.

George Washington loved that story, seeing his own as a reflection of it. He served as the Society’s first president for 16 years. The Society was formed in the U.S. and France in 1783 by Revolutionary offices to lobby the government to fulfill its promises to them. Today, it’s a nonprofit historical, diplomatic, and educational organization promoting interest in the American Revolution. Members must be descended from a Revolutionary War officer and only one descendant from that officer can be a member at one time.

Today, the Washington branch is housed in the old Larz Anderson House, built from 1902-05 on Massachusetts Ave. near Dupont Circle. The 50-room mansion cost $750,000, but the furnishing are worth far more. Verona marble columns, flying staircase, carved wooden walls, marble floors and even two elevators made it a showcase of its time.

Anderson was from a prominent family in Cincinnati, Ohio and a U.S. diplomat in London, Rome, Belgium and Japan. He was a member of the Society.

The Andersons used the home for entertaining diplomats, including Presidents William H. Taft and Calvin Coolidge and several kings. When Anderson died without children in 1937, his widow gave the house to the Society. It’s now a National Historic Landmark and on the National Register of Historic Places.

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The Five Guys in the sky

Sometimes you have to look up to see the great attraction.

On the steps of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, you’re rushing up the steps to see the third president. Coming down, you notice the Tidal Basin, White House straight ahead, the new Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on the left and Bureau of Engraving and Printing on the right before heading to the bus.

Stop, look atop the Jefferson and you’ll see the original five guys and we’re not talking burgers and fries.

Across the 10 by 65 foot pediment (left to right) are Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Roger Sherman and Robert Livingston, who were also known as the Committee of Five.

OK, do I really have to tell you who Franklin and Adams were? Let’s pretend and just say both were Founding Fathers, the latter the second president. On Jefferson’s right are those a little more obscure. Sherman was best known for the “Great Compromise” that formed the system of how many senators and congressmen there are. Livingston was a high-ranking New York politician.

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3 Iwo Jima flag raisers buried at Arlington National Cemetery

Iwo Jima Memorial


Battle of Iwo Jima

Seventy years have passed since five Marines and a Navy corpsman lifted a flag into the volcanic ash to inspire Americans into one last push to defeat the Japanese and end World War II.

And three of those men lie nearby at Arlington National Cemetery.

Rene Gagnon

Rene Gagnon

Pfc Rene Gagnon rests nearly within sight of the Iwo Jima Memorial. Sgt. Michael Strank lies in the middle of the cemetery while Pfc Ira Hayes is on the other end of the cemetery close to the Air Force Memorial.

Gagnon and Hayes along with Navy Pharmacist Mate 2C John Bradley would later be known for their war bond rallies that drew $26 billion in the months after raising the flag on Feb. 23, 1945.

Each one is worth remembering as their images on the Iwo Jima Memorial showed a nation that teamwork would finish a war which claimed 60 million people worldwide and more than 408,000 Americans.

Iwo Jima was a speck of a Pacific island about 600 miles from Japan. Its three airfields that could be used to refuel bombers attacking Japan made its capture vital. The problem was 22,000 Japanese soldiers abandoned on the island and told to die for their country.

The battle lasted from Feb. 19 to March 24 with 18,844 Japanese dead along with 216 taken prisoner and 3,000 unaccounted.

It would be the costliest engagement ever for the U.S. Marines with 6,841 dead and 19,217 wounded of the 70,000 deployed.

On the battle’s fifth day, a group was sent to place a flag on the island’s highest point, Mount Suribachi, to inspire American troops. Soon after, another group from Second Battalion, 28th Marines, 5th Marine Division, Easy Company that saw only 50 of 310 men survive, and a Navy corpsman who participated in both flag raisings, were sent to retrieve and place another flag whose raising was photographed by Associated Press photographer Joseph Rosenthal. That image won the 1945 Pulitzer Prize and launched the needed bond sales.

The story is well told by the book “Flags of our Fathers” by James Bradley, son of John Bradley. Clint Eastwood produced the movie version plus a Japanese version of the battle in “Letters from Iwo Jima.”

Michael StrankCorporal Harlon Block, the first figure anchoring the flag into the ground, and Strank were killed on March 1. Pfc Franklin Sousley died on March 21. Block was buried in Harlington, Texas, Sousley in Elizaville, Ky. and Bradley in Antigo, Wisc.

Hayes, a Pima Native American in Arizona, later rejoined his unit and served during the occupation of Japan. Sadly, he became an alcoholic who died in 1955 at age 32 of exposure. Gagnon lived an embittered life. Promised jobs during the bond drive didn’t follow and he spent his life as a janitor. Gagnon died in 1979. Bradley suffered shrapnel wounds on March 12. He later became a mortician before dying in 1994.

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San Martin rides tall among Latin American memorials


When researching the story of Gen. Jose de San Martin, it sounded so much like the nearby statue of Gen. Simon Bolivar that I had to double check I was looking at the latter. No wonder their statues are near each other.

San Martin was the founder of Argentine independence who later helped free Chile and Peru from Spanish rule, too. He even met with Bolivar, who was liberating other South American countries, though the two opted not to work together.

San Martin was born into a wealthy family, was educated in Spain while spending 28 years there. He even served in Spain’s military against Napoleon while rising to Lt. Colonel. Ironically, the Freemason also opposed Spain’s government and joined revolutionary forces in Buenos Aires in 1812. In a fete worthy of Hannibal, San Martin led forces across the highest Andes peak to defeat Spanish forces. He later resigned his commission and went into exile before dying in 1850.

The bronze statue was dedicated by U.S. President Calvin Coolidge in 1922 in Judiciary Square. It was moved in 1970 for what’s now the National Law Enforcement Officers Memorial, but rededicated in 1976 at Virginia Ave. and 21st. St. N.W.

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Jose Artigas – The Gaucho Statue

He stands on a spit of land at 18th and Constitutional Aves., but Jose Artigas is another of the giants of South American revolution that dominate the blocks around the Organization of American States building.

Artigas was a gaucho, typically known as a rancher in South American. But, here the nine-foot bronze statue shows him in battle dress. Surprisingly, it doesn’t show a copy of the U.S. Constitution and Articles of Confederation Artigas reportedly kept on him at all times.

Artigas is considered the father of Uruguay thanks to his military victories. Indeed, the statue was paid for by Uruguayan children. Artigas never ran the country and was even once imprisoned by a dictator at age 76 for fear of launching an uprising. He died impoverished 10 years later in 1850.

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Cavalry Baptist survives throughout the years

I once took a church group around Penn Quarter from Cavalry Baptist that wanted to know more about their neighborhood. I wanted to learn more about Cavalry Baptist. I’ve seen the brown brick venue peek out along 8th and H Sts. N.W., but never been in it.

Turns out Cavalry Baptist has quite a history. It was designed by Adolph Cluss, a communist from Germany who knew Karl Marx. Cluss built six churches around Washington as well as the Smithsonian Arts and Industries Building and Eastern Market (where your job isn’t your credit when buying produce — cash only, please.)

The church was completed in 1866 and, true to Washington tradition, cost twice the original budget. Fortunately, Amos Kendall, who was a member of president Andrew Jackson’s “Kitchen Cabinet,” stepped in and paid $90,000 of the $134,000.

The following year, the church mostly burned down when fire trucks couldn’t get through heavy snow. Bummer. All that work and money gone.

Fortunately, there was insurance and Cavalry re-opened on 1869. Things went well for nearly a half century until July 30, 1913 when a tornado – yes, a tornado – went through downtown Washington and destroyed the steeple. In 1947, lightning hit the clock during a wedding that took nearly 60 years to fix.

I toured the inside of the building and found it to be both modern and expansive. It goes on forever. And, I’ve never met a nicer group of people.

Sunday service is 11 a.m. Cavalry has Spanish and Burmese congregations, too.

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Native Washingtonian 101: Baby, it’s cold outside this winter

Winter in Washington

Winter in Washington


Winter in Washington

our guides don’t work much in January and February for good reason — it’s cold outside. Now native Washingtonians know there are various degrees of cold and we often hear from visitors that this is nothing compared to the great frozen north from where they live.

My response — this is as far north as I’m ever living. Oh, I’ve covered football in Green Bay at minus-22 degrees, but I was out of town 14 hours later. I was offered a job in New York once and said no without hearing details. It’s too cold was my response.

The last three days were brutal by our standards. Sunday was literally a 90-degree temperature swing from the previous Sunday. You would have had to pay me with a gold bar to tour on Sunday.

But I did go Saturday with a group. And after freezing in the morning, the afternoon wasn’t too bad. Take the money when you can get it during the winter is a tour guide’s motto.

It’s definitely different touring in the winter. You see things normally obscured by trees like the Vietnam Wall from the Lincoln Memorial steps or the American Indian Museum from the street. I kinda like it. There’s plenty of parking, but I was surprised to still see a number of student groups.

The fastest tourists ever walk is downhill from the Tomb of the Unknowns at Arlington National Cemetery to the bus, especially in the cold. I can’t keep up with them. I just waive to meet me at the visitors center.

So what’s worse – the 100-degree days of summer or the 20-degree days of winter? I’d say it’s a tossup, but I was yearning for a hot day and come summer I’ll be yearning for winter.

I often tell people who say I’m so lucky to work outside on beautiful days that one third of Washington days are wonderful, one third are tolerable and one third are rough. And, rain makes any day a little rougher.

At least the cherry blossoms are coming soon. I hope.

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Eastern Market offers history and halibut

At Eastern Market, your job’s not your credit. You gotta pay cash for the produce.

Well, that’s funny if you’re a local because Eastern Motors runs a commercial nonstop. Otherwise, you’re thinking I’m nuts.

Anyway, Eastern Market opened in 1873 at 7th St. and North Carolina Ave. SE as a shopping district for Capitol Hill residents. It was designed by Adolf Cluss, whose red brick style included Cavalry Baptist among six churches.

A fire badly damaged South Hall on April 30, 2007. It re-opened June 26, 2009 complete with air conditioning.

The farmer’s market offers meats, fish, poultry and dairy products. On weekends there are arts and crafts vendors and then a nearby flea market that really brings in the crowds. It’s essentially a town hall for the many government employees who live near the U.S. Capitol.

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