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John Witherspoon is along Connecticut Ave. and N St. N.W. on a spit of land barely big enough for the 10-foot statue high atop a granite base. You’d think a signer of the Declaration of Independence would be given a quieter venue, but this site actually has historical merit.
Witherspoon left his ministry in Scotland to head the College of New Jersey, now called Princeton. He educated many of America’s political leaders, including James Madison and Aaron Burr, three U.S. Supreme Court judges, 10 Cabinet members, 28 U.S. Senators, 49 Congressmen and 12 Continental Congressmen.
Upset over the crown’s interference in local matters, Witherspoon became one of New Jersey’s signers for the Declaration of Independence. After the war, he returned to rebuild the college.
The Presbyterian minister was remembered with a Bible in his hand and dressed in colonial attire when the statue was erected in 1909 by an adjacent church. However, that church was razed in 1966. Federal officials wanted to relocate the statue, but church members successfully argued it should remain in its original location.
And so Witherspoon does, even if it’s in the middle of madness come rush hour.
By the way, actress Reese Witherspoon is a descendant of the colonial leader.
For many years, I’ve passed Pershing Park and with a sigh and wave told tourists that one day the World War I Memorial would be built over the deteriorating site.
Finally, it’s opened. Not completed, but enough to remember The Great War.
The memorial to the beginning of the U.S. becoming a global superpower took a decade of planning, proposals and fundraising. And, another $1.5 million is needed to replace the tapestry that tells the story of a young man leaving home, fighting and returning into a bronze relief. That means another three years before the park is completed.
But, it’s a stark change from a woeful mess it replaced. Oh, the statue of General “Black Jack” Pershing, first commander of black troops, remains along with a nearby wall. But gone is the old ice-skating area and ice cream stand that have been abandoned for a decade or more. Instead is a seamless transition of marble to a new waterfall with steps and quotes. A bugler will return each evening at dusk to play “Taps.” Inside the circular wall on the eastern side is a Victory medallion where standing on it and talking creates an echo chamber.
I like feeling inside the city instead of the stand-alone memorials on the National Mall where isolation surrounds those marble markers. Instead, you can feel the pulse of the city with the White House nearby, the Willard Hotel aside and a long view down Pennsylvania Ave. With plenty of benches and steps, the area will remain a good option for group picnics.
Anything that follows the World War II Memorial is challenged to impress. The Eisenhower Memorial that opened last year draws shrugs. But, the World War I Memorial deserved remembering beyond the D.C. version of a bandstand on the mall. Most likely, visitors will trickle into it each day with bigger crowds during major events nearby.
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.
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.”
Corporal 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.
It’s peaceful, feeling like a cemetery instead of a tourist area. And, you’ll find the most interesting people on the edges.
With a race blocking access by most entrances one morning, I decided to park at the Iwo Jima memorial and walk into Arlington from the side entrance gate. It’s a little longer of a walk, but there’s nothing short about walking around ANC.
I came to the farthest grave on one side and decided to just see who it was. I was quite surprised I knew the person — Medgar Evars.
Evans returned from serving in World War II to become active in the civil rights movement, especially n the desegregation of the University of Mississippi. He was murdered on June 12, 1963 by Byron De La Beckwith of the White Citizens Council (Ku Klux Klan.)
Two juries of all white men were deadlocked on Beckwith’s guilt, but new evidence brought a murder conviction in 1994 — 31 years later. Beckwith died in prison in 2001.
Evers death was remembered by Bob Dylan in the 1963 song, “Only a Pawn in Their Game.” The 1996 movie “The Ghosts of Mississippi” focused on the second retrial.
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.”