Friday, November 01, 2013

Taking That Early Walk: The War Memorials

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Plaza next to 55 Water Street.
Photos by Philip Vassallo
One of the great pleasures of working frequently in New York City is viewing the spectacular monuments that grace all parts of town. Two that I have seen many times and remain magnificent in my imagination are the Vietnam Veteran's Memorial Plaza and the Korean War Veterans Memorial, each a short walk from the other, at the southern tip of Manhattan.

As I mentioned in previous posts, leaving the house early and taking a short walk are great ways for writers to generate ideas or break writer's block. But I can think of two other reasons besides writing inspiration to visit these sites: to experience their sheer beauty and educational value.

The Vietnam Veteran's site, which overlooks the East River next to the 55 Water Street office building, is a masterpiece of urban landscaping, horticulture, architecture, literature, and history. On a 70-foot-long and 16-foot-high wall of green, translucent glass blocks (photo above, lower left) are engraved excerpts of 83 letters by United States soldiers serving in Vietnam written to their loved ones back home. The words evoke a vast range of emotions, from confusion to protest to pride to grief. Along the plaza is a perfectly cultivated, bright floral garden. A Walk of Honor (photo above, upper left and right) comprises 12 granite pylons on which are engraved the names of the 1,741 New Yorkers who gave their lives in Vietnam. Especially moving are individual plaques dedicated to Marine Private First Class Dan Bullock, who at age 15 was the youngest casualty; Medal of Honor recipient Naval Lieutenant Father Vincent R. Capodanno, who died during a battle while ministering to his wounded and dying comrades; and Army Specialist Four George C. Lang, who survived the war and was also a Medal of Honor recipient for heroics on the battlefield. 

The Korean War Memorial (pictured below from both sides), next to the Hudson River and within view of the Statue of Liberty, is a 15-foot-high granite block with a Korean War soldier cut from its center. It is a stunning blend of fine art in a natural metropolitan setting, stirring memories of what has been called "the forgotten war." As one walks around it, the soldier becomes a shifting foreground for a skyscraper, the trees in Battery Park, and the sky. What remain constant are the flags of nations across the globe that were involved in the Korean conflict and the image of an everyman at war.

I cannot walk away from these monuments without thinking of humanity's ingenuity and savagery and our hope and despair. If you are in the area, be sure visit, reflect, and write. 

New York Korean War Veterans Memorial in Battery Park.
Photos by Philip Vassallo