On Memorials, Water and Respect

A Cool Spot on a Very Hot Day

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There’s a bit of web-inspired kerfuffle this morning over a photo of visitors standing in the water at the WWII Memorial in front of a sign saying not to.

The sign says, “Honor Your Veterans, No Wading…” obviously implying that standing in water up to your ankles is inherently disrespectful.

Perhaps so.

I tell my students when they ask that they are free to cool their feet in the pool by sitting on the ledge.

I wonder if that is disrespectful?

Am I promoting anarchy and disrespect, creating a future Che?

The Rainbow Pool

That pool of water has been there for over a hundred years and obviously predates the WWII memorial which muscled in and built a Mcmansion-memorial surrounding it.

What’s a pool to do?

Rainbow Pool 1924

Rainbow Pool 1924

Beckon on a hot day, probably.

Defining Respect

Having visited the memorials hundreds of times, usually with students, my thoughts about them have evolved.

They are literally touchstones reminding us of an event or person central to our history, and thus to us.

To have an impact they must be observed and hopefully, experienced, preferably with some quiet contemplation.

Oddly, sitting with your feet in the water can set the stage for that to happen.

The number one problem at the memorials is loud and boisterous behavior unchecked by adult intervention.

It draws attention away from the memorial and to groups who think that this special place is yet another set for their next act.

The Real Desecration

WWII Memorial Site 4 27 04 image 17 S (c) R Latoff 04 - Full Size

The visual and spiritual centerpiece of the WWII memorial is the field of 4,048 gold stars at the west end, each star symbolizing 100 military deaths.

Below the stars is a half-circle pool of calm water in which the stars are often reflected.

Just in front is a low stone panel inscribed, “Here We Mark the Price of Freedom”.

The words are sublime and the combination inspires reverence for those who served.

Except when one or more eighth-graders are using it as a seat, blocking part, or all of the inscription and leading to my second most used expression at the memorial:

“Get up.”

Where the companion words “For Christ’s Sake” are never (or rarely) spoken but always implied.







  • Lori Cohen says:

    I asked a park ranger if it’s OK for kids to sit with their feet in the water (not wade). He said yes. I agree with this wholeheartedly. By this point in a tour, I have already told stories and explained symbolism of the memorial. Sitting allows the kids to stay and enjoy on a hot day. Some will also reflect and absorb the messages.

  • Brien McNamara says:

    My thoughts and feeling about the memorials and behaviour have also evolved. I pretty much gauge my outlook on how visitors from that time (Korea and Viet Nam vets, members of the Greatest Generation, etc.) would expect and regard the behaviour. Sitting on the ledge unobtrusively dipping one’s toes is not especially disrespectful. Kicking water on classmates and chaperones, well ….

  • Darrell says:

    In this day and age some think it is ok to think these signs are only a suggestion. Now I must admit that I have disregarded signs like this in my past. But as I grew into adulthood, I learned the value of respect and honor. If you want to show and teach respect, then obey the signs. I realize that its nice to let children cool them selves but unless its an emergency the children will survive. So will the adults. The memorials are a place of respect and honor. I don’t think you or your family would appreciate someone playing and showing disrespect on your tombstone. Lets teach our children respect and be role models for them.

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