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Tribute is paid through reflection

November 13, 2009|By LISA TEDRICK PREJEAN

My son and I were recently in Washington, D.C., for a competition. During one of his breaks, we walked down to the Reflecting Pool to visit the memorials.

He was seeing these national treasures for the first time. We live so close, yet somehow we've never taken the children for a visit just to walk around and enjoy the reverence of Constitution Gardens or the Tidal Basin.

It was a brisk fall day, and the walk from our hotel was pleasant. First we took in the Washington Monument. Later we climbed the stairs to the Lincoln Memorial.

We spent most of our time, however, at the relatively new World War II Memorial.

A tribute to the 16 million men and women who served in the American armed forces during the war, the memorial opened to the public in 2004.

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Since this was my first visit to that site, I was captivated by the concept.

Situated at the east end of the Reflecting Pool, the World War II Memorial is designed in a circular fashion around a large central pool with fountains. Two 43-foot-tall bronze and granite pavilions flank the north and south sides of the memorial's plaza. One pavilion represents victory in Europe and the Atlantic Ocean. The other represents victory in the Pacific Ocean.

The concept of using water as a separation for the two pavilions is quite clever and encourages visitors to contemplate the role these bodies of water played in the war.

The words "Victory on Land," "Victory at Sea," and "Victory in the Air" are inlayed on the pavilion floors.

Fifty-six granite pillars, symbolizing our country's states and territories (during the time period of the war), surround the pool of water in two sweeping curves.

We were intrigued by the arrangement of states' names on the pillars. On one side of the circle, the first pillar was Delaware, the first state to ratify the Constitution and officially join the United States. We expected that the states would be positioned in order of entry into the Union, placing Alaska and Hawaii beside each other. We were curious when we observed Alaska and Hawaii on opposite curves in the circle.

The states weren't arranged alphabetically, either.

Because there is an information station near the memorial, we asked a ranger about this.

"You know, that is our most frequently asked question," the ranger said with a smile.

He explained that the state pillars alternate, left to right, based on when they entered the Union, just like the most important guests would alternate left to right from the guest of honor at a banquet.

The "guest of honor" in this case is The Freedom Wall, which contains 4,048 gold stars representing the more than 400,000 Americans who gave their lives in the war.

I can just imagine visitors to the site walking around until they find their state pillar and then wondering about its placement.

It seems as if this scenario was purposely intended by monument designer Friedrich St. Florian.

Reflection and contemplation help us to remember the sacrifices of those who have gone before us.

o The World War II Memorial is positioned between the Washington Monument and the Lincoln Memorial on 17th Street, between Constitution Avenue, NW, and Independence Avenue, SW, in Washington, D.C. For more information, go to www.wwiimemorial.com or www.nps.gov/nwwm.

Lisa Tedrick Prejean writes a weekly column for The Herald-Mail's Family page.

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