“Better Soldiers Never Shouldered a Musket”

So said US Army Major General Benjamin Butler after observing the keen proficiency in marching and drilling demonstrated by a unit of newly enlisted soldiers of African descent. It was mid-1862 and Butler was organizing the 1st Louisiana Native Guards, one of the first regiment of African American soldiers that would serve in the Union Army.

Butler at the time was on the leading edge of change. When the Civil War began in April 1861, the Militia Act of 1792 prohibited men of African descent from serving in the US Army. As it became clearer to military and political leaders that this war would not be a short one, this exclusion was seriously reconsidered.   

African American Civil War Museum| Frederick Douglas| Men of Color|
1863 Recruitment Poster. The poster was endorsed by Frederick Douglas and other African American leaders, encouraging men of African descent to enlist.

In the summer of 1862, Congress passed two laws, the Second Confiscation Act and the Militia Act of 1862, which would create the legal framework for receiving certain freed slaves and others of African descent into the Army. President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, signed on January 1, 1863, further expanded and clarified their roles in military service. The War Department began actively preparing to receive African Americans into the Army. Recruitment was slow at first, then grew steadily as African American community leaders encouraged action. 

African American Civil War Museum | Washington DC | Travel Objective DC| U Street| Vermont Avenue

Today, this service is commemorated at the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial in Washington, DC.  This year the museum marks 20 years of chronicling the story of how African Americans, both slaves and freemen, took up arms and discharged their duties with dignity during the Civil War.  

The museum and memorial are located along Washington, DC’s famous U Street corridor, the traditional center for African American culture in Northwest Washington. Today the corridor is revitalizing with new stores, restaurants, clubs and other development complimenting such historic landmarks as the famed Howard Theater.  In 2011, the museum moved into the auditorium of the Grimke School, formerly a neighborhood school built in 1907 and named for a prominent African American family.  

African American Civil War Museum| Vermont Avenue| U Street
Life sized banners greet visitors to the museum.

The entrance to the museum is tucked away down an alley lined with banners depicting the military duties African Americans performed. Once inside, a succession of display panels along with select artifacts trace the history of Africans and their descendants in early America, their military experiences during the American Revolution and War of 1812, and ultimately, their service in the Civil War.

As recruitment steadily grew, the War Department established the Bureau of Colored Troops in May of 1863 to provide the administrative support necessary to induct, equip and train the soldiers, who would serve in separate units from whites. Ultimately, about 178,000 men of African descent enlisted and 175 U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) regiments were formed, comprising 10% of the Union Army. USCT regiments also included mixed race individuals, Hispanics, and Native Americans. White officers generally filled the leadership ranks of these units, although some regiments did have African American officers at the company level. The Bureau of Colored Troops established guidelines and panels to identify and select USCT officers; those with advanced education and prior military experience were especially recruited. 

United States Colored Troops| Training Manual| Infantry Tactics|
Title page of a training manual on infantry tactics developed for US Colored Troops units.

USCT units often performed non-combat missions – referred to as “fatigue duty”- such as digging trenches, building bridges, and cutting new roads. Since many USCT soldiers were Southerners and possessed a specialized knowledge of local geography, USCT units were sometimes given scouting and reconnaissance missions. When they were assigned to combat, USCT regiments won praise for their gallantry. More prominent engagements for USCT regiments include Fort Wagner (as depicted in the movie Glory), the Siege of Petersburg, Virginia and the Battle of Nashville. At Vicksburg, General Ulysses S. Grant wrote of his USCT soldiers “All that have been tried have fought bravely.”

Unlike the Army, the Militia Act of 1792 did not apply to the Navy which had long enlisted sailors of African descent. During the Civil War, approximately 19,000 African American sailors served throughout the Union Navy, generally aboard the same ships as white sailors.

African American Civil War Memorial| African American Sailor| U Street| U Street Metro
A US Navy Sailor depicted on the African American Civil War Memorial. 

The individual gallantry demonstrated by soldiers and sailors of African descent was recognized by many unit commanders. The museum introduces 18 soldiers and two sailors who won the Medal of Honor during Civil War combat.

African American Civil War Museum| John Lawson

One is Navy Landsman John Lawson.

While serving aboard the USS Hartford at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Landsman Lawson was “Wounded in the leg and thrown violently against the side of the ship when an enemy shell killed or wounded the 6-man crew as the shell whipped on the berth deck, Lawson, upon regaining his composure, promptly returned to his station and, although urged to go below for treatment, steadfastly continued his duties…”.

At war’s end, some USCT regiments were disbanded, but many were assigned to occupation duty. As the Regular Army was reorganized, four regiments of African American soldiers were ultimately established and maintained. Members of those regiments, the 24th and 25th Infantry, and 9th and 10th Cavalry, would become renown as “the Buffalo Soldiers”. 

While the museum’s current space in the former school’s auditorium is rather confining, a recently announced redevelopment of the Grimke School building will provide a larger 10,000-12,000 square foot area into which the museum will expand.  The new space will allow for the display of additional artifacts, two new exhibits and a theater. This news is undoubtedly welcome for the museum’s staff, patrons and visitors. 

African American Civil War Memorial| U Street| Vermont Avenue| U Street Metro
The African American Civil War Memorial. The metal panels wrapping around the sculpture contain the names of those who served in USCT regiments. 

Across the street from the museum placed in a wide stone plaza is a bronze statue entitled The Spirit of Freedom by sculptor Ed Hamilton. The statue depicts three Union soldiers and one sailor of African descent on one side and an African American soldier with his family on the other. The statue was completed in 1997. Curved metal panels, inscribed with the names of the 209,145 officers and soldiers who served in USCT units, encircle the sculpture to one side. 

A visit to the African American Civil War Museum and Memorial provides a compelling introduction to how USCT soldiers went from slaves and civilians to a professional force, fighting for their freedom, their rights and for the Union. They not only changed the tide of the Union war effort, but also secured a lasting place for African Americans in the US military. Today, African Americans comprise approximately 18% of the ranks of the US Armed Forces. Their continued service is a legacy of the US Colored Troops and their naval counterparts. 

African American Civil War Memorial| U Street| U Street Metro| Vermont Avenue| Frederick Douglas

The courage displayed by soldiers and sailors of African descent during the Civil War played a critical role in African Americans gaining new rights. As the abolitionist Frederick Douglass wrote: “Once let the black man get upon his person the brass letter, “U.S”., let him get an eagle on his button, and a musket on his shoulder and bullets in his pocket, there is no power on earth that can deny that he has earned the right to citizenship”. 

***

Route Recon:

The African American Civil War Museum is located at 1925 Vermont Avenue, NW in Washington, DC, near the intersection with U Street. The hours are Monday from 1000 to 1700, Tuesday – Friday 1000 to 1830, Saturday 1000 to 1600 and Sundays 1200 to 1600. Admission is free. There is limited street parking near the museum. Visit the African American Civil War Museum website for more information.

The museum and memorial are easily accessible from Metro. Use the 10th Street exit from the U Street/African American Civil War Memorial/Cardozo station on the Green and Yellow lines. The memorial plaza is at the top of the escalator. 

Mess Call:

Bens| Bens Chili Bowl| Half Smoke| U Street|

Ben’s Chili Bowl

Just two blocks down U Street from the museum and memorial is Ben’s Chili Bowl, a local favorite since 1958. Ben’s has seen some challenging times as an eatery, to include the riots following Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 and the construction of Metro in the 70s. Yet it has persevered and today proudly serves their signature dish, the half-smoke sandwich, to celebrities, politicians and locals alike. There are a variety of other menu items as well such as burgers and vegetarian chili. (Note: They do not accept credit cards, but there is an ATM on premises).

 Ben’s Chili Bowl

1213 U Street, NW (between 12th and 13th Street)

Monday-Thursday: Breakfast: 0600-1045; Lunch/Dinner: 1045-0200 

Friday: Breakfast: 0600-1045; Lunch/Dinner 1045-0400

Saturday: Breakfast: 0700-1045; Lunch/Dinner 1045-0400

Sunday: 1100-0000

Can You Read the Writing on the Wall?

Upon hearing the word graffiti, spray painted tags, stencils, or other designs on buildings, overpasses and other fixtures might come to mind.

At Historic Blenheim in Fairfax, Virginia, however, researchers study a very different type of graffiti.  These graffiti were written in graphite, crayon and charcoal by Union soldiers over one hundred years ago. The graffiti and the stories of the soldiers who wrote them provide insight into the lives of the Union Army recruits who early on answered the call to fight to preserve the Union.

Historic Blenheim | Fairfax Virginia | Civil War Graffiti | Travel Objective DC
In addition to their names and units, soldiers also made drawings. Ships such as this one were common. 

The centerpiece of Historic Blenheim is a brick farmhouse, built by Albert and Mary Wilcoxon on their a 300+ acre farm near what was then known as the village of Fairfax Courthouse, Virginia, about 17 miles west of Washington, DC The house was built around 1859 on the site of their previous home which had been destroyed by fire. 

Historic Blenheim | Fairfax County Virginia | Civil War site | Military tourism | Travel Objective DC
The Farmhouse at Historic Blenheim

In July of 1861, an article in the Richmond Dispatch described how Union soldiers, en route to Manassas, vandalized the home, breaking windows, tearing doors off hinges and destroying furniture. Those Union soldiers moved on and Confederate forces held the area until March of 1862, when they evacuated toward Richmond.

Once the Southern troops withdrew, the Army of the Potomac moved from Washington, DC to occupy parts of Northern Virginia, including Fairfax Courthouse.  The Wilcoxon’s, who favored succession, departed their home and resided elsewhere in the area sometime between July 1861 and March 1863.

Vase on display from Historic Blenheim Civil War site in Fairfax Virginia
A vase by the dining room fireplace.

During the Civil War, as in many wars, disease killed more soldiers than combat. Poor sanitation, inadequate nutrition, contaminated water, cramped living conditions, a limited understanding of germs, and other factors all contributed to an environment rife with disease. Illnesses such as dysentery, typhoid, pneumonia, and tuberculosis were common and deadly for Civil War soldiers.

As a sturdy structure near strategic thoroughfares, the Wilcoxon house and farm soon became a hospital for Union soldiers diagnosed with diseases and other inhibiting ailments, rather than combat wounds.  Many were housed in tents in the surrounding fields. The more seriously ill were quartered in the house. 

Historic Blenheim in Fairfax Virginia was used by the Union Army as a hospital for soldiers during the Civil War
The first floor parlor fireplace with period medicine bottles and crutches.

The first soldiers convalescing in the Wilcoxon house found three floors of pristine plaster walls. Since the house was new, the plaster had not yet cured and the walls were neither painted nor wall papered. Soldiers quickly began writing their names, units, dates, and adding drawings, doodles, sketches and other decorations. 

Drawing of a ship by Civil War soldier | Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail | Military tourism | Fairfax Virginia
Ships, buildings and aspects of military life were all common subjects for soldiers’ drawing. 
Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail | Historic Blenheim | Drawing of a soldier by a Civil War soldier

The first dates written by soldiers on the house’s walls were in March 1862. Soldiers were on the Wilcoxon farm through mid-1863.  The family returned to the home around September 1863, after Albert Wilcoxon signed an “Oath of Allegiance” to the United States.  The Wilcoxons returned the farm to working order.  Although the family would paint and paper the walls on the first and second floors of their home several times through the years, none of the four generations that lived in the house ever covered or altered the attic graffiti.

Today, the property is known as Historic Blenheim and the Civil War Interpretive Center. Visitors can tour the first floor of the Greek revival farm house and see the recovered writings and some of the preservation work underway. Paper and paint have been carefully removed from the walls and the floors reinforced to protect the structural integrity of the house.  

Unfortunately, the second floor and the attic are not open to the public, but the nearby Interpretive Center does have a life size replica of the attic so visitors can get a closer look at the attic drawings. The Interpretive Center also has information about the soldiers and units who passed through Blenheim, additional background on the Wilcoxon family and a small gift shop.  

The Interpretive Center at Blenheim | Civil War history | Fairfax Virginia | Travel Objective DC
The Interpretive Center at Blenheim. It’s design suggests Blenheim’s agricultural past. 

The center’s staff have identified 122 individual soldiers from 23 different units who wrote graffiti on the Blenheim walls. Reviews of military records provide an overview of the men. As a group, the average age was 25. About 45% were foreign born, mostly from present day Germany. Farming was their predominate occupation.

Blenheim researchers though have combed through military, pension and other government records and worked with local historical and genealogical societies to assemble more intimate portraits of many of these men. One is Charles Schlingermann of the 58th New York Infantry Regiment. A native of Prussia, he enlisted in September 1861 at the age of 19. He had only been in America about three months. He died of his wounds following the Second Battle of Bull Run in August 1862 and is buried on the grounds of the Old Soldiers’ Home in Washington, DC. 

Civil War graffiti | 58th New York Volunteers | Fairfax VA | military tourism | Travel Objective DC

Another is Charles H. Johnson, of the 1st Michigan Calvary Regiment. He was 19 years old when he wrote on the attic walls on June 20, 1863. He survived service at Gettysburg and the remainder of the war to reenlist in the Veterans Volunteers of the 1st Michigan Cavalry. He served at Fort Laramie during the Indian Campaign.

He left the Army in 1866 and returned to Michigan where he married and raised his family. After his wife’s death, he moved to San Jose, California to live with his daughter until his death in 1924. He was a prolific letter writer during his military service; his many letters home are now archived at the University of California at Santa Barbara.

Civil War soldier signature on the wall at Historic Blenheim | Fairfax VA | Travel Objective DC | 83rd Pennsylvania Volunteers
Researchers are working to identify another soldier’s signature using acetate to trace the signature in order to see it more clearly. This soldier was a member of Company B, 83rd Pennsylvania Infantry. 

A visit to Blenheim provides a unique Civil War historical experience. It is not a battlefield, and not quite a memorial nor museum. The names on the wall take on a new significance when written by the hand of the soldier. As a preservation project, Blenheim takes its visitors past the odd fact and footnote and literally introduces them to the personal legacy of the soldiers who passed through over a century ago. 

* * *

Civil War soldiers left their marks in other buildings as well. The Northern Virginia Civil War Graffiti Trail features six other Civil War era buildings where soldiers’ writings have been preserved.   

ROUTE RECON

Historic Blenheim and the Civil War Interpretive Center are located at 3610 Old Lee Highway, Fairfax, Virginia, 22030 The operating days and hours are  1000 – 1500 Tuesday – Saturday. The historic house tour is held once each day at 1300. Call 703-591-0560 for more information. Historic Blenheim can be accessed by public transit. Take Metro’s Orange Line to the Vienna Metro Station. From the Station, take the CUE Gold Bus Route 11 toward George Mason University, stopping at Heritage Lane.


A Place to Pause and Ponder the Marks of War

One of Washington’s newest memorials is also one of its most unique. Dedicated by President Barak Obama on October 5, 2014, the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial (AVDLM) stands on a wedge-shaped piece of ground in Southwest Washington, D.C., an island of reverence floating amidst a busy bureaucratic sea.

Unlike other monuments found throughout Washington dedicated to individuals, military units or specific wars, this memorial is dedicated to all current and former members of the Armed Forces who have been changed physically or psychologically by war.

The AVDLM was the brainchild of Lois Pope, a Florida philanthropist who was inspired after meeting a disabled veteran at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1995 and realizing no similar monument exited for American service members disabled by war.


She would ultimately team up with then-U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary Jesse Brown and Art Wilson, head of the Disabled American Veterans, to spearhead the effort. The three would encounter many challenges and hurdles in building this memorial before realizing their goal, not the least of which was the memorial’s location.

The 1986 Commemorative Works Act provided the National Capital Monuments Commission the authority to approve the sighting for all monuments and memorials on most Federally owned land.

During the review process, the commission found that the AVDLM did not reach the level of prominence necessary to afford it a space on the National Mall. While the AVLDM’s supporters were taken aback by the decision, they selected an alternate location one block south of the Mall, rather than risk a major delay in the project.

A view of the U.S. Botanic Garden Conservatory (and its reflection) from the memorial.

At first glance, the site might seem an odd location for such a monument. It lies between three busy streets–Washington Avenue, 2nd Street and C Street–amid interchange ramps for arterial highways and next to the Headquarters of the Department of Health and Human Services. The Rayburn House Office and other Federal office buildings spread out in the blocks around it. The massive Capitol Power Plant looms large to the south. Pedestrian and vehicle traffic can be heavy in the area.

The U.S. Capitol Dome and the Bartholdi Fountain are both visible from the AVDLM site. The memorial’s planners thought the close proximity of the memorial to the Capitol would remind Congress of their responsibilities regarding war and peace.

After numerous revisions, the final construct combined stone, water, fire, vegetation, and etched glass into multiple design elements which not only mark the physical and psychological impact of war on the veteran, but also the ability of that veteran to emerge from trauma and move forward toward recovery with courage and resolve.

The National Capital Planning Commission’s architectural drawing of the layout of the AVDLM’s final design.  National Capital Planning Commission (June 24, 2010). American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, …  NCPC File No. 6179 (Report). Washington, D.C.: National Capital Planning Commission.

The focal point of the memorial is a star-shaped fountain and triangular reflecting pool. At the center of the fountain is a flame produced by the ignition of gas bubbles floating up through the water. The flame of course recalls the sacrifice of wounded veterans and the effect of the flame rising out of the water is quite enthralling. (Unfortunately, during the colder weather months the fountain is drained and there is no flame).

Along the south side of the memorial (cleverly masking the power plant) are three walls composed of 48 glass panels where the true message of the AVDLM is found in etched images and inscriptions of wounded veterans discussing their duty, the impact of their wounds, what it took to recover, and how they moved forward.

The 18 quotes on the walls were selected from over 600 submitted anonymously to a design panel. Interspersed within the walls are four bronze silhouette sculptures which provide additional visual context to the disabled veteran’s path of pride in their service, trauma, recovery and finding new purpose.

Along the western side of the memorial are two large granite walls bearing two more quotes on the burdens of war and military service by George Washington and Dwight D. Eisenhower.

Around the memorial are ginkgo and cypress trees and a variety of ornamental bushes and other plants, which add some greenery to the many stone and glass features. The ginkgo trees turn gold each November and will ultimately grow to form a canopy through the memorial.

A ginkgo tree silhouetted by the Department of Health and Human Services next to the memorial.
A bronze silhoutte sculpture within the glass wall.

Throughout the memorial plaza are a myriad of stone benches, inviting the visitor to sit and spend some time letting the memorial’s elements come together – the burning flame, the trickling water, the thoughts and images of the veterans, the names of Washington and Eisenhower, the Capitol Dome, even the traffic and people passing by – to remind us all that the wounded warrior is much more than the wound.

Disability does not define the disabled veteran.

If you cannot come to Washington DC to visit the AVDLM in person, click here for a virtual tour or check out the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial website for a video montage and information about the memorial’s planning and construction.

* * *

The Census Bureau estimates there are approximately 4 million disabled veterans living in the United States today. If after your physical or virtual visit to the AVDLM, you want to lend some of them a hand, there are many organizations who are looking for volunteers with a wide variety of skills to assist in providing professional services, home improvement help, advocacy, fundraising and many other areas.

A few examples include:

  • The Disabled American Veterans (DAV) organization offers a variety of services to disabled veterans and their families and has many volunteer opportunities.
  • The Fisher House Foundation has a network of homes on the grounds of military and VA hospitals for visiting family members of hospitalized service members and veterans. Fisher House operates the Hero Miles Program, using donated frequent flier miles to bring family members to the hospitals for visits.
  • Building Homes for Heroes builds specially modified homes for disabled veterans that help them live independently. The homes are provided at no cost to the veterans.

ROUTE RECON

The AVDLM is located southwest of the U.S. Capitol and south of the U.S. Botanic Gardens. The Street address is 150 Washington Avenue, SW, Washington, DC 20024. The memorial is accessible from the Capitol South and Federal Center Southwest Metro Stations (on the Blue, Orange and Silver lines).  There is very limited street parking in the immediate area.

MESS CALL

There are a number of eating establishments in the blocs to the west of the AVDLM. One locally owned favorite is the 2 Sisters Deli at 400 C Street SW. The deli features tasty and generously sized sandwiches at a reasonable (for DC anyway) price. And the staff is friendly.

A Century Later, Belgium Reflects on Its Recovery

Belgian Soldier
Belgian Soldier Statue at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels

Belgium is a relatively young country by European standards, declaring independence from the Netherlands in 1830.

Its flat landscapes and location along major trading—and invasion—routes placed it at the center of many military conflicts through the centuries, including World War I.

The Belgian Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels is a fascinating stop with exhibits spanning from medieval to contemporary times.

The museum has a very impressive collection of artifacts, including suits of armor, uniforms, flags, and weapons organized into eleven galleries. The museum takes the traditional approach to organizing its exhibitions by displaying entire collections of items with little narrative.

Exhibit Hall
The Historic Gallery where more than 8,000 items from 1831 to 1914 are on display.

The World War I exhibit is no exception. Display cases with uniforms from all the combatant countries except Greece and Bulgaria line the wall of the large exhibit hall. Machine guns, artillery pieces, tanks and vehicles are featured in the hall’s center.

Although the collection is large and contains many unique and interesting pieces, its arrangement seems haphazard. Uniforms are displayed on older department store mannequins. Equipment is randomly clustered together. There is little explanation of how the war unfolded for Belgium, the role of Belgian military units or how the equipment was used on the battlefield.

A planned renovation for the museum’s World War I gallery had to be postponed and several pieces of the collection are currently loaned out for other exhibits marking the war’s centennial.

Fokker Triplane
A German Fokker Triplane displayed above the World War I Exhibit Hall.

The Western Front

Remmeber Belgium
Remember Belgium Poster: Young, E. (ca. 1918) [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress
The exhibit does not reflect the significance of Belgium’s prominent role in World War I. Germany invaded Belgium in August 1914 in order to quickly attack France. By going through Belgium, the German army hoped to catch the French unprepared and take Paris.

They were unsuccessful and the Western Front became a stalemate.

The Germans occupied much of Belgium throughout the war. Belgian citizens were subject to forced labor and Belgian resources were used to support the German war effort.

Stories of atrocities against the Belgian population by German soldiers became propaganda for recruitment efforts in France, the United Kingdom and the U.S.

Belgium was the site of a number of World War I engagements: the Frontiers, Mons, Ypres, and Passchendaele are only a few.

Beyond The Great War

By contrast, a sleek new exhibit on post-war Belgium offers a more immersive experience, making extensive use of multimedia. Beyond The Great War 1918-1928 is a temporary exhibit marking the 100th anniversary of the 1918 armistice.

The post-war exhibit departs from military themes and covers a myriad of political, social and economic issues Belgium had to navigate following World War I. Those challenges were stark. The Belgium military concluded hostilities–taking tremendous losses in the final days of the war–before transitioning to occupation duty, then demobilization.

Cannon
A period Schneider 155 Howitzer used by the Belgian Army

King Albert I and his ministers returned to Brussels and reestablished civil authority. All types of ordinance needed to be cleared from cities, towns and farms. More than 700,000 Belgian refugees tried to resettle. The dead needed to be buried, the wounded cared for, and destroyed infrastructure rebuilt. The Belgian economy needed to be reorganized as Belgium was brought into a new international order.

The look and experience of Beyond the Great War is different from many of the other exhibits found throughout the museum. It is brighter and more colorful with well curated displays which draw the eye. Archived photos, art, film and statuary are used to tell Belgium’s post-war story along with video and an impressive visual replica of the Hall of Mirrors at Versailles.

French Sailor
Statue of a French sailor, part of a monument to French sailors erected in Melle, Belgium. Belgium built many monuments to Belgian and Allied troops after the war.

The Museum

The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History was established in the early 1920’s, expanding upon a small, but well-received, military exhibit at the Brussels World Fair in 1910. In 1923, the museum moved to its current location in the Cinquantenaire (50th Anniversary) Park in central Brussels.

The park was developed from a former military parade ground to mark the 50th Anniversary of Belgium’s independence. A large triumphal arch and classical arcade dominate the park, which also houses several other museums.

Arch
Triumphal Arch, the centerpiece of Cinquantenaire Park in central Brussels. The entrance to the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History is located near the base of the arch.

The military history museum’s World War II galleries are currently closed for renovation in preparation for the 75thAnniversary of the end of the Second World War. The current exhibits are being refurbished and a new hall is being built to chronical Belgium’s second occupation.

What will emerge? It is not entirely clear, but replicating the approach of Beyond the Great War will surely make the stories of Belgium’s World War II experiences more compelling.

* * *

Beyond the Great War 1918-1928 is open through September 22, 2019 at the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History in Brussels, Belgium.  

The museum is open daily, except Mondays, from 0900 – 1700. The museum is also closed on January 1, May 1, November 1, and December 25.  Admission is 5 Euros, payable only by debit or credit card. Discounts are also available for certain groups. See the Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History for more information.

ROUTE RECON

The Royal Museum of the Armed Forces and Military History is located in Cinquantenaire (50th Anniversary) Park. The park is located in central Brussels and accessible by multiple bus, subway and streetcar lines.  The Merode or Schuman Stations are each about a ten-minute walk from the museum.

There are also several car parking lots in the park.

MESS CALL

The Sky Café inside the museum offers snacks, sandwiches and a variety of beverages, including beer and wine. It is open from 1000 – 1600 each day.  However, the kitchen closes early so arrive before 1400 if you want to order food.

 

 

Happy 75th Birthday Pentagon!

The Puzzle Palace, Fort Fumble, the Big Spoke, Bat Cave on the Basin, the Concrete Carousel.

The world’s most famous five sided building has many nicknames, but the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense is more simply known as the Pentagon.

1 Pentagon Aerial View
Overhead view of the Pentagon 2008 Photo by David Gleason from Chicago, IL. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2018 marks the 75th anniversary of this iconic Washington, DC landmark.

In the late 1930’s, as the world edged closer to war, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and War Department leaders knew they needed a new building to house the department’s expanding workforce. At that time, employees were scattered in multiple buildings around the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

2 Munitions and Main Navy Buildings
An overhead view of the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings.  Built at the beginning of World War I, these buildings housed a large number of War and Navy Department workers. The buildings were located on the Mall in the vicinity of the current Viet Nam Memorial. The buildings were demolished in 1970. Photo: Histories of the National Mall, accessed 25 January 2018, http://mallhistory.org/items/show/57.

Designing and planning the new building began in earnest in 1940, with two proposed sites selected in Arlington, Virginia, just over the Potomac River from Washington. The first proposed site was the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Arlington Experimental Farm. The other was Hoover Field, an early Washington area commercial airport. The Pentagon owes its particular five-sided shape to the irregular layout of the experimental farm location. The unique design of five pentagons nested together connected by radiating hallways allowed planners to maximize the structure’s available work space.

3 Pentagon Ramps
Pentagon concourse in 1944. In order to save steel, building designers used concrete ramps, rather than elevators, for workers to move floor to floor. Photo: U.S. War Department

Ultimately, the Hoover Field site was selected over the farm location, but the five-sided design was kept. The building was to be made of concrete, to minimize the need for steel, which was needed for war production. Limestone facades over the concrete completed the neoclassical look of the Pentagon we know today.

The final contracts were signed and ground was immediately broken on September 11, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor three months later only added to the urgency to complete the Pentagon’s construction, which took just sixteen months. When construction was completed on January 15, 1943, some War Department workers had already moved in.

The Pentagon was the headquarters for the War Department from 1943 through 1947, when the National Security Act formally established the Department of Defense (DoD). Then the Pentagon became the headquarters for this new department as well as for each of the armed services. As the size, budget and influence of the military grew during the Cold War, the term “the Pentagon” would become synonymous with the DoD and American military bureaucracy, with all of its successes and excesses, strengths and weaknesses, victories and mistakes.

 * * *

Members of the general public have been able to tour the Pentagon since 1976, when the tour program was implemented as part of America’s bicentennial. Today Pentagon tours are still available, but they do require some planning ahead.

Tours are by reservation only, which can be made by visiting the Pentagon Tours website. Reservations must be made at least two weeks before the tour date. The DoD is very careful about who is allowed into their headquarters so follow all the instructions on the website carefully.

On the day of the tour, arrive at the Pentagon Visitor Center (near the entrance to the Pentagon Metro Station) with sufficient time to clear an airport style security checkpoint. The Pentagon tours website recommends arriving one hour ahead of time.

After clearing security, there is a waiting area, also used by other Pentagon visitors. The waiting area has a gift shop with the expected collection of hats, key chains, post cards and other trinkets with Pentagon or military service themes. (If something catches your eye, be sure to buy it before the tour begins as you will not pass by the gift shop again). There is also a mockup Pentagon briefing podium and backdrop for taking selfies or group photos, sure to impress friends and family.4 Pentagon Podium

Tours are led by junior enlisted service members. One cannot help but feel a bit of pride in these young men and women, dressed in their class A uniforms with crisp creases and polished brass. Guides are selected from the military services various honor guard units stationed in the area. One guide confided it is a good job to have, working in a climate controlled building with weekends and holidays off. The biggest challenge he said was memorizing all the facts and walking backwards for most of the mile-long tour.

As one of the world’s largest office buildings, the guide had many facts about the Pentagon to share. They are recited effortlessly, with machine gun-like repetition. The Pentagon is five stories tall, with an additional two stories underground and covers 28.7 acres. Today there are over 17 miles of corridors, 54 escalators, 70 elevators, 131 stairways, 284 restrooms, 8,979 parking spaces, 16,250 lighting fixtures and 26,000 employees.

The tour followed the guide up one of the 54 escalators to the Pentagon’s extensive retail area. The original building designers wisely included extensive retail space so workers would not have to leave the building for common necessities. Today the Pentagon’s  workers can visit about 20 fast food restaurants, three banks, a clothing store, drug store, barber shop, hair salon, dry cleaners, jewelers, post office, vision center, even an office of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

5 ANZUS Corridor
The displays in the ANZUS Corridor, on the Pentagon’s second floor, commemorate the 1951 Security treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

But the tour is more than just facts, figures and shopping. Many Pentagon corridors have special defense-related themes with museum quality displays. However, the tour is only about 60 minutes long. While the tour group keeps moving most of that time, the size of the building makes it impossible to see every special exhibit in that amount of time. The tour planners though selected a route that allows the guides to broadly focus on the missions of the U.S. Armed Forces and their storied pasts.

The center piece of the Air Force displays is a series of scale models of Air Force aircraft, past and present. After the guide discussed the size of the C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft, the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor fighter and the stealthiness of the B-2 Spirit bomber, he pointed out his favorite aircraft, the Waco CG-4A Combat Glider.

6 Waco_CG-4A_USAF
A Waco CG-4A-GN (45-27948) Combat Glider on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force  Photo: U.S. Air Force

The guide explained how the gliders saw service during World War II. The light bodied aircraft earned the nickname “the Flying Coffin” due to their precarious mission of flying unarmed while carrying troops and equipment deep behind enemy lines as a precursor to invasions and large advances. Gliders and their crews served with distinction in Sicily, Burma, Normandy, Southern France and Bastogne among other places.

Somewhat surprisingly, the tour next passed the displays of the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, not the DoD. But at several times through its history, especially during wartime, the Coast Guard has served as part of the Navy. The displays trace the Coast Guard’s history from its forerunners first establishment in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service. Naval aviation followed the Coast Guard, then a corridor dedicated to Dwight D. Eisenhower represented the Army.

8 Memorial
Inside the Pentagon’s interior 9/11 Memorial. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

The one stop the tour does make is at Pentagon’s interior 9/11 Memorial. The memorial is located on the first floor of the outer ring, in the area struck by American Airlines Flight 77. The walls of the memorial feature a textured metallic finish with black stone tablets recognizing the sacrifices made that day, commemorating the names of those who died and detailing the medals awarded to the military and civilian casualties. Adjoining the memorial is the Pentagon Memorial Chapel, which opened in 2002.

9 DEF_Medal_for_the_Defense_of_Freedom
The Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom was established after the 9/11 attacks for civilian employees of the DoD killed or wounded in the line of duty.

The corridor leading to the memorial and chapel has one of the Pentagon’s most unique displays, the Pentagon Memorial Quilts. In the months and years after the attack, individuals and groups from across the United States (and some foreign countries as well) sewed then donated quilts to the Pentagon to mark the tragedy and aid in recovery. The quilts reflect a variety of themes but most reflect patriotism, loss, memorializing the fallen, gratitude for the responders and support for the military. There are about 120 quilts in the collection. Around fifty are displayed at the Pentagon with others rotated and loaned for display in communities and military facilities around the world.

Because of the security precautions, visiting the Pentagon takes a special effort, but it is well worth it. The Pentagon’s size, shape and mission certainly make it a unique location to visit. But walking its hallways, hearing its history, seeing its occupants walk briskly about, and seeing the exhibits remind us all of what it takes to serve.

* * *

Route Recon

The best way to reach the Pentagon is by taking the Metro Rail system. There is a Metro station at the Pentagon, served by the Blue and Yellow lines.  As you exit the metro gates, make a left and proceed up the escalator. The Pentagon Visitors’ Center will be on your right.

There is NO public parking at the Pentagon. If traveling by car, park in the parking garage at the Pentagon City Mall. The Pentagon is about a 10-minute walk away. After exiting the parking garage or mall, cross Army-Navy drive and take a pedestrian tunnel  over to the Pentagon. When you exit the tunnel, follow signs for the Metro, which will lead you to the Pentagon Visitor’s Center. Visit the Pentagon Tours website for more information.

Mess Call

There is no eating during the Pentagon tour and unless you have an escort, you will not be able to visit any of the Pentagon’s eating establishments. The nearby Pentagon City Mall and neighborhood have a wide variety of dining options

Serving with Paint, Paper and Pencils

Weapon? – Check!

Gas Mask? – Check!

Paint Brush? – Check!

Sketch Book? – Wait! WHAT???

Paint brushes, sketch books and charcoal pencils are usually thought of as implements of art, not of war. But a very special exhibit of combat art from World War I currently hosted at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum demonstrates how they can be both. The exhibit, entitled Artist Soldiers, is a collaboration between the Air and Space Museum and the Smithsonian National Museum of American History.

While art depicting combat has been around probably as long as there has been combat, what makes this exhibit unique is the featured artists.

877 Dunn
Battle of the Marne by Harvey Dunn; Watercolor and Pastel on Paper, 1918

Shortly after the U.S. entered World War I, military policymakers decided to recruit artists directly into the Army, due in part to similar British and French programs. Visual images in posters, newspapers and magazines would be important for maintaining the morale and support of the American public. British and French military artists had generated some impressive work for their governments in this regard.

The task of recommending specific artists for this duty fell to Charles Dana Gibson, an accomplished artist and illustrator who headed the Division of Pictorial Publicity of the Committee on Public Information. Gibson recommended illustrators, artists who can usually draw or sketch quickly, an important skill for someone working in combat.

882 Townsend
Helping A Wounded Ally by Harvey Everett Townsend; Charcoal on Paper, 1918

In early 1918, eight of these successful commercial artists were commissioned as Reserve captains in the Corps of Engineers and assigned to the American Expeditionary Force (AEF).

It was the first time the War Department incorporated artists directly into the Army’s ranks and sent them into combat areas for the expressed purpose of “making a complete pictorial record of the American Army’s participation in the war”.

Many of the artists already knew each other before arriving in France with the AEF, having studied at the same art schools such as the Art Institute of Chicago or the Art Students League in New York.

The eight artist-soldiers were:

William James Aylward – A successful book, magazine, and advertising illustrator, he grew up around docks and often portrayed maritime subjects. As a combat artist, he focused on ports, of course, but also landscapes.

896 Aylward
Unloading Ships at Bassen Docks by William Aylward; Charcoal and Gouache on Paper, 1919

Walter Jack Duncan – Also a noted illustrator before the war, he often depicted the soldier’s life in rear areas.

George Matthews Harding – During World War I, Harding produced combat scenes incorporating many new technologies introduced in World War I, such as aircraft and tanks. Harding would serve as an official combat artist again during World War II.

Wallace Morgan – Prior to the war, Morgan worked for many of the major magazines of the day, such as Colliers’ and the Saturday Evening Post. He was especially well known for his black and white drawings.

897 Peixotto
Tressing Nets for Artillery Emplacements by Ernest Peixotto; Pen and Ink Wash and Charcoal on Paper, 1918

Ernest Clifford Peixotto – The “old man’ of the group at 48 upon his commissioning, Peixotto worked in France, painting landscapes and illustrating travel books prior to the war. Peixotto stayed in France for several years after the armistice. He taught art in an AEF’s educational program for soldiers remaining in Europe.

J. Andre Smith – Trained in architecture, he actually preferred to draw and etch. Smith was the only one of the artists who received military training before he deployed, having served briefly in a camouflage unit. He also became the group’s commanding officer.

879 Smith
Band concert at Neufchatel by J. Andre Smith; Watercolor and Charcoal on Paper, 1918

Harry Everett Townsend – He returned to the U.S. from Europe in 1914 to draw war posters, then volunteered for Army service. Townsend lost a brother early in the war in a plane crash. He focused much of his work on aviation and other new technologies. Townsend later worked at the Paris Peace conference and taught art at the AEF’s training center.

Harvey Thomas Dunn – He was a daring combat artist who usually worked in close proximity to the front lines.

Upon arriving in France in May 1918, the artists were assigned to the AEF Intelligence Section, Press and Censorship Division. For several weeks after their deployment–as U.S. forces continued to drill and train for combat missions–the artists oriented themselves to Army life, toured the battlefields, and prepared themselves for what was to come.

889 Morgan
The Morning Wash Up Neufmaison by Wallace Morgan; Charcoal on Paper, 1918

They established a studio in the French town of Neufchateau, halfway between the AEF’s Headquarters and the front. There they could complete or refine their drawings into finished pieces. The artists were directed to submit their images to the War Department at the end of each month, along with a report on anticipated follow-on pieces.

Once deployed, they had the authority to move freely around both the forward and rear areas to do their work. While there is no record of any of the artists going “over the top”, they took their mission very seriously. They positioned themselves at the front, lived in the trenches, got wet in the rain, missed meals, and exposed themselves to enemy fire many times in order to do their work.

In the nine months of service with the AEF, the artist soldiers produced over 700 pieces. They drew, painted and sketched scenes from the front, rear areas, the use of new technologies, soldiers both on and off duty, landscapes, civilians, in short, all they were exposed to.

878 Aylward
Returning Refugees at Hattonchatel by William Aylward; Charcoal and Gouache on Paper, 1919

For all their efforts, however, the brass in Washington was not always happy with their work. While skillfully prepared, the pictures and their subject matter were not always easily transferred to home front use in boosting morale. But they do provide a challenging and thought-provoking contemporary rendering of the daily life of American soldiers and French civilians in 1918.

Following the war, all the artists continued their successful art careers. The War Department transferred about 500 of their works to the Smithsonian Institute which displayed them at various times through the 1920’s. Since then however, the paintings have not been exhibited very often, making this a rare opportunity to see a portion of these unique and historic works.

887 Harding
American Artillery and Machine Guns by George Harding, Charcoal on Maison, 1918

An accompanying exhibit entitled Soldier Artists displays some impressive photography of stone carvings created by soldiers while living in the underground trenches, along with other World War I period artifacts from the Smithsonian collections.

Both exhibits are currently on display until November 2018.

While you are at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, be sure to visit the permanent exhibit on World War I combat aviation.

* * *

ROUTE RECON

The NASM is located at the intersection of Independence Avenue and 6th Street, Southwest. There is no onsite parking, but there are several commercial lots nearby. The nearest Washington Metro stations are the L’Enfant Plaza Station on the Yellow and Green Lines and the Smithsonian Station on the Blue and Orange lines. Both stations are about a two block walk to the NASM.

MESS CALL

The Wright Place Food Court offers a variety of fast food meal options from Boston Market, Donatos Pizza and McDonald’s.

* * *

Featured Image: The Prisoner by Harvey Dunn, Oil on Canvas, 1918

Celebrating 70 Years of “Aiming High” at the U.S. Air Force Memorial

September 2017 marks the 70th Anniversary of the United States Air Force, which was formally established as a separate military service by the National Security Act of 1947. Previously, various ground-based air reconnaissance, combat and support units had existed as part of the U.S. Army.

Flags
The U.S. Air Force celebrates its 70th Anniversary in 2017.

What better way to mark the 70th Anniversary of the Air Force than to visit the Air Force Memorial?

Given the relative young age of the Air Force (compared to Army, Navy and Marine Corps, which were all established in 1775), it is rather understandable that for most of its existence, the Air Force had no memorial of its own.

In 1991, leaders of two Air Force veterans’ organizations began an effort to build a memorial to those who served in the Air Force and its predecessor organizations.

The memorial sits in Arlington, Virginia along a high ridge adjoining Interstate 395, the main southern arterial into Washington, D.C. With views of the Potomac River, Pentagon, and other official buildings spread out below, this location fittingly evokes the aerial nature of the Air Force mission. Arriving and departing aircraft from nearby Reagan National Airport add to the effect.

View with flags 2
Official Washington as seen from the U.S. Air Force Memorial.

Architect James Ingo Freed, (who also designed Washington’s Holocaust Museum) studied how to use the physical location to capture the essence of the Air Force and the dedication of the men and women who have served in its ranks. The resulting venue is sleek and streamlined, with minimal adornment and flourish, as if inspired by a modern aircraft.

The most prominent feature of the memorial is three vertical, arc shaped steel spires, meant to evoke the image of soaring flight. The spires are arranged in a triangular pattern with the highest reaching up to 270 feet.

Spires from hill
The Air Force Memorial’s most prominent feature, three steel spires reaching skyward.

N/A
The U.S. Air Force “Thunderbirds” perform the High Bomb Burst maneuver.  (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Larry E. Reid Jr.)

The spires are also reminiscent of a contrail pattern formed by the U.S. Air Force Thunderbird Air Demonstration Squadron as they perform their “breaking bomb” maneuver. The lack of a fourth spire alludes to the “missing man” formation, used by Air Force flying units at funerals and other events to mark the loss of a comrade. Given their height and prominence, the spires have also added an additional landmark to the Washington, D.C. skyline.

Just to the west of the spires is a wide walkway connecting two highly polished granite inscription walls. The northern wall lists Air Force Medal of Honor winners. In front of it is a small glass contemplation wall to remember our airmen who are no longer present.

Commemoration Wall
Mementos left at the base of the memorial’s contemplation wall

Airman
The visage of one airman from the honor guard sculpture.

On the opposite southern wall are displayed the Air Force’s core values:

Integrity first,

Service before self,

Excellence in all we do

In front of the southern wall is a sculpture of a four-member Air Force honor guard, keeping watch over the Memorial and adding a human element to the lofty arches and inspired words.

The colors of the Memorial’s features are muted, again like a modern aircraft, metallic spires, polished dark granite walls, gray statues, and the glass contemplation wall. The only other prominent color is green, from the manicured lawn and the trees ringing the parking lot.

HG in Wall
The honor guard sculpture and spires reflected in the southern inscription wall.

Woman and FlagsWhile most aspects of the memorial are clearly visible, one is not: silence.

A certain stillness permeates the venue, bringing a sense of quiet to a busy corner of Arlington. Given this setting, along with the views, designs and significance of the memorial to members of the Air Force, it is a common location for promotions, concerts and other special ceremonies, so you may be sharing your visit with larger gatherings and even the Air Force Band.

(You can check event calendar for a listing of special events at the memorial.)

Some visitors, upon seeing the Memorial for the first time, remark about its unique designs and features and how they are relevant to the Air Force experience. President George W. Bush addressed this in his remarks at the memorial’s dedication on October 14, 2006.

He said: “A soldier can walk the battlefields where he once fought, a Marine can walk the beaches he once stormed; but an airman can never visit the patch of sky he raced across on a mission to defend freedom. And so, it’s fitting that…the men and women of the Air Force will have this memorial, a place here on the ground that recognizes their achievements and sacrifices in the skies above”.

Spires and Sky

The U.S. Air Force Memorial is located at 1 Air Force Memorial Drive, Arlington, VA, 22204. The memorial is free and open every day but December 25. Daily hours of operation from October 1 through March 31 are 8:00 AM – 8:00 PM and from April 1 through September 30 are 9:00 AM – 9:00 PM.

* * *

Route Recon

The Air Force Memorial is easily reached by car, from the Pentagon or Pentagon City Metro stations or bus. From Visit the Air Force District of Washington Website for more information.

* * *

Mess Call

The nearby Pentagon City neighborhood has a wide variety of dining options. Pentagon City is located about 1 mile from the Air Force Memorial. When exiting the Memorial, take a left onto Columbia Pike. At the first intersection, take a right on Joyce Street and cross underneath I-395 and you will enter Pentagon City. Take a left on Army-Navy Drive and you will see several parking garages on your right.

Mount Vernon: An Admiral’s Namesake, A General’s Home

First in war, first in peace, first in the hearts of his countrymen…

So wrote General “Light Horse Harry” Lee in tribute to his colleague George Washington. And this is how George Washington is usually thought of: lofty, dignified, and somewhat remote.

Flag
A flag with 13 six-pointed stars is said to be George Washington’s personal standard as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army. The flag and its bearer would follow General Washington wherever he would go.

Folklore repeats the familiar stories of Washington as Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, heroic and virtuous crossing the Delaware, valiantly leading his troops at freezing Valley Forge and in the final victory at Yorktown. As our country’s first president, he set the tenor and established customs still adhered to today.

But a visit to his home at Mount Vernon in Alexandria, Virginia portrays George Washington the man–rather than the myth–with insight into his roles as a planter, businessman and private citizen as well as the military and political leader.

George Washington loved his home at Mount Vernon and it is easy to see why. The graceful manor house, symmetrically arrayed outbuildings, tended gardens, rolling landscape and beautiful vistas of the Potomac River would appeal to any founding father (or mother!)

MtV West
The historic mansion’s two story piazza facing the Potomac River to the east.

The Washington family had owned the land comprising Mount Vernon since 1674, when George Washington’s great-grandfather, John, was granted a right to the property. It would pass to George’s father Augustine in 1726. George’s half-brother Lawrence inherited the property in 1743. It was Lawrence who gave it the name Mount Vernon after his commanding officer in the Royal Navy, Vice Admiral Edward Vernon.

Lawrence_Washington
Lawrence Washington, circa 1738. After their father died in 1743, Lawrence became a mentor and close friend to his younger half-brother, guiding him toward a military career.

Lawrence served under Vernon’s command in an attack on a Spanish fortress in present day Columbia in 1741. During the engagement, Lawrence commanded a regiment of volunteers from Virginia. It was the first time a regiment of Americans fought as a component of the British Regular Army outside of North America. George would command the same regiment from 1755 through 1758, when he resigned and moved to Mount Vernon. He would inherit Mount Vernon in 1761 upon the death of Lawrence’s widow.

Through his adult life, George Washington was devoted to Mount Vernon’s development and commercial growth. As a plantation, Washington relied on income from the plantation’s operations to support himself and his family.

Today’s Mount Vernon is comprised of approximately 500 acres, but in Washington’s time his estate occupied close to 8,000 acres, organized into four farms producing a variety of agricultural products for resale. Washington also raised livestock, milled grains, fished commercially and distilled whiskey. He was an entrepreneur, not afraid to take risks or invest in new technologies.

Sheep
Washington was an enthusiastic breeder of animals. Many of the same breeds of animals, such as these sheep, can be found at Mount Vernon today.

A walk through the manor house is the centerpiece of a visit to Mount Vernon. Through the years, Washington fashioned an ennobled mansion from the more modest farm house his father built, befitting his stature as a wealthy Virginia planter. Though he made improvements over time, Washington’s keen eye and attention to detail made the property, its buildings and landscaping seem consistent and whole. Today’s manor house has been carefully restored to resemble how it looked in 1799, the year Washington died.

MtV West copy
The Manor House at Mount Vernon facing west. The door is slightly off center to accommodate for a staircase added by Washington in 1758.

The tour enters through the “New Room”, the last room added to the house and completed around 1787. This large, double-story room, papered and painted in elegant and fashionable greens, was meant to impress Washington’s guests.

“When it was completed”, the docent explains, “most houses in Virginia could fit into this room.”

The New Room served as a reception room, ballroom, and dining room, as well as a studio for portrait sitting. The room’s decorations reflect Washington’s love of the land. Farm instruments decorate the mantel piece, molding and plaster ceiling while paintings of pastoral river scenes dot the walls.

Cuppola
Washington added the cupola to help draw hot air out the mansion in the summer time. Note the dove shaped weathervane, representing peace, atop the cupola.

On the opposite side of the house is Washington’s study. Unlike the New Room, this was a private space where Washington would manage his personal, public and business affairs. Washington brought the chair from his presidential office back to Mount Vernon and installed it here (where it is now on display). The room also houses a portion of his library; Washington was self-taught, and a voracious reader. His library collection reflected his many interests: agriculture, political philosophy, government, and military history, to name a few.

The Washingtons maintained six bedrooms at Mount Vernon, with additional attic rooms available as well. The Washingtons were accustomed to hosting many house guests and even more daily visitors. Washington openly welcome them. In a letter to his farm manager Washington wrote: “I have no objection to any sober or orderly person’s gratifying their curiosity in viewing the buildings, Gardens, & ca. about Mount Vernon.”

The year after his presidency he and Martha received some 600 guests. Not all would stay in the mansion. This required a certain social standing or letter of introduction from a friend, relative or well-known acquaintance. But all visitors were provided with Martha’s trademark hospitality and overnight accommodations somewhere on the grounds, if necessary.

Kitchen
Mount Vernon’s kitchen is the closest outbuilding to the mansion. The kitchen was kept separate to limit the impact of heat and the threat of fire in the house.

The Mount Vernon Ladies Association, which has owned and maintained Mount Vernon for over 150 years, opened the Donald Reynolds Museum and Education Center in 2006 for a more in depth examination of Washington’s life. Here Washington moves beyond the two dimensional figure read about in history books.

The museum skillfully employs modern display technologies with life sized dioramas, professionally produced films, and over 700 artifacts to tell Washington’s story as a surveyor, military officer, husband, stepfather, grandfather, slave owner and president. His brief retirement and untimely death at Mount Vernon are also portrayed.

Valley Forge
This statue of Washington at Valley Forge is part of a special research project to present Washington’s appearance as realistically as possible. Scientists and researchers examined artifacts, archives, and artistic renderings in order to depict Washington at three different ages: as a young man, at age 45 at Valley Forge, and as he assumed the Presidency.

If your visit to Washington, DC involves learning more about George Washington, then time at Mount Vernon will make your trip complete. Join the legions of guests who have visited Mount Vernon over the centuries. Walk the grounds, tour the mansion, explore the many exhibits or take part in some of the special events hosted each year. After all, General Washington would want you to!

* * *

Route Recon:

Mount Vernon is open every day, although hours do vary by season. The estate is located at 3200 Mount Vernon Memorial Highway, Mount Vernon, VA 22121, approximately 15 miles south of Washington, DC, at the end of the George Washington Memorial Parkway. Parking is free, but if you visit during a busy time, you may be directed to more remote overflow parking.

You can also reach Mount Vernon by public transportation. Take the Metro Yellow Line to Huntington. Exit downstairs to Huntington Avenue. Take a Fairfax Connector Bus #101 to Mount Vernon.

More information on the Fairfax Connector System can be found here.

Please note: Photography is not permitted in the mansion or the museum.

* * *

Mess Call:

There are two dining options at Mount Vernon. The Food Court offers a variety of sandwiches, pizza, salads, snacks, desserts and beverages. Breakfast is also available during the morning.

A more formal dining experience can be had at the Mount Vernon Inn Restaurant which provides sit-down meal service with a menu including both contemporary and colonial era dishes.

Both are located in the vicinity of the main entrance.

 

The Library of Congress Opens its Books on World War I

I WANT YOU
James Montgomery Flagg, 1917 Lithograph, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress

You know the look.

Intense. Almost a scowl. With piercing eyes that follow you around the room.

The man’s right index finger points directly at you, leaving no doubt who he is looking at. The long goatee, blue coat and top hat give him away.

He is your uncle, of course, and you know what he wants.

You! In the U.S. Army! NOW!

Artist James Montgomery Flagg’s image of Uncle Sam is probably the most iconic American illustration to come out of the World War I era.

This poster and many other artifacts from the First World War can be seen in the recently opened exhibit Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress.

Video Kiosk
View World War I imagery on video kiosks such as this throughout the exhibit. The Library of Congress digitized over 26,000 feet of period film for Echoes of the Great War, some not seen in over 100 years.

The Library of Congress regularly presents exhibitions based on its extensive collections of all types of print and recorded media. Echoes of the Great War is the Library of Congress’s commemorative exhibition marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. entry into World War I. The impressive assortment of posters, newspapers, letters, diaries, maps, videos and other articles assembled by Library of Congress curators for Echoes of the Great War bring the issues and experiences of the World War I era down to the human level.

The exhibit is neatly organized into four separate sections, corresponding to the period of neutrality, domestic mobilization, operations in Europe, and how the U.S. navigated the challenges of the war’s aftermath. The first section entitled Arguing Over War explores the Wilson Administration’s policy of neutrality and how German unrestricted submarine warfare contributed to its demise.

ExhibitIThe section also highlights an important relief operation less well known today, the Commission for Relief in Belgium (CRB). Taking advantage of U.S. neutrality, the CRB procured, transported and distributed 11.4 billion pounds of food to 9.5 million civilians living in German-occupied Belgium and Northern France saving many from starvation. It was chaired by a young mining engineer then living in London named Herbert Hoover.

Waste No Food
The U.S. did not have mandatory food rationing during WWI, but the government encouraged voluntary food conversation through posters such as this. (Waste No Food. Wash.DC, U.S.D.A., ca. 1917. Broadside, Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

The second section Over Here examines how the United States effectively prepared for this new, global war and met the associated challenges of mobilizing the economy, expanding the military, and balancing the various demands of the public while trying to maintain public support of the war effort.

Posters vividly tell the story of this section, depicting the need for Americans to enlist in the military, buy war bonds, conserve food and work more efficiently.

The U.S. military in combat is the focus of the third section, Over There. In this section the diaries and letters take on a special poignancy as civilians, Marines and soldiers of all ranks including General Pershing and Lieutenant Colonel George Patton explain their personal experiences in combat as well as their daily routines.

Diary
A page from the diary of  Sergeant Major Claud Charles Hamel, USMC, who served at Belleau Wood. He writes about visiting Dr. Boone’s aid station and meeting wounded Marines. (Claude Charles Hamel. “Diary of Claude C. Hamel, Formerly Regimental Personnel Sergeant Major Fifth Regiment U.S. Marines AEF, April 1917 to August 15, 1919”, June 22, 1922. Bound typescript memoir. General Collections, Library of Congress)

 

An early test of U.S. forces in World War I was the Battle of Belleau Wood, fought in June 1918 when the U.S. 2nd Division, comprised of both Army and Marine Corps elements engaged the Germans in a forest near Paris.

Lieutenant Joel T. Boone, U.S. Navy, was serving as Medical Officer for the 6th Marine Regiment and operated an aid station during the battle. In his diary on display, he describes the first night of the battle as “a Perfect Inferno”. Dr. Boone would be awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his service in caring for the wounded and preparing patients for transport, even when the aid station was hit by enemy fire.

One month later, he earned the Medal of Honor for treating Marines under direct fire and risking his own life to collect medical supplies. Dr. Boone would later win six Silver Stars and become the most decorated medical officer of any branch in U.S. military history.

The artifacts found in the final section, World Overturned, reveal the post-war U.S. as it sought to keep the peace, expand democracy, welcome veterans, and absorb the other societal changes which were hastened by the war. There are maps with hand drawn overlays of new countries in Central Europe and the Middle East, posters extolling employers to hire veterans, and a picture of Assistant Secretary of the Navy Franklin Roosevelt awarding Dr. Boone his Medal of Honor.

Nobel Prize
President Woodrow Wilson’s 1919 Nobel Peace Prize (Medal, case and scroll box. Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress)

There is also an original draft of President Wilson’s “14 Points” address to Congress, where he laid out is ideas for a lasting post-war peace. Wilson believed that democratic values in place of autocratic monarchs, self-determination of peoples and the collective action of a League of Nations would help prevent future global conflicts. He would forcefully argue his 14 Points at the Paris peace negotiations following the war and win the 1919 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts.

You can always learn something by visiting a library and this is especially true when visiting Echoes of the Great War at the Library of Congress. At the end of the exhibit is a video featuring the exhibit’s curators, advisors and consultants discussing their contributions and what they learned while researching this project.

Echoes EntranceIn order to preserve what is on display, some items will be rotated out every seven months so Echoes of the Great War is worth visiting more than once before its scheduled closing in January 2019. The Library of Congress also put details of the exhibit, including photos and information on what is currently on display, teaching aids, curator notes and other resources on their website so you can still view many of the items, even if you cannot travel to Washington.

* * *

Tucked away in a separate room behind Echoes of the Great War is another exhibit worthy of a visit. This exhibit commemorates Thomas Jefferson’s sale of his personal library to Congress in 1815. Jefferson made the offer after the original holdings of the Library of Congress were destroyed by fire in 1814, when British forces attacking Washington, D.C. burned the U.S. Capitol. In 2015, the Library of Congress marked the bicentennial of the purchase of Jefferson’s collection by putting many of the original volumes on display.

JEFFERSON
Visitors examine several original volumes from Thomas Jefferson’s library conveyed in 1815 as the beginning of a new Library of Congress.

Throughout his life, Jefferson had accumulated more than 6,000 books on a wide variety of subjects. Jefferson believed members of Congress would benefit from access to such a broad collection. Through the years, his idea of the Library of Congress possessing the widest collection of materials for Congressional reference has taken hold. Today the Library of Congress holds more than 160 million items, making it what many consider to be the largest library in the world.

The Library of Congress’s main building is named in honor of Thomas Jefferson and is a worthy destination for anyone visiting Washington. The building was built in the late 1880’s and the interior is filled with beautiful carvings, mosaics and stonework. The Library of Congress offers tours on the half hour. Tours originate on the ground floor and last approximately 1 hour. Arrive around 10 minutes early to view a short video on the Library of Congress.

* * *

Route Recon

Echoes of the Great War is found in the Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress, located at 10 First Street, SE, Washington, DC, 20540. The closest Metro stop is Capitol South on the Orange, Blue and Silver Lines. Upon arriving at the station, use the main exit and walk approximately two blocks north on First Street SE. The Jefferson Building will be on your right, opposite the U.S. Capitol on your left. An alternate stop is Union Station on the Red Line. From Union Station exit the main entrance and cross Columbus Circle to First Street SE. Proceed about a half-mile and you will see the Jefferson Building on your left. Union Station’s public parking garage is also a good option if you are driving to the Library of Congress.

FDR: A Man and His Memorial

SignJust west of the Tidal Basin lies the memorial to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unlike most memorials in Washington, DC that consist largely of a single structure or statue, the FDR memorial is a mix of engravings, vegetation, statues, sculptures, walls and water features. It’s big, spread out over an area encompassing more than five football fields.

Noted landscape architect Lawrence Halpern designed the memorial so visitors could experience it in their own distinct way, which explains its unique, open, and rambling nature. Many Americans remember FDR as the only President elected to four terms and Mr. Halpern incorporated this unique accomplishment into his design. The memorial is laid out in four distinct sections or “rooms” with each room corresponding to one of FDR’s terms of office.

But to better understand the man and his memorial, it is important to look beyond these four rooms and FDR’s time in the White House. He was born into a wealthy New York family. Schooled at Harvard and Columbia Law School, he ultimately chose a career in politics rather than the law.

He modeled that career after his fifth cousin Theodore’s, although the members of his branch of the Roosevelt family were Democrats, while Teddy’s were Republicans. FDR was first elected to the New York State Senate in 1910 from a Republican leaning district. He was a reformist, pro-labor state senator who worked to limit the impact of the political machines which dominated much of the state’s politics.

IMG_0086

As an early supporter of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election, FDR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. At the time, this was the number two position in the Navy Department, answering directly to the Secretary. He was eager to take the job. FDR greatly admired the Navy; he once claimed to own 10,000 books about the Navy and had read all of them but one. His cousin Teddy had also been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he saw the job as an important political stepping stone.

His seven years as Assistant Secretary provided FDR with valuable experience that served him well as President. As Assistant Secretary, he negotiated contracts, supervised civilian personnel and tried to orchestrate the work of the Navy’s various bureaus. He learned the importance of keeping good relations with Congress, how to work with big corporations and maintain the support of labor unions.

Room 3
Scattered blocks symbolic of the chaos of war.

He also became acquainted with numerous Naval and Marine officers, many of whom he would call upon some twenty years later to serve in key commands and staff assignments. He founded the Naval Reserve and as World War I approached, he learned to apply various bureaucratic mechanisms to effectively harness industrial production and prepare the Navy for wartime. He was so highly regarded in his overall tenure at the Navy Department, he was selected as the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 1920. Although the Democrats lost that year, FDR’s advocacy for the common man in his policymaking and his remarkable communication skills would propel him to two terms as New York’s governor and, ultimately, to the White House.

Fireside Chat
Statue of a man listening to one of FDR’s Fireside Chats. FDR delivered 30 such radio addresses during his Administration, explaining his policies and programs to the American public in a simple, yet confident conversational style.

***

Water is an important feature in this memorial. Over 100,000 gallons of water are recycled through the water features each minute. The water pools, the water falls, the water streams along, silently in some places, loud in others.

Waterfall
Visitors to the FDR Memorial experiencing a waterfall.

FDR loved the water. As a youth, FDR was an avid swimmer and sailor. After he was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at age 39, hydrotherapy became an important part of his rehabilitation. He purchased property in Warm Springs, Georgia where he returned regularly for treatments in the warm, mineral rich water.

FDR would devote tremendous time and energy to his therapy and was very supportive of others also afflicted by polio. He founded the Warm Springs Foundation, so many could experience the same therapeutic benefit of the waters. He would also found the National Institute for Infantile Paralysis, which we know today as the March of Dimes. While FDR would regain some limited use of his legs, he was always very careful not to be photographed or portrayed using the crutches or wheelchair he still relied upon.

FDR and Fala
The statue of FDR (as he might wish to be portrayed) and his dog, Fala, in the Third Room of the FDR Memorial. Note FDR’s cloak covering the wheelchair.

FDR’s portrayal at the memorial was the subject of some controversy when it opened in 1997. A large statue of a seated FDR, along with his canine companion, Fala, shows FDR’s large cloak covering his wheelchair. Some thought his disability should be in full view as an example and inspiration to others. Ultimately, a bronze statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added in 2001 at the memorial’s entrance.

Scattered throughout the memorial are 21 inscriptions of famous quotations from FDR’s speeches, fireside chats and writings. They clearly evoke the troubles and challenges of the times. But they also reflect FDR’s unique ability to reach each individual in his audience and assure the listener of FDR’s concern for them and their future. Some quotes are very familiar (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”), others less so.

I HATE WAR
Excerpt from FDR’s I HATE WAR Speech.

The central/showpiece quote in the third room, denoting World War II, comes from FDR’s “I Hate War” speech. FDR actually delivered this speech in 1936, as he was increasingly concerned by events in the world. He understood the impact of a global war and hoped to sway other nations to join the United States in avoiding conflict. That effort was, of course, not successful and the haphazard waterfalls and scattered granite blocks in the room—several inscribed with “I HATE WAR”—are meant to evoke the chaos and destruction of that war.

FDR died on April 12, 1945 at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, just 26 days before the unconditional surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe. The last room of the memorial is dedicated to his legacy. There is a small relief of his funeral cortege and several quotes about the future he hoped to realize and the peace he hoped to build.

ER
Statue of First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt in the Fourth Room of the FDR Memorial. This is the only presidential memorial to also honor a first lady.

The FDR Memorial is one of the most unique in Washington and well worth a special visit. Like all the memorials in the vicinity of the National Mall, the FDR Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The late evening or early morning hours are actually good times to visit, when the grounds are quieter and the nighttime illumination or early light create special effects on the walls, water, statues and other features. Park Rangers are on site daily from 9:30 am until 10:00 pm. There is also a book store by the entrance with a variety of materials about FDR, his wife Eleanor, and the Great Depression, as well as souvenirs of Washington, DC.

Interestingly, FDR desired something much different as a memorial. He once remarked to his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, that if a memorial should ever be dedicated to him, it should be about the size of his desk and placed on the grass lawn in front of the National Archives.  He wanted it kept very plain, with only the inscription “in Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt”. He got his wish; the memorial was dedicated in 1965 and can be found at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, NW, right next to the National Archives.

***

Route Recon

The two closest Metro stops to the FDR Memorial on the Mall are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, both on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines. DC Circulator’s National Mall route or Metrobus routes 32, 34 or 36 are also options. Visitor parking is available on Ohio Drive, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Handicapped parking spaces are set aside at locations on West Basin Drive in front of the memorial. It is always important to note that street parking is often limited in DC.