Macaulay Seminar One at Brooklyn College
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Vietnam War Memorial and 9/11 Memorial

We first visited the Vietnam Veterans Memorial; a memorial tucked between two large buildings on the southern tip of Manhattan. It was a memorial that I, quite frankly, never even knew existed. When we first entered the plaza in which the memorial was situated, we were met by a large map that detailed landmarks and major locations and battles of the Vietnam War. We then continued down The Walk of Honor. Along this walkway that lead to the memorial, on either side, were listed the names and ages of the 1,741 New Yorkers who died in Vietnam. After proceeding to the end of the walkway, we finally arrived to the memorial itself.
I found the memorial to be quite interesting. Firstly, there was the ability to actually walk through the memorial. There were two rectangular arches that allowed passage from one side to the other allowing quick access to and views of both sides of the memorial. The materials used for the memorial were also interesting, namely the glass blocks. These glass blocks were in essence individual units that came together to make a larger, singular memorial. Also, the glass used was not transparent. Rather, the glass was a very opaque green; almost giving the sense that it was hiding something deep within it’s confines.
The part that I found the most interesting, however, were the actual letters written between soldiers in Vietnam and their families back home etched into the glass of the memorial. Many of them spoke of the horrors of the war, the terrible sights, sounds and smells, the constant fear, and confrontation with death. But one letter stood out the most to me. Or rather just one phrase: “Don’t be a hero.” It’s a phrase I’ve heard from my dad so many times used in so many scenarios that it almost seems like a joke when he says it sometimes. But to see these words used in such an extreme context- a mother whose beloved son is thrown into the clenches of a gruesome and deadly war- really struck me. It made me think of how lucky I am, living safely as I do, and not fighting in a terrible war with my life on the line, as did so many young men, many even younger than me, did before.

We then visited the 9/11 memorial. It was interesting to immediately see the contrast between the two memorials, the first a seemingly abandoned plaza hiding at the shy edge of the city between buildings, a highway, and a heliport, and the second bustling with activity of those coming to pay their respect, the intense security, and the bustle of the city that surrounds the memorial. Once we past security, though, the atmosphere was much more calm and quiet. And very somber. People walked around slowly and quietly around the plaza and memorials. To add to that feeling, it was a particularly grey day.
To juxtapose this silence, however, was the roaring of the water flowing from the two pools. I found this quite remarkable. The water that started at the top of the pool seemed so placid, yet as it trickled over the edge the splashing sound resonated quite loudly. It then fell into what seemed like a bottomless pit, as the angle of the viewer cut off the pit that lies in the center of the pools, and throws off any perception of its true depth.
The pools themselves are also quite large, and I find that their size and placement in accordance to the two towers is very impactful. I can’t honestly say that I remember the twin towers, but this representation clearly implies that they were quite massive. In addition, the name of every person who perished in that terrible tragedy is etched deeply into a sheet of thick metal. To see name after name after name, of every man woman, and even unborn child going on for what seemed like forever, with the occasional flower placed here or there was deeply moving. I can’t say I really remember the twin towers as they stood, nor do I have any personal relationship with anyone involved in the terror attacks of 9/11, but I still felt a sense of loss; a terrible pang deep within my heart.
But despite this loss, hope was still alive. I thought this was well personified by the survivor tree. Although damaged in the attacks, the tree survived, and was nursed back to health. I had previously visited the 9/11 memorial, and the survivor tree seemed to be terribly damaged, held together by ropes and cables. Yet on this day, the tree seemed vibrant and full of life, and a shining symbol of the future.


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