There is no denying it, the United States is not a perfect country. Since its very founding, it has struggled with countless complex and weighty issues that have almost torn it apart. Through more than two centuries of evolution, wrestling with the issues with some level of success, the memories of discord and strife, however, run deep beneath the surface like the serpentine veins locked inside blocks of marble. Listening to the stump speeches of the hordes of presidential candidates crisscrossing the country, one can only conclude that America is broken, fractured. The political dialogue can, at times, seem more focused on intensifying divisiveness rather than encouraging unity.
If you travel across the country, you will encounter magnificent structures, national monuments, that can restore your faith in America. These towering monuments are profound testimonies to what makes this country great — its people. Especially on Veterans Day, the monuments remind us of the many times in the nation’s history that thousands or millions of Americans came together, because they believed in their country, its ideals (especially freedom) and sacrificed their lives so that succeeding generations could enjoy an American life, with all its virtues — and its imperfections. Standing before any one of these monuments, you cannot help but feel united with all Americans, a deep sense of appreciation, and ultimately, humbled.
“Across the United States, on county courthouses and national monuments, below statues and over doorways, are words etched in stone” writes Ryan Coonerty, author of Etched in Stone, “These poems and quotations are lasting testimonies to what our nation was, is, or aspires to be. Even as the nation and its people succeed and fail in these aspirations, the words in stone remain… These words engraved into stone — metaphorically, if not always literally — require that we stand with one another in a public space to remember, mourn, celebrate, dream, and continue to hope, knowing that our children and their children will do the same.”
Bookshelf honors veterans by featuring the eloquent words that are etched in stone, in the national monuments that honor these American heroes, many of whose names we will never know.
Location: Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania
Engraving: The Bivouac of the Dead, a poem by Theodore O’Hara
“Rest on, embalmed and sainted dead,
Dear as the blood ye gave,
No impious footstep here shall tread
The herbage of your grave.
Nor shall your glory be forgot
While fame her record keeps,
For honor points the hallowed spot
Where valor proudly sleeps.”
Location: National D-Day Memorial, Bedford, Virginia
Engraving: General Dwight Eisnhower’s D-Day order: “Soldiers, sailors, and airmen of the Allied Expeditionary Force you are about to embark upon the Great Crusade, toward which we have striven these many months. The eyes of the world are upon you. The hopes and prayers of liberty-loving people everywhere march with you…”
World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Engraving: Excerpt from President Harry Truman’s address to Congress: “They have earned our undying gratitude. America will never forget their sacrifices.”
Marine Corps War Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Engraving: Quotation from Admiral Chester Nimitz: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
Engraving: “Our Nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
For further reading: Etched in Stone: Enduring Words from Our Nation’s Monuments (2007)