There was a light summer rain that day in 2002, when I had a late meeting in the Rosslyn area, across the Potomac from the District of Columbia. Listening to WTOP, the local traffic radio station, I learned the “spaghetti bowl” (the area between Rosslyn and the Pentagon) was jammed and not moving. Deciding to read instead of waiting in traffic, I pulled off on Mead Street and parked across from the “Iwo Jima Memorial”.
It has a commanding view of the District, aligned almost perfectly with the Washington Monument and the Capitol building. In the distance, the rain was heavier and the sky was darker. I thought about the War of 1812, when the Capitol was burned and wondered how dark the sky was that day. I thought about the Civil War, when major battles raged in too-close Bull Run and Fredericksburg and wondered how much they feared an invasion by Confederate soldiers. I thought about the combined horrors of World War One and the Spanish Flu of 1918, crushing the spirit of the already-glum District, interrupted by the “Roaring 20’s” before plunging into the endless heartbreak of the Great Depression. I wondered about the pervasive fear during World War Two that was hanging over the District, as we rebuilt our national economy while millions were dying abroad.
I remember the fires burning, as I circled the District in a C-130 all night, waiting to jump into the civil right riots when Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968. I remembered the Vietnam War protests, when medals for bravery were flung back at the Pentagon. I remembered watching the Pentagon burn from my office window just the previous year on 9/11.