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Marines and Memorials

Joseph AmbroseAt left: Joseph Ambrose, an 86-year-old World War I veteran, attended the dedication day parade for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial on this weekend in 1982. He was holding the flag that covered the casket of his son who was killed in the Korean War.

The Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, passed a resolution to raise two battalions of marines to serve as landing forces with the nation’s young navy on this day in 1775. The corps became a separate military entity in 1789. Since that time, the marines have built a distinguished legacy as they played a vital role in a wide variety of operations around the world, in places such as Iwo Jima, Vietnam, and Iraq. Today, there are 19-thousand officers and nearly 160-thousand enlisted men and women in the U.S. Marine Corps.

On 1 Jun 1954, President Dwight D. Eisenhower signed Bill HR7786 that officially changed the name of Armistice Day to Veterans Day. That same year, on 10 November, President Eisenhower dedicated the The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, on the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. While the statue depicts one of the most famous incidents of World War II, the memorial is dedicated to all Marines who have given their lives in the defense of the United States since 1775. The Iwo Jima Memorial is located near the Arlington cemetery, across the Potomac river from Washington, D.C.

Today, President George W. Bush stood on the steps of the newly minted National Museum of the Marine Corps to honor a Marine who died saving his comrades in Iraq from a grenade blast. Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham was fighting hand to hand when his attacker dropped a grenade. Dunham dived on the explosive and used his helmet to try to blunt the blast and to save his fellow Marines from the explosion. Dunham was critically wounded, and he died eight days later at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland in 2004.

The Gift of Valor: A War StoryPresident Bush announced today that the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration, will be awarded posthumously to Marine Cpl. Jason Dunham. The Scio, New York, native would have been 25 years old today. Dunham will be the second American to receive the Medal of Honor from service in Iraq (Army Sgt. 1st Class Paul Ray Smith was the other), and his story was told by Wall Street Journal reporter Michael Phillips in the book, The Gift of Valor: A War Story.

Although The National Museum of the Marine Corps will not open to the public until 2:00 pm on Monday, 13 November, this site was built as a lasting tribute to past, present, and future U.S. Marines – both men and women. Situated on a 135-acre site adjacent to the Marine Corps base in Quantico, Virginia, the Museum’s soaring design evokes the image of the flag-raisers of Iwo Jima and beckons visitors to inspect its 118,000-square-foot structure. World-class interactive exhibits using the most innovative technology will surround visitors with irreplaceable artifacts and immerse them in the sights and sounds of Marines in action.

The opening of the Marine museum, like the Iwo Jima Memorial, marks the origins of the U.S. Marine Corp. On 21 October 1921, Maj Edwin McClellan, OIC of the Historical Section, HQMC, sent a memo to MajGen Commandant John A. Lejeune, that suggested that the original birthday of 10 November 1775 be declared a Marine Corps holiday to be celebrated throughout the Corps. Accordingly, on 1 Nov 1921, Gen Lejeune issued Marine Corps Order No. 47 summarizing the history, mission, and tradition of the Corps, and directed that it be read to every command each 10 November. This documentation is being added online to the U.S. Marine Corps History and Museums Division Website.

On this day – and during this weekend – in 1982, the newly finished Vietnam Veterans Memorial, known as “The Wall,” also opened to its first visitors in Washington DC. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial recognizes and honors the men and women who served in one of America’s most divisive wars. The memorial grew out of a need to heal the nation’s wounds as America struggled to reconcile different moral and political points of view.

In fact, the memorial was conceived and designed to make no political statement whatsoever about the war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a place where everyone, regardless of opinion, can come together and remember and honor those who served. By doing so, the memorial has paved the way towards reconciliation and healing, a process that continues today. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial accomplishes these goals through the three components that comprise the memorial: the Wall of names, the Three Servicemen Statue and Flagpole, and the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. The latter tribute was dedicated on this day and over the subsequent weekend in 1993.

Numerous online sites are dedicated to various aspects of Iwo Jima and The Wall Memorials. The best way to access these sites is to use a search engine to find sites that describe the memorials. One site, The Wall-USA, offers information on casualties and birthdays for the Vietnam vets whose names are inscribed on this memorial.

Tomorrow, 11 November, marks Veterans Day for America. Sites where services will be held are included at the Veterans Day Regional Sites page at the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Website. Additionally, disabled veterans showcase their talents in art, drama, creative writing, dance and music at the National Veterans Creative Arts Festival every year. This year, for the first time ever, the festival’s stage show can be seen on TV. The one-hour performance will be shown on many Public Broadcasting Service stations throughout the country around Veterans Day. A partial listing of channels and showtimes is offered for your convenience by the Veterans Affairs.

Other resources used for this entry: U.S. Census Bureau.

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