Every year, we go down to the National Mall over the Memorial Day weekend. It’s a fitting, and moving, visit to make, and a pretty amazing opportunity to capture a wide spectrum of humanity and emotions as thousands of veterans arrive, often on Harleys, and visit the Vietnam Memorial.
African Americans and rural whites come to the Memorial to reflect on loved ones lost. In fact, as we were there yesterday, the woman on the left below was saying to her friend that she comes here every year to mourn her father, but that even though he had to die in Vietnam, she wouldn’t want him to have lived if it meant someone else’s father had to die.
It’s not all mournful though. The motorcyclists come in force for their Rolling Thunder ride, which takes place today, in fact, and more on that in a moment.
It is, in its own way — and in recognition that this is a summer ritual, a three-day holiday weekend that kicks off summer — festive. People come to eat and see their friends and there is commerce on the edge of the Mall. As of course there is. ‘Murica.
But what makes this event each year so meaningful is the essential apolitical nature of people coming to Washington, motivated by a desire to celebrate their participation in our nation’s wars, by the desire to shine the light on POWs and MIAs.
Which is why we found ourselves yesterday — and honestly, today — so disturbed by the notion that Donald Trump plans on coming to the Mall today to hold a rally with the Rolling Thunder riders. Forget for just a moment the notion of this proto-fascist on the National Mall, mere yards from the White House literally, and figuratively, revving up the crowd of Harley riders. No matter what he says, he will have spoiled what is essential about this weekend, here, each year. Which is the essential poignancy of those reflecting on a sacrifice he dodged, and the reminder of the consequences of those who would recklessly send young American men and women off to war.
All images Leica M-240 and 50mm Noctilux. To follow John Buckley on Twitter: @johnbuckley100. On Instagram: tulip_frenzy.