Colin Mills: Time for a Reston Memorial?

Colin Mills/File photoA couple of weeks ago, I took a day trip over to Annapolis. As much as I love Reston, I do escape its borders from time to time!

Annapolis is a lovely town, and I enjoyed the boutique shops along Main Street, the top-notch seafood and Key lime pie at a good old-fashioned crab shack, the museums and historic buildings, and the beautiful views along the Bay. But an unscheduled stop at the World War II Memorial proved the highlight of my trip, and got me thinking about the idea of creating something like that in Reston.

Driving down Ritchie Highway, I saw a small sign indicating a World War II Memorial and scenic overlook.  Being both a history buff and a fan of scenic views, I figured it might be worth a few minutes of my time.  Little did I know just how breathtaking and thought-provoking the memorial would turn out to be.

The memorial is built into the side of a hill, so you have no idea what you’re about to experience when you approach from the parking lot. The first thing you encounter is the overlook, a pavilion that provides gorgeous views of the Severn River, the Naval Academy, and parts of downtown Annapolis. I stood there for a few minutes, enjoying the beautiful weather and the sense of calm that overtook me.  Even though the memorial is between two busy highways, it’s surprisingly peaceful and well-protected by the trees and hedges that surround it.

But the memorial itself was what I wanted to see, so I went down to take a look. Conceptually, the layout of the Annapolis memorial is similar to the National World War II Memorial in DC, with a ring of 48 stone pillars, one for each state in the Union at the time. But Maryland’s memorial contains several additional touches that made it stand out for me.

Outside the ring of pillars is an obelisk, the memorial’s most striking feature. The seven-sided base displays the names of the various branches of the service, while the metal obelisk forms a five-pointed star. It was impressive when I saw it during the day, but I’ll bet it’s even more attractive at night, when it’s lighted.

In between pillars on the north side of the memorial are a series of granite panels displaying the names of the Marylanders who lost their lives in service during World War II. The stark simplicity of the names etched in the dark stone reminded me of the Vietnam Memorial, and provided the same sense of solemn reflection.

My favorite aspect of the memorial is a series of 20 metal plaques that provide a succinct yet surprisingly thorough overview of the war. The plaques touch on the major events and locations of the war (including the “forgotten theater” in China, Burma, and India), as well as efforts on the homefront and Maryland’s role in preparing for, supplying, and fighting the war.

The west and east sides of the memorial contained hidden gems: a pair of maps depicting the major battles in the eastern and western hemispheres.  The maps and the plaques combined to tell the story of the war well.  My daughter recently studied World War II in school; I’d like to take her to the memorial to help her put the facts she learned into context.

The center of the memorial did not contain a fountain like the D.C. memorial; instead, it housed an amphitheater that went down into the earth. This is no doubt intended primarily for presentations and ceremonies, but it’s also a good spot to sit and take in what you have seen.

I walked away feeling deeply impressed by the memorial.  It was visually striking and majestic without being overwhelming.  It was cleverly integrated into its surroundings, with the scenic views only enhancing the experience. Despite being in a fairly busy location, it still provided tranquility and a place for quiet reflection.  And best of all, it provided information and fostered a sense of connection with the events it commemorated.

After considering all the things I liked about the memorial, my next thought was: We should have something like that in Reston.

As the 50th anniversary celebrations this year have demonstrated, our New Town now has a history of its own.  Now that we are an established community, I think it’s time for us to start thinking about building monuments of our own here in Reston.

Of course we have Bronze Bob, and the 9/11 Memorial at Browns Chapel, and other lesser-known historical markers like the Dag Hammarskjold plaque by the International Center.  But I’d love to see something on a larger scale, something that could serve as a community gathering place as well as a monument, something as well-planned and well-executed as the World War II Memorial in Annapolis.

Obviously, World War II wouldn’t be a suitable subject here, since Reston didn’t exist at the time. But a similarly informative memorial about Reston’s history would be a terrific companion to the fine exhibits at the Reston Museum. Or perhaps we could commemorate a historical event with a connection to Reston.  A memorial about the civil rights movement would be most appropriate, given Reston’s history as an open community and our continued commitment to diversity. A Cold War memorial would be more unorthodox, but would also be a suitable choice, given Reston’s ties to the CIA and the defense industry and our proximity to the Nike missile site in Great Falls.

I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.  Is Reston ready for a large-scale memorial?  What would be an appropriate subject for such a memorial?  And where would be a suitable location for it?

Also, I highly recommend a visit to Annapolis.  It’s only an hour away, and it’s a great place to spend a day or two if you’re a fan of history, crabs, or funky little shops.  Now, if we could talk about bringing some of those funky little shops to Reston.

Colin Mills is the president of the Reston Citizens Association. He writes weekly on Reston Now.

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