A Stroll On The Tidal Basin

by James Fetter

To most Americans the Tidal Basin, located inside the banks of the Potomac River in Washington DC, is associated with the glorious annual display of cherry blossoms, a spring ritual that should be seen by every American at least once in their life. During this period local travel would lead one to believe that every American is in fact here visiting. 

The Tidal Basin is a roughly one-mile stretch of Americana from the Thomas Jefferson Memorial to the Abraham Lincoln Memorial. The vista is breathtaking and I challenge anyone to deny a feeling of patriotism and pride as they travel Ohio Drive through West Potomac Park. This is what America is about. Standing on the top of the Lincoln Memorial steps looking due east and seeing the Washington Memorial and the nation's capital has been the inspiration for photographers and sustained Kodak stock for over 100 years.

Being a local resident now makes it easier to take this trip. When I have visitors I never hesitate to offer this opportunity for their enjoyment and mine as well. Today is more special than any previous trip. My guest today is my grandson, Jacob. Sharing this majestic beauty with his five-year-old perspective on life is priceless. I specifically ask him to join me today to help me look for a friend.

Today is different! The cherry trees are weeks away from blooming, the temperature is flirting with the freezing point, dirty snow banks are piled on the roadside, and tourists are sparse. This gloomy, dismal day is probably more appropriate for the next part of the tour, for which I have deep personal feelings that often exceed my ability to express. It is this part of the tour that often keeps me making the trip, but compels me to go at the same time.

Standing on the top step of the Lincoln Memorial after being overwhelmed by the majestic view from this perspective, there is no other alternative for me at this point than to proceed down the steps to the left about 100 yards. The words of Lincoln's Gettysburg Address inscribed on the inside of the left-hand wall of the memorial echo in my mind as the next memorial comes into sight.

". . . we can not dedicate--we can not consecrate--we can not hallow--this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is for us, the living, rather to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us--that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion--that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain--that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom--and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from death."

The view is now of a obscure granite wall about 200 yards in length embedded in a small grassy hill. The wall begins at one end level with the ground and increases in height to approximately fifteen feet before it begins subsiding in height to the other end. Most visitors never realize that the artistic representation of this length of the wall depicts a time line of the war and the height of the wall represents the number of casualties during that period. The scene is the Viet Nam Memorial. 

Today I explain to my grandson, Jacob, that my friend's name is one of the more than 50,000 names on this wall. I explain that we both went to the war but he never returned. Jacob being five years old, I realize the words I say are really intended for myself. Maybe others of my generation have never shared this feeling, but I know they are thinking it.

We procede to panel 43E line number 69 displaying the name RICHARD N PROCIDA. 

I'd like to think a legacy was passed today--a lesson in democracy and the true price of freedom, a small lesson and a great cost.



Last changed: July 27, 2003