One of the things I checked out in DC was the Vietnam Memorial Wall. I've been a little obsessed with this wall since college because I think it is an amazing design. The designer, Maya Ying Lin won an anonymous contest with her idea, while she was still in grad school, and fought to defend her design for years. Many veterans saw it as morbid, or a sign of shame, because it was black.
Being there in person, I never got that feeling. It's quite amazing. You can tell the wall was made for the living, in order to honor the dead because it is such an interactive experience. Seeing myself reflected behind the names, and being able to touch them, changes the idea of the traditional memorial. In most cases, you can not touch a piece of art, but this memorial encourages the visitor to do so.
I admit that I am a bit fixated on memorials in general. I'm not quite sure why I find them so powerful. I know that is what they are supposed to do, but I don't know anyone who ever had cause to be given a memorial. I don't know any of the names on the Vietnam Wall. I don't know anyone who died in the Korean War (another amazing memorial in DC), I don't even know anyone who died in the current war. That doesn't change the fact that these memorials affect me. Perhaps because I value life so much, seeing all those names up there, it didn't matter that I was never connected to anyone up there, it's still such a horrible waste of life. These memorials should serve as a reminder that there is a high price to war and we are still paying it, even as we fight this new one. But I guess the president doesn't make many trips out to his own front lawn to remember any of this.