Shoes. Piles of dark, weathered, worn shoes. If they could speak, they would disclose secret tales, too ghastly to imagine. The leather-bound soles might sigh, weep, and hesitate to tell about the arduous roads they marched, and those souls who walked in them. However, that is exactly the point. They cannot speak. In fact, they have survived to this day only because they cannot speak. As the plaque above them denotes, the shoes were left untouched simply because they were composed of inanimate leather, and not humanity. Such is the sight any visitor may see on the second level of the Holocaust Museum, located in Washington DC.
A few weeks ago, my junior class and I traveled to Washington DC to learn about the valuable and sobering history of our nation. Included in this classic student tour was a visit to the Holocaust Museum, which serves to educate visitors about that time—highlighting issues such as Hitler’s rise to power, the unawareness of some Nazi soldiers, the brutality of the Gestapo, the treatment of the Jews and the disabled, and the inhumanity of concentration camps. Overall, the Museum not only enlightened me, but humbled me. I can only imagine, and have not lived, the horrors of camps like Auschwitz.
Along these same lines, our visits to all the memorials and monuments struck many tender chords in our hearts. One cannot gaze upon the WWII Memorial without being struck by the beautiful architecture, but one cannot closely examine or walk throughout this Memorial without being struck by the weighty and personal cost sacrificed for daily freedom. One such symbol is found on the side of the monument, denoted simply by a cartoon-like drawing and the words, “Kilroy was here.” To the casual observer, this means nothing. To one who knows the story of Kilroy, though, a deep connection occurs. A ship inspector by the name of James Kilroy would leave this little mark upon completion of a routine inspection. It became a symbol of the era, even to the extent of including it on the memorial. This is one simple example of the profound realization that these were real people, like you and I. The War was not a collection of distant battles. No. Instead, the War was James Kilroy, next door neighbors, brothers and families. This awareness helped me to put myself in Kilroy’s shoes, and look at the Memorial as honoring genuine and sacrificial individuals, who deserved that recognition (and more).
My experience in Washington DC was like no other. Nowhere have I been before where I felt so humbled and so small. In sharing this common experience with my classmates, of which there are only six, I know that we have reached a new level of closeness in our relationships. We stand together, more aware of the weighty sacrifices that have been made. We stand together, sobered and blessed. We stand together, to say, simply but genuinely, “Thank you.”
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