History

A Monumental Day of Blogging

In light of the Executive Branch of the government directing the new Secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, to review recent monument designations, we’ve been reflecting on the essential value of national monuments within the National Parks Service, We prefer Parks & Points be apolitical, focusing on the beauty and importance of public lands — wonder and passion is what inspired us to start Parks & Points, and we celebrate public lands within the content we publish. But the present moment begs us to reflect more deliberately and pointedly, because these monuments are irreplaceable and essential. Losing them would be a misstep for our culture. The value we as a society place on learning from history, and on cultural understanding, feels to be in jeopardy.

Walnut Canyon National Monument, photo by Amy Beth Wright.

Walnut Canyon National Monument, photo by Amy Beth Wright.

On a recent road trip to Arizona and New Mexico, we visited seven different national monuments and one national park. The monuments were comparably breathtaking to any celebrated national park, though less crowded. In our few hours at El Malpais National Monument in New Mexico, we explored caves (we hoped to see a bat, though was not to be this time), lava fields, and trails — we photographed colorful spring wildflowers and enjoyed the land that “We the People” own and can enjoy. At Sunset Crater we marveled at the still dark and ashy terrain stained by volcanic eruptions centuries ago, and at Walnut Canyon we were struck silent by a six-hundred foot gape in the earth that nestles cave dwellings of the early Sinagua people. In fact, the one national park we visited on our recent trip, Petrified Forest, started out as a national monument. The monument designation is an important and critical step to securing land and preserving it for public enrichment and enjoyment — it has on more than one occasion been the point of entry to the NPS system, followed by a national park designation in more than one instance, including Acadia and Zion National Parks among many others. And we’d challenge anyone to find a national park that isn’t loved by visitors. Consider this — the Statue of Liberty is a national monument.

Cave open for exploration at El Malpais National Monument, photo by Derek Wright.

Cave open for exploration at El Malpais National Monument, photo by Derek Wright.

The national monuments that are currently up for review may not see the same number of visitors as some of their more famous cousins within the National Parks Service system, however these lands are vital to our history as a nation and sense of purpose as a culture. We’ve come to place in our history where our public lands are valued for different reasons by different parties. “Protected” is no longer an absolute. And now, as a culture, as a society, we need to decide whether to maintain our public lands for recreation, exploration, learning, and science or whether to cede them to private interests for resource harvesting and unregulated use. We hope you will join Parks & Points in urging Secretary Zinke to keep the designations as they are — the value of our public lands is too great to be in the hands of the few.

You can visit www.monumentsforall.org for more information, and to register your reflections on the importance of these sites. The federal comment period runs through July 10 and we do hope you’ll take some time to make your voice heard.

El Morro National Monument, photo by Derek Wright.

El Morro National Monument, photo by Derek Wright.

Pearl Harbor, A Remembrance

In the early hours of the morning on December 7, 1941, the radar operator at Fort Shafter’s radar information center on O’ahu, east of Pearl Harbor and further inland, noted a profound surge in signal, indicating a large amount of aircraft activity one hundred miles north. First Lieutenant Kermit A. Tyler assumed the surge was from an expected delivery of United States B-17 bombers. One Japanese pilot later wrote that he had been trained to think of his aircraft as if he and the plane were one body. The USS Arizona was bombed at least five times with B5N torpedo bombers, both from air and sea, via midget submarines. The last bomber is believed to have exploded the ammunition magazines on board, which burnt and hollowed the ship’s interior, fire and smoke venting through the sides. Black smoke and flame swept the shoreline. Fires burned for two days on the surrounding shores. Sailors swam to nearby Ford Island for refuge, their bodies burnt and coated with oil. Civilians died by friendly fire, officers desperately shooting against an enemy that had already retreated. By the end of the attack, of 2,335 sailors, soldiers, and marines, as well as 68 civilians were dead.

The permanent exhibit at the Pearl Harbor Museum, within the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument on O’ahu, reflects that the attack was “the end of the age of the great battleship.” Pearl Harbor is now under the auspices of the World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, established in December of 2008 and comprising national sites Hawaii, the Aleutian Islands, and Newell California. All commemorate U.S. engagement in the Pacific theatre of war during World War II. Via the site in Hawaii, you can also tour the USS Missouri, where the peace agreement between the U.S. and Japan was signed in September of 1945, the USS Bowfin Submarine Museum and Park, and The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor, on Ford Island.

USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

We visited Pearl Harbor in 2013, and were deeply moved and sobered by the memorial, more finely understanding the fear and devastation that the surprise attacks wrought. The collected, recorded stories of soldiers and civilians helped us imagine the feelings of being foisted to the front line of a new war, hours if not days away from immediate assistance.

The USS Arizona Memorial, designed by Alfred Preis, is set atop the sunken USS Arizona, still lodged in the Pacific. Leaking oil from the ship, also known as “black tears,” stains the surface of the water; park rangers say the ship will leak oil for decades to come. Visible from the memorial are the USS Missouri and Ford Island. The names of those who perished are set upon the entire rear wall of the memorial.

USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Derek Wright.

Memories of our visit to Pearl Harbor flooded back this past fall, when we visited the Franklin D. Roosevelt National Historic Site, in Hyde Park, New York. The site is comprised of Roosevelt’s home and Presidential Library and Museum, a considerable portion of which is devoted to interpreting his immediate response to Pearl Harbor and the aftermath, as Commander in Chief of a country at war. We see the drafts and rewrites of his appeal to Congress on December 8, 1941, the day after the attacks; the speech was initially intended to be pointed and brief, but subsequent rewrites in collaboration with his advisers shaped the version we know today. As per the National Archives:

“…the President calmly and decisively dictated to his secretary, Grace Tully, a request to Congress for a declaration of war. He composed the speech in his head after deciding on a brief, uncomplicated appeal to the people of the United States rather than a thorough recitation of Japanese perfidies as Secretary of State Cordell Hull had urged. President Roosevelt then revised the typed draft—marking it up, updating military information, and selecting alternative wordings that strengthened the tone of the speech. He made the most significant change in the critical first line, which originally read, "a date which will live in world history."

The Senate unanimously voted in support of war, and only Montana pacifist Jeanette Rankin dissented in the House.  

Draft of Roosevelt's speech to Congress, photo by Derek Wright.

Draft of Roosevelt's speech to Congress, photo by Derek Wright.

The original draft of the speech is preserved, Roosevelt’s pencil markings and edits a unique glimpse into the writing and editing process moments after a crisis. One critical amendment to the speech was to, at the last moment, change “a date which will live in world history” to the words we know today “a date which will live in infamy.” Roosevelt, an intuitive archivist, recorded his thoughts throughout the war. He later wrote that upon receiving the phone call about the bombings at Pearl Harbor, his first instinct was to record his thoughts in writing, knowing his response would become part of our national historical memory. 

This year’s remembrance of Pearl Harbor will be made particularly special, as for the first time, a leader of Japan’s government, the President himself, will be present to mark the day. On the 75th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we wanted to reflect upon this moment in history, and to remember the lives of those that perished in the attacks, as well as in the years of war that followed.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, O'ahu, photo by Amy Beth Wright.

World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument, O'ahu, photo by Amy Beth Wright.

Banner photo, USS Arizona Memorial, photo by Amy Beth Wright.

Valley Forge, Beauty and History in Equal Measure

We explored Valley Forge National Historical Park, where George Washington and the Continental Army decamped during Revolutionary War from 1777-1778, on a summer day where the weather was "polar opposite" to that historically frigid winter. Our day was an enchanting foray into the rural Pennsylvania countryside, which is expansive and idyllic. The park is not only a repository of vital history, but also home to 19.5 miles of hiking trails, 21 miles of cycling trails, and 17 miles of horseback trails. Bicycle rentals are available, as are ranger led walks and storytelling activities for younger visitors. Wildlife is plentiful, in river, forest, meadow, and wetland habitats.  As per the NPS, the park is home to more than 225 species of birds and 730 species of plants.  

Valley Forge is roughly forty minutes northwest of Philadelphia, in Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, and its northern trails access other historic sites in both the county and the city. The lush, pastoral landscape is enveloping. Many of the park's primary historic sites can be explored via the 6.6 mile Joseph Plumb Martin Trail on the southern side, or the the ten-mile Encampment Tour, which can be completed as a self guided driving tour (a cell phone guide is available for download) or via a 90-minute trolley tour that departs from the Visitors Center. Key sites include Washington's Headquarters, where he held critical meetings with Lafayette, Knox, and Alexander Hamilton, replicas of cabins shared by militia men, the Pennsylvania columns, a monument to soldiers from the region, and the 1917 National Memorial Arch, restored by the Freemasons in 1997.  Our slideshow seeks to capture the beauty of the park, and to share a few of the key sites that commemorate this critical moment in early American history.