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What is the difference between a 'static' and a 'living' memorial?

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Similar to volcanoes that can be described as either in an active or dormant stage, memorials can also be portrayed as either 'living' or 'static'. A static memorial is typically one that is erected for a single purpose and is no longer used. For example, if a memorial is erected in honour of a particular war or conflict and there are no other inscriptions added to the memorial or commemorative activities are no longer held on site, then the memorial is considered 'static'. On the other hand, a 'living' memorial can be reflected in a number of ways. For example, a local cenotaph that continues to add the names of their fallen through time would be considered a living memorial. A second but different example of a living memorial is the United States Aircraft Carrier Memorial in San Diego, California that is shown in the photograph. Erected and funded by the Aircraft Carrier Memorial Association, the memorial is located at the site of the historic Old Navy's "Fleet Landing" and immediately across USS Midway – the first aircraft carrier to be commissioned after the end of the Second World War and remained active for a record 47 years, including the Vietnam War and Operation DESERT STORM. After decommissioning, the ship was eventually moored to her final location where she was opened as a public museum on 7 June 2004. The approach taken in making this national aircraft carrier memorial a living memorial is analogous to that of one of the commemoration principles originally established in 1917 by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) – that "there should be no distinction made on account of military rank, race or creed." In this instance, rather than concentrating on those who have died, their efforts were focused on honouring their "nation's carriers and the personnel who proudly served aboard them." Using the same principle outlined by the CWGC, the aircraft carrier veterans ensured that each aircraft carrier, regardless of size or class, is commemorated in the same manner onto the memorial.

With the USS Midway as a fitting backdrop, standing as the centerpiece to the memorial is a nine-foot polished black granite obelisk that was unveiled on 17 February 1993 in the presence of over 1,000 carrier veterans, friends and family. The memorial specifies that "THE NAMES OF ALL U.S. NAVY AIRCRAFT CARRIERS AND THEIR HULL NUMBERS ARE INSCRIBED HEREON...FROM THE SMALLEST TO THE LARGEST. EVERY "FLATTOP" IS OF EQUAL DISTINCTION...NONE ABOVE THE OTHER. THE PERSONNEL WHO MANNED, FOUGHT AND IN SOME CASES PERISHED ABOARD THESE SHIPS WERE AND ARE A PART OF THE FINEST NAVY AND MARINE CORPS IN THE WORLD." To date, the obelisk is engraved with the names of 165 carriers, from USS Langley (CV-1) – the U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier commissioned on 21 April 1920 and also the U.S. Navy's first turbo-electric-powered ship – to USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76), commissioned on 12 July 2003. Two life-size bronze sculptures by noted California public artists T.J. Dixon and James Nelson were added in 1995 and 1996. One depicts a Navy sailor (a young recruit), standing and holding a duffel bag. The other depicts a Marine captain (a seasoned aviator), crouching and holding an aviator's helmet. The two men are shown looking and smiling at each other. As long as the memorial keeps on listing the names of all newly commissioned aircraft carriers, it continues to be a living memorial. A rejuvenated memorial allows for a continued commemoration of the past, the present and the future. Renewal and education are key elements of a living memorial.

On this day, 17 February 2022, we commemorate the 29th anniversary of the dedication of the United States Aircraft Carrier Memorial, honour the thousands of personnel who served aboard these aircraft carriers and mark nearly 102 years since the commissioning of USS Langley, the U.S. Navy's first aircraft carrier.

André M. Levesque

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