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Must-see list long

If you're a gotta-do-and-see-it-all-when-I'm-on-vacation tourist, stay far away from the nation's capital. There's no way you can take in all the sights on a single trip. Or a dozen trips, for that matter. Just the monuments and high-profile gove...

Jefferson Memorial

If you're a gotta-do-and-see-it-all-when-I'm-on-vacation tourist, stay far away from the nation's capital.

There's no way you can take in all the sights on a single trip. Or a dozen trips, for that matter.

Just the monuments and high-profile government buildings would overtax your sightseeing stamina.

The city has its share of professional sports franchises, too. Major League Baseball, absent from Washington since 1971, has even returned.

And Washington seems to have almost as many museums, theaters and art galleries as lobbyists.

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If you're in the mood for a ballgame, concert or art show, go for it.

But if you're a first-time visitor with a free afternoon, consider a trip to the National Mall.

The open-air national park in downtown Washington is home to some of America's most important memorials, world-famous symbols of who we are and what we believe.

The National Park Service lists visiting hours and other information at www.nps.gov/nama .

What follows is a decidedly personal take on six of these national landmarks:

Washington Monument

It's been said you can determine an American scholar's political persuasion by his attitude toward George Washington:

Conservatives revere him. Liberals think he's overrated.

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Maybe we can all agree a man who resisted pressure to become a de facto king deserves respect.

Washington's monument is, well, tall - briefly the world's tallest structure when it opened in 1888 - and well constructed.

Maybe I'd appreciate it more if I were architecturally savvy.

In any case, the man who refused to become king deserves our appreciation.

Lincoln Memorial

Historians sometimes rank our presidents' greatness.

There's a lot of disagreement on where Clinton and Reagan belong on the list.

But not Lincoln, the 16th president. Pretty much every reputable historian puts the bearded one at or near the top.

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Among his gifts was the ability to write like this:

The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield, and patriot grave, to every living heart and hearthstone, all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.

His monument holds an immense, solemn dignity commonly associated with Lincoln himself.

To be sure, Lincoln was flawed in many ways. Don't hero-worship him or put him on a pedestal.

But do visit his memorial if you ever have the chance.

Jefferson Memorial

Thomas Jefferson was a complex man, full of contradictions, and an all-around smart guy.

The third president could write a little, too. Just two examples:

- If our love were given to none who had imperfections, this world would be a desert for our love.

- Enlighten the people generally, and tyranny and oppressions of body and mind will vanish like evil spirits at the dawn of day.

Marble and pillars combine to give his memorial a timeless appeal. And on the walls are inscriptions of some of his greatest writings.

The Jefferson Memorial is a bit off the beaten path. But don't begrudge going out of your way to see it.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Americans never could agree on Vietnam. Maybe we never will.

But most Americans now seem to agree the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is special.

The core of the memorial is a long black granite wall, dedicated in 1982. Etched on it are the names of 58,249 men and men and women who were killed or remain missing.

The memorial's design was hugely unpopular at first. Many people felt it didn't do enough to honor Vietnam veterans.

As a compromise, a statue of three servicemen was added in 1984.

Added still later were a statue of three uniformed women with a wounded soldier and a plaque honoring service members who died after the war as a direct result of injuries suffered in Vietnam.

But the wall remains the memorial's centerpiece and heart.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

Sure, you watched "M*A*S*H" and saw Alan Alda's oh-so-zany antics and oh-so-earnest condemnation of war.

But how much do you really know about the Korean War?

It's been called, without too much exaggeration, America's "forgotten war."

That's unfortunate.

Truman. MacArthur. The Pusan perimeter. The Inchon landing. The Chinese entry into the war. The 38th parallel.

Visit the memorial and learn, or remember, what they were all about.

See the 16 stainless steel statues reflecting a front-line squad on patrol.

And see the granite wall bearing the message, "Freedom is not free."

National World War II Memorial

America, united as never before and as it might never be again.

Americans fighting around the world, from the scorched sand of North Africa to the cold mud of France to the steaming jungles of obscure Pacific islands.

Americans at home skimping and sacrificing to support the troops abroad.

The memorial tries to capture that sense of national unity.

It consists of 56 pillars, in a semi-circle around a central plaza, representing the following the then-48 states; the District of Columbia; the then-territories of Hawaii and Alaska; the American insular areas of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands; and the Philippines, a commonwealth of the United States during the war.

The memorial, dedicated in 2004, has its critics.

Some say it messes up the view between the Lincoln and Washington memorials.

Others say its style is overblown.

What matters is whether you like it. Visit the memorial and decide for yourself.

Then take a moment to reflect on what America can accomplish when it pulls together.

Scooting a Segway

If you're a tourist in Washington, D.C., seeing the sights on a rented Segway might make sense.

The Segway is a two-wheeled, electrically powered personal transportation device that can travel up to 12 mph.

It'll get you from one Washington landmark to another a lot faster than walking.

Renting one costs about $45 to $70, depending on the length of the tour.

Three caveats:

- Riders must be at least 16 years old

- Riders need enough physical coordination to lean forward (to speed up the machine) and lean back (to brake).

- Segway machines were recalled because of a software safety glitch. Segway, which is cooperating with the voluntary recall, says a software upgrade fixes the problem.

Several companies offer Segway tours in the capital.

For more information, contact the Washington, D.C., Convention and Tourism Corp. at (202) 789-2000.

Or go to its Web site, www.washington.org .

Readers can reach Forum reporter Jonathan Knutson at (701) 241-5530

Jefferson Memorial

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