Pictured above in a 19th century lithograph is the real, the original Cabin John Bridge. The bridge was built between 1857 and 1863 to carry an aqueduct that still supplies Potomac River water from Great Falls to Washington. It also provides for two lanes of traffic across Cabin John Creek between the Montgomery County communities of Cabin John and Glen Echo on what is now called MacArthur Boulevard.
When built, and for many years afterward, its 220-foot span made it the longest stone-arch bridge in the world. For decades, it was a Washington tourist attraction. Now it is viewed mainly by commuters who drive a parkway spur beneath it.
In the 1960s, the highway builders opened another bridge at Cabin John, this one across the Potomac River. It, too, came to be known as the Cabin John Bridge -- in fact, as the Cabin John Bridge.
Back in 1969, Maryland members of the American Legion convinced the Maryland General Assembly that the Potomac span should be given a new name: the American Legion Memorial Bridge. But nobody, not even the newspapers or broadcast traffic reporters, called it that. Habits are hard to change.
Yesterday, on the "true" Memorial Day of May 30 and in what might be a last-ditch effort at public persuasion, the legion rededicated the bridge that bears its name in a ceremony presided over by Robert Dempsey, the legion's county commander. About 100 persons, mainly legionnaires and politicians, attended the ceremony at the Fitzgerald- Cantrel Post 105 of the legion in Bethesda.
Rep. Michael D. Barnes (D-Md.), a former Marine who is a post member, blamed "what we call in politics a name recognition problem." It's something he encountered when he first ran for Congress and encounters today as he runs for the U.S. Senate.
On returning to Capitol Hill, Barnes promised, he would write Washington radio and television traffic reporters, urging them to use the legion name for the bridge.
Meanwhile, the Maryland Highway Administration has erected signs at both ends of the bridge with the American Legion name, and the legion presented small bronze plaques to be erected on the bridge to highway official Michael Snyder.
Unaffiliated World War II veterans like me who have reservations about naming the bridge for any private organization, however worthy, should be mollified somewhat by the wording of the plaque: "Dedicated to American veterans of all wars."
But Del. Ida G. Ruben (D-Montgomery), a state Senate candidate, has a bit to live down from yesterday's legion appearance. She began by paying tribute to "all the important people [here] in the Veterans of Foreign Wars," a rival group. After a round of soft boos, she recanted, saying, "We're all brothers and sisters in our joint endeavors." In the end, she won applause.