Memorial Day should be something much more personal to Americans than just a paid day off, backyard barbeque or a sale at a department store.
Since 1775, over two million Americans have been killed or wounded in wars and military conflicts, and almost all Americans can look back into their family histories and find relatives who were wounded or killed while serving their country.
This should compel us to honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for our freedom this Memorial Day. Here is a list of war memorials in the Washington, D.C. area that honor those who have lost their lives in service to our country, in no particular order:
This site pays homage to the 400,000 Americans that made the ultimate sacrifice in World War II. Legislation for the site was authorized by Congress, nearly 50 years after the war, and was dedicated by President George W. Bush in 2004. With the Washington Monument in the background, the plaza contains 56 pillars which represent the 48 states and eight U.S. territories.
Located in West Potomac Park, the District of Columbia War Memorial honors Washingtonians who lost their lives while serving during World War I. The Greek style temple contains 12 Doric columns and 47 feet high and 44 feet in diameter. The cornerstone of the structure contains a time capsule which lists the names of all 26,048 American soldiers who served.
Designed by Yale architecture student Maya Ying Lin, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a moving tribute to the almost 60,000 Americans who were killed or went missing during the conflict. The memorial was constructed using private funds and was dedicated in 1982. Two years later, Frederick Hart’s Three Servicemen statue was added, and in 1993, women who served in Vietnam were honored by an additional statue sculpted by Glenna Goodacre. In 2004, the Memory Plaque was added to memorialize those who later died from causes related to the war.
A moving tribute to those who served in the “Forgotten War”, the Korean War Veterans Memorial is filled with symbolism. Sculpted by Frank Gaylord, 19 soldiers are depicted walking up a hill towards an American flag symbolizing freedom. The words “Freedom is not free” are etched on a slab of granite, reflecting the sacrifices made by American and Allied troops during the conflict.
The only national memorial commemorating the service of more than 200,000 African American troops and their officers, the African American Civil War Memorial includes a ten foot statue, called the Spirit of Freedom, sculpted by Ed Hamilton and features uniformed Black soldiers and a sailor. The names of those African Americans who fought during the Civil War are etched on the Wall of Honor.
Beginning as the plantation and home of George Washington’s step-grandson, the estate was sold to the federal government in 1864. Military fortifications were built, and 200 acres were set aside for use as a national cemetery. The first burials took place in May of 1864. The Freedman’s Village was established at Arlington in 1863 for those former slaves who migrated to the Washington DC area, and provided food, shelter, education and employment training. Over 3,800 African Americans from the Freedman’s Village are buried in Section 27. Visitors can witness the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, a somber and moving tribute to those who died in military conflicts and whose remains were never identified. Two presidents, William Howard Taft and John F. Kennedy, are buried at Arlington National Cemetery, along with many other notable statesmen and military leaders including 12 Supreme Court Justices and 19 astronauts. Also at Arlington, visitors can tour the original Arlington House, the mansion built by George Washington Parke Custis, later the home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.
Located at the ceremonial entrance of Arlington National Cemetery known as the Arlington Hemicycle, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial was dedicated in 1997, and was designed by Marion Weiss and Michael Manfredi. This memorial honors the service of over 2 million women to the United States Armed Forces in various roles since the Revolutionary War.
The United States Armed Forces honor the men and women who served in the respective branches of the U.S. military with the following memorials: NOTE: There is no major memorial which specifically honors the men and women of the United States Army in Washington DC, but there is a number of smaller memorials which pay homage to specific divisions of the Army. A National Army Museum will be built in Fort Belvoir, Virginia, which will include a park with a memorial garden and parade ground.
Located outside the walls of Arlington National Cemetery, the Marine Corps Memorial is situated next to the Netherlands Carillon in Arlington, Virginia. The design of the massive sculpture by Felix de Weldon was based on the Pulitzer Prize winning photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima, taken during the Battle of Iwo Jima by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. Constructed of bronze and granite, the memorial was dedicated by President Dwight D. Eisenhower on November 10, 1954, the 179th anniversary of the U.S. Marine Corps. Thirty-two foot high figures are shown raising a 60-foot bronze flagpole. In 1961, President John F. Kennedy issued a proclamation that a Flag of the United States should fly from the memorial 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Dedicated in 1987, the memorial pays tribute to the sailors of the United States Navy. The Naval Heritage Center serves as a place to learn about the history and heritage of the men and women of the sea services. The Lone Sailor statue, sculpted by Stanley Bleifeld, is a tribute to all the personnel of the sea services. The Memorial is located on Pennsylvania Avenue NW between 7th Street Northwest and 9th Street Northwest, adjacent to the National Archives.
Located in Arlington, Virginia, on the grounds of Fort Myer near The Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery, the memorial honors the service of the personnel of the United States Air Force. The last project of noted American architect James Ingo Freed, the Air Force Memorial consists of three steel memorial spires, which resemble the ‘bomb burst’ maneuver. Only three of the four contrails are depicted, at 120 degrees from each other, as the absent fourth suggests the ‘missing man formation’ traditionally used at Air Force funeral fly-overs.
One of the oldest war memorials, the Coast Guard Memorial was dedicated in 1928, and is located in Arlington National Cemetery. It honors those lost on the cutters Seneca and Tampa in 1918, as well as all USCG personnel who lost their lives during World War I. In the monument’s rock foundation and pyramid design, architect George Howe and sculptor Gaston Lachaise captured the spirit of the Coast Guard’s legendary steadfastness. A bronze seagull, poised with its wings uplifted, further symbolizes the tireless vigil that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains over the nation’s maritime territory.