Once we’re ready to travel again, consider a visit to Washington, D.C., where you can pay tribute to our fallen heroes at numerous memorials. (Due to COVID-19, many of the sites listed are still closed or open with various restrictions; please go to a site’s website or call before visiting.)
Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers in our Nation’s Capital
Seeing Arlington National Cemetery is a must for any visitor to our nation’s capital. On Memorial Day a small American flag is placed on each of the over 400,000 graves, and the president or vice president visits the cemetery and lays a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day year-round, and witnessing the changing of the guard is a solemn experience. The changing of the guard takes place every half-hour from March through September, and on the hour during the rest of the year.
Our nation’s largest Memorial Day Parade takes place every year along Constitution Avenue. This year, however, the parade has been canceled due to the public health threat from COVID-19. In its place a nationally televised special will honor the sacrifice of our uniformed men and women.
Arlington National Cemetery is not the only site honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, and neither is the parade. Memorial Day ceremonies are also held at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the nearby Korean Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, and the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. Last but certainly not least, you, the visitor, can pay tribute to our fallen heroes by visiting their graves and memorials.
One of the most moving memorials on the National Mall is without doubt the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I have visited many times, and I always see veterans coming to honor the 58,220 U.S. soldiers who lost their lives in this conflict. I will never forget my first visit, together with my young son, when a veteran came and taught us about the book of names and how to find a name on the wall. Even though we had no loved ones lost in the Vietnam War, the veteran encouraged us to rub a pencil over a piece of paper atop a name and adopt this soldier and hold him in our prayers.
The memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day in 1982; two years later the Three Servicemen sculpture by Frederick Hart was dedicated, followed in 1993 by the Vietnam Women’s Memorial. The sculpture depicts two uniformed women caring for an injured soldier. The memorial is the first memorial in Washington, D.C., honoring women’s military service. Find out more here.
Designed and financed by private contributions, the Korean War Veterans Memorial was dedicated on July 27, 1995. Nineteen steel statues by sculptor Frank Gaylord represent the ethnic cross-section of our nation. The statues represent four Army troops, three Marines, one Navy recruit, and one Air Force serviceman. Of these, 12 are white, three are black, two are Hispanic, one is Asian, and one is Native American. In just over three years, 36,574 Americans died in Korea, with 8,200 are still missing in action.
To the right of the statues is the Korean Memorial wall, covered with 2,400 Korean War images created from 15,000 photos obtained from The National Archives. The 38 panels symbolize the 38th Parallel, the original boundary between North and South Korea, as well as the 38 months the war lasted.
A walkway pays tribute to the 22 nations that committed troops to the Korean War. The far end of the memorial leads visitors to the Pool of Remembrance, a reflecting pool encircling a wall with the inscription ”Freedom Is Not Free.”
The National World War II Memorial honors the more than 400,000 Americans who died during the worldwide conflict, as well as the 16 million Americans who served in the United States armed forces. Each state and territory is represented by massive granite columns surrounding a pool with multiple fountains. A wall of 4,048 gold stars reminds visitors of those who paid the ultimate price. The design architect of the memorial to the Greatest Generation is Friedrich St. Florian, a naturalized U.S. citizen born in Austria. The memorial is impressive during the day, but even more so at night.
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial, more commonly known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, is located in Virginia, near Arlington National Cemetery, and is dedicated to all Marine war casualities. Not far from the 32-foot-long sculpture is the Netherlands Carillon, a gift to our country by the people of the Netherlands. The carillon plays on the hour, and concerts are held during the summer. The carillon and its bells are currently under restoration, and the 50 bells of the carillon are back in The Netherlands for a complete overhaul. They will return in the summer of 2021.
The memorial offers a stunning view of the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Only a five-minute drive away is the U.S. Air Force Memorial. Three spires representing jets rising into the Washington skyline commemorate the 54,000 airmen and women who died in combat.
Steps off Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Capitol Building and the White House, is the U.S. Navy Memorial.Fountains, 26 bronze sculptures and quarterdeck masts frame the largest granite map in the world, while one sailor stands watch. The memorial reminded me of the many Navy and sailor memorials I saw during my childhood in Belgium. They are haunting because of the lone sailor standing among what otherwise is a monumental and solemn sight. The memorial pays tribute to the men and women serving our country at sea, and hundreds of events take place on the plaza annually.
On the banks of the Potomac River, inside the Lady Bird Johnson Park, is the Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial. Located on Columbia Island, the memorial depicts seven seagulls flying over waves. The memorial honors the sailors and marines killed at sea during World War I.
A National World War I Memorial was supposed to open in November 2018 in time for the war’s centennial, but the project was delayed. It’s currently under construction in Pershing Park. No official dedication date has been announced. In the meantime, you can visit the District of Columbia War Memorial commemorating the men and women of the District of Columbia who gave their lives in World War I. It’s located slightly off of Independence Avenue.
When visiting Washington, D.C., I also recommend a stop at the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial. It is a powerful reminder of the costs of war. Located just east of the Capitol, it pays tribute to disabled veterans and the scars they carry as a result of their service.