How will you celebrate your freedom on memorial day 2021? Memorial Day is a federal holiday on which many American families go on vacation. It is a long holiday weekend, centering around and including the last Monday in May.
The time of the year seems an opportune time to enjoy warmer days. Many travel to the beach or similar vacation-like destinations. But Memorial Day has its foundations in honoring the fallen servicemen and women of the US military. As such, every American should endeavor to visit one of the many sites, monuments, and celebrations of these heroes.
Here are 5 locations in the US that offer a wealth of opportunities for patriotic Americans to pay respects to the people who made the ultimate sacrifice for their country. Plus, a few places around the world where Americans further afield can participate in the day.
The capital has many monuments ideally suited for a Memorial Day visit. Most well-known are the Washington Monument and Smithsonian, which carries exhibits focusing on all the armed conflicts involving the US. But here are a few that are of particular note for this special holiday.
The National World War II Memorial
In many respects, “The Big One” is a war by which many others are measured. Nearly 16 million Americans were drawn into service during the campaign, with almost half a million deaths. The monument pays tribute to those who went to war, those who never came back, and those who stayed behind, waiting for loved ones to return.
The American Veterans Disabled For Life Memorial
This particular monument does not directly commemorate those who died in conflict. But it honors the Americans that returned from the field irreparably disabled. Some might argue that the battle continued for these veterans, even after their respective wars were over.
The African American Civil War Memorial
Some may remember the Oscar ™ winning 1989 film Glory, which told the story of the first African American regiment to serve in the Civil War. This memorial honors these and other such regiments - more than 200, 000 black soldiers. More than recording the names of the men who served, an associated museum documents their family trees and descendants.
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial
A memorial in three parts: A memorial wall with a list of casualties; The Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and a statue depicting three soldiers representing different backgrounds. The Vietnam War looms large in American history, taking place in a significant era for social revolution and civil rights.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial
More than 50 000 Americans died in the Korean War, of the almost 6 million that were in service at the time. More than 100,000 returned wounded. There are 19 stainless steel soldiers depicted at the memorial along the long wall of photos from the National Archives.
Boston has a famous role in much of American history, particularly its fight for independence. Memorial Day is as at home here as anywhere in the country. Why not take in some history with a walking tour of Boston, and you can even squeeze in a day trip to Niagara falls?
The Boston Freedom Trail
The Freedom Trail is a 2.5 mile stretch of preserved buildings and sites that takes visitors on a Boston Tour of what the Revolutionary War-era might have felt like. On Memorial Weekend special mention might be made of those who fought and died for independence.
You can even take a Freedom Trail Self-Guided Walking Audio Tour for a full experience.
Traditionally, the common hosts an annual display called the Garden of Flags. Nearly 17 000 flags are planted as a tribute to the citizens of Massachusetts who have served in the military.
It is placed in front of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument. Due to COVID19 concerns, public displays like these may move into the virtual sphere. But the monument is still there, and well worth visiting.
Memorial Day Parade
Beyond Boston tours, the city is famous for parades. And one of the highlights of the Memorial Day holiday here would be the Somerville Veterans Memorial Parade.
Just across the water of the Potomac from Washington DC lies Virginia. Arlington County offers a strong selection of patriotic memorials for Americans.
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial
The name describes it well. Dedicated to the 3 million women who have served in the armed forces (so far). It was dedicated in 1997 and contains a memorial register with the stories of many of the women who served.
Arlington National Cemetery – Arlington, Virginia
Arlington is probably the most famous national military cemetery. It includes the Tomb of the Unknowns, where the remains of three anonymous soldiers are housed. More than 400 000 military personnel are buried here.
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
Situated within Arlington National Cemetery, this tomb houses the remains of a soldier who died in France during World War I. The inscription reads: “Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.” The tomb has come to represent all US soldiers who died but were never identified.
The Air Force Memorial
The Air Force gets its own mention here, embracing the US Signal Corps and all other aeronautics divisions. Presumably, the future Space Force will also be commemorated here.
The Marine Corps Memorial
Similarly, the Marine Corps departed receive their own memorial here. There is a famous image depicted by the bronze statue featured in the monument. Six American marines are raising the flag on the island of Iwo Jima in World War II. It is a depiction of probably the most iconic of all American war photographs.
It may be worth mentioning that if you’re in Virginia, you may also be interested in visiting Colonial-era Williamsburg, which is a living history museum. The buildings, hotels, even the tour guide actors in costume, play out a fascinating colonial-era town and its history. On Memorial Weekend, they make a special mention of the fallen soldiers in US history. Well worth an excursion.
New York is historically a port city for immigrants. And known for tourist-friendly tour landmarks featured in TV shows Gossip Girl, Sex and the City and Friends, as well as never sleeping. But its people also have seen their share of impact from wars.
Brooklyn War Memorial – Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn’s own have given nearly 300, 000 family and friends to World War II alone. Close to 12, 000 of them never returned. Victory and family are particularly honored here, with two statues - one of a soldier, and one of a woman carrying a child.
If you’re looking to double up on a bit of history, try the NYC Slavery and Underground Railroad Tour. It makes for an impactful second half of an eye-opening, emotional and patriotic weekend.
The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument
Several American patriots died at the hands of the British during the Revolutionary War, many as POWs. This monument remembers those who died specifically interned on British prisoner ships.
Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
Pennsylvania is another important territory in the Revolutionary War. It’s also notable for a particular battle during the Civil War, making it a prime candidate for memorials.
National Memorial Arch – Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
For a holiday that feels a bit more like a getaway, a national park experience may be the ticket, especially if you have kids. Valley Forge was the base camp of George Washington’s Continental Army, and the arch commemorates not only the establishment of the camp but also the 2500 soldiers who died there in the winter of 1777/78. Most died of starvation or disease.
Drive a couple of hours from Valley Forge to find one of the country’s most famous battle sites - Gettysburg. Credited as the battle that saw the tide of the Civil War turn, it also saw more than 50 000 Union and Confederate casualties combined.
Today, you can take a detailed Self-Guided driving tour of the Gettysburg Battlefield. Gettysburg National Cemetery itself has a memorial, which is also where President Abe Lincoln delivered his famous Gettysburg Address.
Other Places Around the World
Americans who are abroad may not be that far from a site at which to celebrate their own Memorial Day. There are many monuments around the world that honour fallen US servicemen and -women
The USS Arizona Memorial – Honolulu, Hawaii
Not technically abroad, but you may well be on holiday here at some point. It honors those who died in the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1944.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Of the 11 US military cemeteries, this one may be the most directly impactful. It overlooks the beaches where Allied forces landed on D-Day.
Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial, Margraten
A memorial that at once honors the fallen and mourns the loss of all lives vanquished during the second World War.
United Nations Memorial Park, Busan, South Korea
Though it is a site dedicated to soldiers from many countries, there is an American monument here, alongside 36 graves for American soldiers.
Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial, Cambridge, United Kingdom
A worthy memorial for American soldiers lost during World War II. It contains more than 3000 headstones for the fallen.
From time to time, it is rewarding to remember that holidays like Memorial Day offer us an opportunity to pay respects and give thanks. We all deserve a well-earned vacation. But taking a few moments to remember why we enjoy these freedoms is a valuable experience and a worthwhile sentiment to offer.