Memorial Day is when we honor those who have made the ultimate sacrifice for us. My father is a veteran who served in both the Navy and the Army. When we travel, we always try to find museums and attractions that honor our military history and our servicemen and women. Here are a few of our favorite places.
1. Washington DC - Our nation's Capitol has monuments and museums honoring soldiers from the Revolutionary War to the present. The World War II Memorial is an impressive monument that lies between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. I love the inscription that is written on a stone tablet at the entrance. "Here in the presence of Washington and Lincoln, one the eighteenth-century father and one the nineteenth-century preserver of our nation, we honor those twentieth-century Americans who took up the struggle during the Second World War and made the sacrifices to perpetuate the gift our forefathers entrusted to us: a nation conceived in liberty and justice." The somber dark wall of the Vietnam Memorial rises from the ground with the thousands of names of the fallen. At the Korean War Memorial, you can see the determination, fear, and pain on the faces of the soldiers fighting through the cold and dark far from home. Across the river, the acres and acres of headstones at Arlington Cemetery remind us that freedom isn't free. I firmly believe that every American should visit Washington, DC at least once.
2. Civil War Battlefields. During the Civil War, our nation was torn apart over the issues of slavery, state rights, and economic control. The National Park Service has preserved many of these battlefields including Gettysburg, Antietam, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and Chickamauga. Walking through these parks gives you a sense of what it was like to face the cannons and guns wielded by neighbors, friends, and family and the cost of not working together for a common purpose.
3. National Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, TX -- On a recent visit to the Texas Hill Country, Dad and I stopped at this museum thinking a few hours would be sufficient for our visit. We were wrong. It took us two days to fully appreciate this museum. Admiral Chester Nimitz, the Pacific fleet commander during World War II was from Fredericksburg. This museum honors him and everyone who fought in the Pacific Theater during World War II.
4. National World War II Museum, New Orleans, LA -- This is a fairly new and beautifully constructed museum although we did like the one in Fredericksburg better. The multi-building museum is broken into the European and Pacific Theaters and has special exhibits about the Holocaust, the Merchant Marine, and other aspects of the war. There is a 4-D movie experience narrated by Tom Hanks that is very well done.
5. USS Arizona Memorial, Honolulu, HI -- As you stand over the sunken remains of the USS Arizona, you can't help but be moved by the fact that dozens of sailors are still trapped below those decks. The surprise attack by the Japanese at Pearl Harbor decimated the US Pacific fleet and brought the country into the war.
6. State Military Museums - every state has a museum dedicated to those who served. The Indiana museum is in Vincennes. It is small but very well-done. My father was proud to donate some items that will be put into an exhibit honoring military chaplains. Even our little town of Columbus has the Atterbury-Bakalar Air Museum that tells the story of the local military airfield that was active during the first part of the 20th century and played a role in several wars.
7. USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park, Mobile, AL - The USS Alabama is docked here and available for tours as is the submarine, USS Drum. Both ships saw fighting during World War II. In addition to the two main ships, there is a variety of military aircraft to see including a B-52 bomber, Coast Guard rescue aircraft various helicopters, and planes. The park is also home to the Alabama Vietnam Memorial and the Alabama Korean War Memorial. If you like to climb aboard ships, the USS Lexington is docked in Corpus Christi, TX, the USS Wisconsin is at Norfolk VA, the USS Yorktown is at Charleston, SC and the USS Constitution is in Boston Harbor. The latter is one of six frigates commissioned by Congress in 1797 to protect the fledging country from pirates.
8. Valley Forge, Pennsylvania -- In the winter of 1777-1778, things were looking bleak for George Washington and the American Army. Desertion was rampant, disease and hunger were ravaging the camp and the British seemed to be winning every battle. But Washington and his troops persevered and with the help of foreign allies trained and forged themselves into a cohesive force that defeated the greatest Army in the world and won independence. The park preserves the encampment and Washington's headquarters.
This year, instead of having a family picnic, why not learn more about the military history of our country. If you need other ideas or help planning your trip, contact me and I would be glad to help.