11 places that honor veterans on our public lands

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Washington DC).

Credit: Mr.TinDC, flickr.

Veterans Day and Memorial Day are times to honor those who serve our country in uniform, and those who have died in the process. But you don’t need to wait: Many sites on American public lands salute veterans and their sacrifice all year round.

Just like our national parks, national monuments and other wildlands, sites that honor veterans rely on Congress for funding so that they can pay for staffing and maintenance. The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which was temporarily reauthorized in late 2015, has helped protect many of these places, and can continue that mission if it is permanently reauthorized. So keep this in mind: When we ask lawmakers to fund conservation, we’re also asking them to keep our war memorials and other historic spots in good shape to continue learning from them and honoring those who sacrificed for our nation.

Here are just a few of the memorials and other sites that honor veterans on our public lands (It is likely that memorials to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will eventually be added to the National Mall in Washington, DC, as well).


1.    World War II Memorial (Washington DC)

Credit: Victoria Pickering, flickr.

Dedicated in 2004, the World War II Memorial is an appropriately august site that pays tribute to our nation’s astonishing sacrifice during the largest, most widespread war in recorded history. The memorial’s series of granite columns, bronze panels, sculptures and fountains buffet a panel of 4,048 gold stars at the west end--one for each 100 American military deaths in the great conflict. There are estimated to be fewer than 1 million surviving American World War II veterans, making this spot steps from the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool an especially important testament to history.


2.    Vietnam Veterans Memorial (Washington DC)

Credit: treewoman8, flickr.

The highlight of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, a reflective granite wall bearing the names of more than 58,000 fallen servicemen and women, sparked controversy when its design was selected in 1981. But since then, it has become renowned as a uniquely solemn and meaningful piece of public sculpture as well as an important pilgrimage site for veterans near the northwest edge of the National Mall.


3.    Korean War Veterans Memorial (Washington DC)

Credit: Austin Kirk, flickr.

Commemorating an oft-overlooked war, the Korean War Memorial features steel statues of weary, poncho-clad soldiers on patrol--representing the Army, Marine Corps, Navy and Air Force--alongside a reflective wall engraved with ghostlike images of those who fought. Though in some ways the Korean War presaged a bold new era in America--it was the first conflict the U.S. fought with racially integrated units--the war came at a terrible cost, as more than 36,000 Americans gave their lives.


4.    African American Civil War Memorial (Washington DC)

Credit: Cynthia, flickr.

The Civil War is commemorated with scores of monuments and historic battlefields, but the African American Civil War Memorial shines a light on a somewhat neglected chapter of that bloody conflict: The contributions of the regiments then called “United States Colored Troops,” who made up a significant chunk of Union forces by the end of the war. The memorial, a granite plaza highlighted by statuary and a wall of honored names, has been called one of the best Washington DC museums not on the National Mall, a fitting tribute to the nearly 210,00 African Americans who served.


5.    National World War I Memorial (Washington DC-Planned)

Pershing Park. Credit: Elvert Xavier Barnes Photography, flickr.

Some 4.7 million Americans served in the “war to end all wars,” including 116,000 who gave their lives in the service of peace. Within the next few years, that national sacrifice will finally be commemorated in Washington DC, at Pershing Park: Design proposals for the new monument were solicited through July 2015, and the memorial commission chose a design in early 2016.


6.    Gettysburg National Military Park (Pennsylvania)

Credit: Jen Goellnitz, flickr.

Gettysburg National Military Park marks the spot where thousands of Union and Confederate forces fought and died in one of the bloodiest battle of the Civil War in July of 1863. Though the war continued on for nearly two years afterward, Gettysburg is considered the turning point, marking the moment when the Union put the Confederacy on the defensive. The historic battlefield saw more than 50,000 total casualties and has since become a hallowed space for Americans and reminder of the toll of war. Among notable attractions at Gettysburg are the ruins of McAllister’s Mill, the only Underground Railroad site in the park. The land is privately owned, and a proposed Land and Water Conservation Fund project would acquire and preserve it as part of the park for future visitors.


7.    Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument (Ohio)

Credit: NPS.

The namesake of Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument was a pioneering figure: The third African American to graduate from West Point; the first African American to reach the rank of colonel; the highest ranking African American officer at the beginning of World War I; and the first African American acting superintendent of a national park (Sequoia-Kings Canyon). The monument preserves his one-time home, which had previously served as part of the Underground Railroad, and also honors the famed Buffalo Soldiers, African American regiments that fought in the Civil War and other conflicts in the late 19th century.


8.    Saratoga National Historic Park (New York)

Credit: Richard Welty, flickr.

Saratoga National Historic Park commemorates the victory of American forces over the British at the Battles of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point in the Revolutionary War that spurred France to recognize American independence and join the struggling colonies. About 500 American soldiers were killed and wounded in the two battles, now immortalized by an obelisk monument and preserved battlefield and other sites. Unfortunately, this historic area along the Hudson River continues to see rapid commercial and residential development. A proposed Land and Water Conservation Fund project would protect land adjacent to the park that contains the key road used by advancing British troops and outstanding views of the American river fortifications in the park.


9.    U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial (Virginia)

Credit: John Loo, flickr.

Depicting one of the most iconic moments in the history of modern warfare, the flag-raising at Iwo Jima in 1945, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial honors Marines who fought and died “in all wars,” as well as their comrades in other branches of the military. The statue itself memorializes six marines who represent a veritable cross-section of America. The base of the statue features the names and dates of every principal Marine Corps engagement, and the American flag at its tip flies 24 hours a day.


10.  Antietam National Battlefield (Maryland)

Credit: NPS.

The Battle of Antietam may represent the single bloodiest day in American military history, with nearly 23,000 combined Union and Confederate casualties on Sept. 17, 1862. As Major General Joseph Hooker recorded it, “the slain lay in rows precisely as they had stood in their ranks a few moments before. It was never my fortune to witness a more bloody, dismal battlefield." Though the battle itself was a virtual draw, in its wake, Confederate forces withdrew back across the Potomac to Virginia, ending Robert E. Lee’s first northern invasion. Antietam now features one of the best-preserved battlefields in the U.S. as well as a national cemetery and historic church.


11.  World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument (Hawaii)

Credit: NPS.

The World War II Valor in the Pacific National Monument commemorates several key aspects of World War II’s Pacific theater. Chief among the sites the monument preserves is the sunken USS Arizona, where many of the 1,177 officers and crewmen were killed in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, America’s “date which will live in infamy.” More than 1.8 million visitors come to the memorial each year, attesting to its important role in preserving history.

See also: 

Combat veterans find healing in Colorado wilderness

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