Armistice Day, known as Veterans Day here in the United States, is when we honor our sons and daughters who lost their lives in the defense of our country. Armistice Day marks the day and time that a cessation of hostilities was signed after WWI. Many countries commemorate this day on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. All agree that any day of the year is a good time for remembrance.
In Washington, D.C., many memorials pay tribute to our veterans. While the National Mall is home to the most famous of these memorials, there are some more sites that deserve a visit on Veterans Day and always.
The national memorial to honor those who served in World War I; however, in December 2014, 100 years after the start of the war that was to end all wars, the U.S. Congress passed legislation to redress this omission. Congress authorized the U.S. World War I Centennial Commission to establish a new memorial inside Pershing Park, on Pennsylvania Avenue, just one block from the White House and with a commanding view of the Capitol.
National World War I Memorial
The memorial was supposed to open in November of 2018 for the centennial of WWI, but the project ran into several hurdles. On April 20, 2021 an official opening ceremony took place, some components of the memorial however are not scheduled to be installed until 2024. The memorial is located in Pershing Park. The national site includes a statue of General John J. Pershing, commander of the American Expeditionary Forces sent to fight on the European Western Front. For more information on the National World War I Memorial check here.
District of Columbia War Memorial
Built almost entirely of Vermont marble, the memorial was dedicated by President Herbert Hoover on the national observance of Armistice Day, November 11, 1931. The memorial is located slightly off of Independence Avenue.
This 47-foot-tall memorial contains 499 names of D.C. residents who lost their lives in World War I. In the memorial’s cornerstone, there is a list of the 26,000 D.C. residents who served in the war. The structure is supported by 12 Doric marble columns.
National World War II Memorial
The “greatest generation”—the 16 million Americans who served in uniform during World War II—gets its due for its contributions in winning the most devastating war in human history (50 million people were killed). Two 43-foot arches, a 17-foot pillar for each state and territory, and 4,000 gold stars honor the more than 400,000 soldiers who died in the conflict. The assemblies of white granite surround a large pool, fountains, and a piazza located in a spectacular setting.
The World War II Memorial is located at 1750 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C. 20245. For more information on the World War II museum and for searching the World War II Registry, visit the website of the memorial.
“The Wall,” as it is known, is a black, V-shaped rift in the earth, nearly 494 feet long and ranging from 8 inches tall at its outer edges to 10 feet tall at its center. The memorial was dedicated on Veterans Day, November 13, 1982.
Fredrick Hart’s Three Servicemen sculpture, which now dominates the entrance to the memorial, was dedicated two years later, also on Veterans Day. More than 58,000 names of fallen service men and women are listed on the wall.
Tucked more inconspicuously to one side is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, a tribute to the women who served in the Vietnam War. Sculpted by Glenna Goodacre and dedicated on Veterans Day in 1993, the memorial depicts two uniformed women caring for an injured soldier. Find out more here.
Korean War Memorial
This three-dimensional freeze-frame of troops crossing a battlefield consists of several distinct parts, though it’s not particularly large as a whole. The most obvious elements are sculptor Frank Gaylord’s 19 larger-than-life steel statues representing 14 Army troops, three Marines, one Navy recruit, and one Air Force serviceman; 12 are white, three are black, two are Hispanic, one is Asian, and one is American Indian. All are heavily laden with packs and weapons and covered in ponchos; their attire and boots suggest it is winter, an impression that is even stronger at night, when the statues are individually illuminated and seem to move.
The second major component is a black granite wall, which complements the Vietnam Veterans Memorial almost directly across the Mall. Instead of names, however, this wall is covered with 2,400 images created from 15,000 photos. Etched into the wall are guns, rescue helicopters, ambulances, bridges being built, mines being defused, and doctors operating. Combined with the reflections of onlookers, the effect is as if you were looking through a window. The wall is made up of 38 panels, symbolizing both the 38th Parallel—the original boundary between North and South Korea—and the 38 months of the war’s duration.
The far end of the memorial leads you to the Pool of Remembrance, a reflecting pool encircling the wall with the inscription Freedom is Not Free. The entire site is particularly striking at night.
U.S. Navy Memorial
Just steps off Pennsylvania Avenue, between the Capitol Building and the White House, is the U.S. Navy Memorial, paying tribute to the men and women serving our country at sea. A lone sailor stands watch at what is also known as Memorial Plaza. Fountains, 26 bronze sculptures, and quarterdeck masts frame the largest granite map in the world. Hundreds of events take place on the plaza annually. For more information, visit the memorial’s website. The nearby visitor center tells the history and heritage of the United States Navy.
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is a powerful reminder of the costs of war. Located just east of the Capitol, the memorial pays tribute to disabled veterans and the scars of war they carry as a result of their service.
Sitting on the banks of the Potomac River, inside the Lady Bird Johnson Park on Columbia Island, is the Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial. The memorial depicts seven seagulls flying over waves, honoring the sailors and marines killed at sea during World War I.
Arlington National Cemetery
A visit to Arlington National Cemetery is an absolute must when in the nation’s capital. However, the visit is not merely for sightseeing. As Americans, our lives are too intimately attached to the 200,000 men and women buried here. They include the famous, the obscure, and the unknown.
Among the iconic sites located in the cemetery’s 612 rolling acres is the Tomb of the Unknowns. The tomb is guarded 24 hours a day. Make sure to witness the changing of the guard every half hour from March through September and on the hour the rest of the year.
At the entrance of the cemetery is the Women in Military Service For America Memorial, honoring the women who have served in the U.S. Armed Forces. An all-female flyover of military aircraft and a candlelight march over the Arlington Memorial Bridge were part of the dedication ceremonies in 1997.
The hop-on/hop-off tours leave from the welcome center about every 15–30 minutes, and you can get off at all the major sites and reboard at your leisure. The cost is $15 for adults, $7.25 for children, and $11 for seniors. If you want to save a little money and tour the cemetery by foot, just take the subway to the Arlington Cemetery Metro station and walk the short distance to the welcome center. The website has a downloadable map; you can also download a free iTunes guide called ANC Explorer and buy the cemetery-only ticket.
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial and the Netherlands Carillon
Only a 20-minute walk from Arlington National Cemetery is the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. The striking design echoes the famous Iwo Jima flag-raising memorial, only in abstract, angular steel. The 210-foot “mast” also evokes the image of a sword half-pulled from its sheath, cannons poised for firing, and aircraft takeoffs—all scenarios familiar to members of the nearly 250-year-old corps.
Located along the axis of the National Mall, the memorial offers a stunning view of the United States Capitol, the Lincoln Memorial, and the Washington Monument. On Tuesday evenings, during the summer only, the United States Marine Drum and Bugle Corps and the Marine Corps Silent Drill Platoon perform the Sunset Parade. The event is free of charge and no reservations are needed. Make sure to check for hours and performance dates by calling 703‑235-1530. For more information, visit the website.
Another must-see is the Netherlands Carillon. Only a 3-minute walk from the U.S. Marine Corps War memorial, the carillon’s 50 bells are a gift from the Netherlands to the people of the United States for the aid given during and after World War II.
A computer plays automated concerts on the carillon each day at noon and 6 p.m. Every Saturday in June, July, and August from 6 p.m to 8 p.m., a guest artist performs a live concert on the carillon. Special concerts take place on Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Read the moving story behind the carillon here. To request a program of the Netherlands Carillon call 703-235-1530.
Also in Arlington is the National Air Force Memorial, which rises above the Washington skyline. Three spires—resembling the pathway of jets—soar into the clouds. They represent the 54,000 airmen and women who died in combat, in addition to the Air Force’s core values of integrity, service before self, and excellence.
At the base, figures
stand at attention, putting a symbolic face on
Nearby is the National Guard Memorial Museum. It is the only national museum honoring and exploring the 375 years of history of the National Guard.
For all there is to see and do in Washington, D.C., check out The Unofficial Guide to Washington, D.C. by Renee Sklarew.
U.S. Navy Memorial: Courtesy of AgnosticPreachersKid [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons.
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial: NPS Photo [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Navy-Merchant Marine Memorial: Courtesy of NPS/Catie Drew [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.
National Air Force Memorial: Courtesy of Lance Cpl. Tia Dufour [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.