The last Monday of May will mark the Memorial Day holiday for Americans. For many Americans, it’s a chance to get away for a long weekend, spend time with friends and family, have a barbecue and enjoy the day off. It is a day to enjoy the liberty and freedom that so many have fought for and continue to fight for; and perhaps, on this holiday, they will ponder the meaning of Memorial Day.
What is Memorial Day and why did Congress see fit to enact such a holiday? It was originally known as Decoration Day and was first celebrated in 1866, a year after the end of the Civil War, to remember the fallen soldiers on both sides of the conflict. Decoration Day eventually became an official holiday for many states.
After World War I though, the holiday expanded to include all American military personnel who died in any war. This broadened concept was reinforced as America entered World War II and subsequent conflicts until Congress declared Memorial Day a national holiday in 1971.
Across America, there will be parades honoring those who have made the ultimate sacrifice while serving their country. Many of the parades will feature active military personnel and veterans. You’ll see people wearing red poppies in remembrance of the fallen and some will visit cemeteries and memorials.
My father served in the military for well over 20 years. He fought in three wars: World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. He always placed a great emphasis on Memorial Day as I was growing up, mentioning friends he had lost and the importance of remembering them and the price they paid so we might enjoy our freedom.
On this Memorial Day, we should all honor, cherish and remember our fallen heroes. Say a prayer, wear a red poppy, attend one of the parades or visit one of the national cemeteries or memorials. Here is a list of some of those cemeteries and memorials. For ones not on the list below, you can visit the National Cemetery Administration. For war memorials, you can find an extensive list at the American Battle Monuments Commission.
Arlington National Cemetery – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Just across the Potomac from Washington DC is Arlington National Cemetery. This isn’t the largest national cemetery, but it is perhaps the most significant. Arlington not only pays homage to fallen soldiers from every war but is the final resting place of many presidents, astronauts and other fallen national heroes.
The cemetery is also home to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, originally an unidentified solider from World War I but the monument now includes an unknown soldier from World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War.
You’ll also find the Marine Corps Memorial, which is modeled after the iconic photograph from 1945 of six marines raising the American flag at Iwo Jima. The memorial is also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial and is dedicated to Marines who have lost their lives in all wars.
Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA 22211
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Often called the Punchbowl due to the crater where the cemetery is located, the burial site honors those soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Pacific in World War II. Among the 33,230 graves at the cemetery are also soldiers from the Korean and Vietnam Wars.
National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, 2177 Puowaina Dr, Honolulu, HI 96813
USS Arizona Memorial –
In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
The USS Arizona Memorial is part of the Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Honolulu. The somber memorial rests above sunken remains of the USS Arizona and is only accessible by boat. They go out daily but check ahead of time. Once on the memorial, you’ll be able to see the sunken hull of the USS Arizona, which is the final resting place of 1,102 of the 1,177 sailors and Marines that were on board the ship during the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor.
Pearl Harbor National Memorial, 1 Arizona Memorial Pl, Honolulu, HI 96818
Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
June 6, 1944, D-Day for the invasion of Normandy by Allied forces to take back German-occupied France and begin the offensive in Europe against Hitler. Omaha Beach, code name for one of five sectors for the Normandy landings that day, was the responsibility of the United States. After two assault waves, the U.S. forces were finally able to take the day. However, the cost was great, with the US 1st and 29th divisions suffering more than 2,000 casualties that day. Some historians peg that number closer to 5,000. Most of these casualties were within the 1st assault wave.
The cemetery and memorial is located just east of the original cemetery that was established on a bluff overlooking Omaha Beach on June 8, 1944. The cemetery honors those Americans who gave their lives in Europe during World War II. France has granted the United States in perpetuity the land upon which the cemetery and memorial are located. There are 9,387 American soldiers buried at the cemetery.
Normandy American Cemetery & Memorial , 14710 Colleville-sur-Mer, France Accent 5;\lsdpr
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
The Vietnam war was such a divisive conflict for America. It split the country and its split families in some instances. It took time for America to heal and to recognize the incredible bravery of those who served and gave their lives during this war. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall was a major part of the healing process. There are actually three parts to the memorial: the Memorial Wall (really two walls that contain 58,000 names), the Vietnam Women’s Memorial and the Three Soldiers statue.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, 5 Henry Bacon Dr NW, Washington, DC 20245
The Korean War Veterans Memorial – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Although only three years, the Korean War took 54,246 American soldiers with 103,284 wounded. The memorial honors the 5.8 million Americans who served during the conflict. The memorial features 19 stainless steel statues and a black granite memorial wall.
The Korean War Veterans Memorial, 900 Ohio Dr SW, Washington, DC 20024 fff
Gettysburg National Cemetery – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Site of the bloodiest battle of the American Civil War, the battle was raged for three days from July 1 to 3, 1863 in and around the town of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Although there isn’t an accurate count, the battle accounted for 46,000 to 51,000 casualties between the Union and Confederate forces. Many historians cite this battle as the turning point in the Civil War as the Confederate army retreated back to Virginia. Less than six months later on November 14, 1863, President Lincoln honored the fallen on both sides with his historic Gettysburg Address given during the dedication of the Gettysburg National Cemetery.
Gettysburg National Cemetery, 1195 Baltimore Pike, Gettysburg, PA 17325
San Francisco National Cemetery – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Located in the Presidio of San Francisco, first used by the Spanish as a fort, the cemetery overlooks the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco Bay. The cemetery is home to many medal of honor recipients as well as the Buffalo Soldiers, those African-American soldiers who served in the army after the Civil War. The site also includes the Grand Army of the Republic Memorial, the Pacific Garrison Memorial, a monument to the Marines who died at the Tartar Wall in Peking, China and much more.
San Francisco National Cemetery, 1 Lincoln Blvd, San Francisco, CA 94129
West Point Cemetery – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Set on the grounds of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, New York, the cemetery overlooks the Hudson River and actually served as a burial ground for Revolutionary War soldiers prior to 1817 when it was designated as a military cemetery. West Point has produced some of the greatest military minds in American history and the cemetery is the final resting place of West Point grads Norman Schwarzkopf and George Armstrong Custer.
West Point Cemetery, 329 Washington Rd, West Point, NY 10996 :
The National World War II Memorial – In Memoriam, Memorial Day Monuments
Opened in 2004, the National World War II Memorial is an impressive site that pays tribute to the 16 million men and women who served in the military during World War II. Located in Washington, DC, the memorial features an array of 24 containing bronze panels that recount the impact the war had upon those who served and the loved ones they left at home. There is a wall of with gold stars which honor those who lost their lives during the war.
The National World War II Memorial, 1750 Independence Ave SW, Washington, DC 20024