National memorials to U.S. military personnel are tributes not just on Veterans Day but all year long.
On all days, but especially on Veterans Day—November 11—we honor veterans of all wars and military service for their patriotism, courage, devotion to country, and willingness to sacrifice for the good of their countrymen and democracy.
President Dwight D. Eisenhower issued the first “Veterans Day Proclamation,” which read in part: “In order to insure proper and widespread observance of this anniversary, all veterans, all veterans organizations, and the entire citizenry will wish to join hands in the common purpose.” The proclamation was issued October 8, 1954.
The following information highlights a few of our national memorials—some very well known, others not as well—to U.S. military personnel. On Veterans Day, we salute those who have passed as well as the men and women who are now serving, at home and abroad.
World War I (1914–November 11, 1918)
World War I may be the most forgotten of this nation’s wars, yet it sowed the seeds of World War II and marked the emergence of the United States as a global power. America’s support of its allies marked the first time in this nation’s history that American soldiers went abroad to defend foreign soil against aggression. Nearly 5 million Americans served, and 116,516 of these died.
While the later conflicts of the twentieth century—World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War—have national memorials on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., there is no such monument to the “Great War.” In 1931, the people of the nation’s capital dedicated a memorial to the 499 local residents who gave their lives to support the war effort. It is located along the Lincoln Reflecting Pool between the World War II and Korean War memorials. The monument is a dome over a circle of Doric columns.
In March 2008, Frank Buckles, the last surviving American veteran of WWI, visited the D.C. World War I Memorial. He called for its restoration and rededication as a National and District of Columbia World War I Memorial. As a result, the mission of the not-for-profit World War I Memorial Foundation (www.wwimemorial.org) is to secure funding for these efforts. The rededication, which needs congressional authorization, would complete the quartet of memorials to Americans who served in the four great conflicts of the twentieth century. Donations are tax-deductible to the full extent of the law.
World War II (1939–1945)
The national World War II Memorial honors the 16 million people who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home. It opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated one month later. The dedication culminated an 11-year effort that started when the memorial was authorized by Congress on May 25, 1993. Construction began September 4, 2001.
Located on 17th Street, between Constitution and Independence avenues in Washington, D.C., it is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west. The memorial became part of the National Park System on November 1, 2004, when it was transferred from the American Battle Monuments Commission to the National Park Service. It is open to visitors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. For information about accessibility, parking, directions, special events, and other details, visit www.nps.gov/nwwm.
Korean War (1950–1953)
Nearly 2 million Americans served in Korea, fighting and dying in places they called “Pork Chop Hill” and “Heartbreak Ridge.” The fighting was ferocious—54,246 Americans gave their lives, more than 103,000 were wounded, and over 8,000 went missing, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs. More than 7,000 were captured, 40% of whom died in captivity.
“Today, a new generation of Americans walks in their boots,” said VA Secretary Erik Shinseki on June 27, 2009, during Korean War Veterans Annual Recognition Day. “And because they do, this country remains the guardian of freedom and liberty for others.”
Where the Vietnam memorial is dominated by the names of those killed there, the national Korean War Veterans Memorial features faces. The images, 2,400 of them, were selected from thousands of photographs in military archives. They include pilots, truck drivers, naval gunners, and “grunts.”
The national World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004, honors the 16 million people who served in the U.S. Armed Forces, the more than 400,000 who died, and all who supported the war effort from home.
Located near the Lincoln Memorial, directly across the Reflecting Pool from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the photographic mural in black granite is a wall that ranges from 4 to 11 feet high. The etched faces (see previous page) are meant to be anonymous; rank and unit patches have been obliterated.
Visitors are initially drawn to 19 gray steel figures aligned as two squads on patrol in a combat area. The sculptures, each 7 feet 6 inches tall, were designed to illustrate a realistic moment in the war and to symbolize the contributions of various branches of service and ethnic groups. The troops, in foul-weather gear and with fear, weariness, and determination on their faces, emerge in a triangular pattern from a grove of trees. At the apex of the triangle is a cornerstone inscribed, “Our nation honors her sons and daughters who answered the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.”
The memorial’s dedication took place July 26–30, 1995.
Vietnam War (1954–1975)
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial (aka The Wall or VVM) was founded by Jan Scruggs, an infantry corporal in Vietnam, 1969–1970. It is not a war memorial but one to those individuals, living and dead, who served in Vietnam.
On July 1, 1980, President Jimmy Carter signed the legislation to provide a site in Constitution Gardens near the Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C. Construction and celebration planning took three and a half years. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund, Inc., raised nearly $9 million, entirely through private contributions.
Groundbreaking took place March 26, 1982. The memorial wall was completed in late October and dedicated on November 13 that year. On November 11, 1984, all three components—the wall, statue, and flag—were combined.
Maya Ying, an undergraduate at Yale University, designed the wall portion. She wanted to create a quiet, protected place. The polished black-granite walls reflect the images of the surrounding trees, lawns, monuments, and visitors.
Each of the walls is 246.75 feet long and consists of 70 separate inscribed granite panels, plus 4 at the end without names. The largest panels, in the middle, have 137 lines of names; the shortest have one. The black granite is from Bangalore, India, one of only three places in the world it is available in large sizes. All cutting and fabrication took place in Barre, Vt.
On October 13, 1982, the U.S. Commission of Fine Arts approved adding a flag staff and recommended it be grouped with the sculpture (“The Three Servicemen”) to enhance the entrance to the memorial site. A 12- x 18-foot American flag flies 24/7 from a 60-foot-tall pole.
With the addition of one name in 2009, the total is now 58,261. About 1,200 of these are listed as missing. No civilians are included, because the memorial is dedicated to the 2.7 million men and women in the U.S. military who served in the designated war zone. Carved by a computerized typesetting process, the names are in chronological order, according to date of casualty; within each day, they are alphabetical.
For a copy of the VVM brochure, wall rubbing/tracing of a name, or information about special events at the memorial, write or call Mail Operations/Vietnam Veterans Memorial, National Park Service, National Capitol Parks–Central, 900 Ohio Drive, SW, Washington, DC 20242 / 202-426-6841 / 619-7225.
The history of women in the U.S. Armed Forces began more than 220 years ago with those who served during the American Revolution.
Honoring military women—past, present, and future. Honor. Pride. The Women in Military Service For America Memorial makes these words come to life in the stories and mementos of nearly 2 million women who have defended this nation.
Groundbreaking took place June 22, 1995, for the only major national memorial in our nation’s history to honor and pay tribute to all servicewomen of the U.S. Armed Forces. Dedication was on October 18 two years later. The memorial officially opened to the public on October 20, 1997.
The memorial site is the 4.2-acre Ceremonial Entrance to Arlington National Cemetery, near Washington, D.C. A 30-foot-high curved neoclassical retaining wall stands at the entrance. The memorial incorporates a reflecting pool on the plaza in front of the curved gateway, with an arc of glass tablets on the upper terrace. These tablets illuminate the cemetery hillside at night, and during the day serve as skylights to the interior of the Education Center. Four staircases pass through the gateway wall, allowing visitors a panoramic view of the city from the terrace.
The Women’s Memorial preserves an important legacy for all generations by capturing the undocumented history of American servicewomen. It is a place of honor for those who served in the past, those who serve today, and those who will serve in the future.
Things You Might Want to Know
– Hallowed Grounds is the first major documentary made about the 22 American military cemeteries in 8 different countries. The film memorializes those who were not brought back to the U.S. after World Wars I and II. Created and maintained by the U.S. government through the American Battle Monuments Commission, the cemeteries are permanent memorial sites. Collectively they contain the remains of 125,000 Americans. The Walls of the Missing include the names of another 94,000 individuals. The cemeteries were created to honor America’s fallen but are also intended to inspire and teach the living. Hallowed Grounds premiered on PBS on May 25, 2009.
– “Wreaths Across America” is a grass-roots effort to honor fallen veterans by placing holiday wreaths on their headstones or by holding wreath ceremonies in veterans cemeteries. In 2007, participants placed 32,000 wreaths in 286 cemeteries; last year, volunteers placed 105,000 in 354 locations. From modest beginnings in 1992, Wreaths Across America has become a dynamic opportunity to remember our nation’s veterans. Contact: www.wreaths-across-america.org.
– At www.tributes.com, you can build a tribute in remembrance of the soldiers who have touched your life, complete with photos, memories, and artifacts of those who have passed away. You can light a virtual candle in honor of a veteran, add messages to online guest books, and read comments made by others.
– Go to www.thankyouveterans.org to send a free e-card.