Memorial Day in the United States, on the last Monday in May, is a holiday to commemorate those who died protecting the country while serving in the Armed Forces. American soldiers have fought for freedom on American soil and around the world. There are national cemeteries and memorials to honor the dead all across the US and around the world.
Let’s take a look at some of these hallowed places.
Arlington National Cemetery
General Robert E. Lee owned a considerable amount of land in Arlington County, Virginia, just outside Washington, D.C. At the start of the Civil War, the renowned general left his position in the US Army to lead Confederate troops. Towards the end of the Civil War, the Union Army ran out of places to bury fallen soldiers, so, in 1864, the Union government took Lee’s land and turned it into a cemetery.
Over time, the cemetery has become the most prominent national cemetery in the United States. It is the final resting place for more than 400,000 soldiers, their family members and important civilians. More than three million people visit the cemetery each year to pay their respects to the deceased and to learn more about their service.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier
The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is one of the most sacred places in Arlington Cemetery. Here lie unidentified remains from soldiers from several major wars.
It is guarded by members of the Old Guard of the Army 24 hours a day, every day of the year, rain or shine, heat or cold. It is an honor to “walk the mat” and the guards follow a detailed routine designed to honor the unidentified fallen service members. Due to the solemn nature of the Tomb, observers are expected to maintain silence, and those who violate the order will be reprimanded by the guard.
Gettysburg National Cemetery
The Battle of Gettysburg witnessed some of the most brutal fighting of the Civil War. It took place from July 1-3, 1863. Both sides suffered massive casualties; about one third of soldiers were killed or wounded in the battle, and General Robert E. Lee suffered a massive defeat both in the field and to his reputation.
After the battle, President Abraham Lincoln and others gathered at the site to dedicate the Soldiers’ National Cemetery. It was here, on November 4, 1863 that Lincoln gave the speech that later became known as the Gettysburg Address.
The battlefield has been turned into a national park, and visitors can drive through and learn about the battle, walking where soldiers walked and learning about those who died, and survived, the battle.
Pennsylvania State Memorial
Many states have created memorials within the park to honor their soldiers, and commemorate their sacrifice and bravery during the three days in July. Pennsylvania created the largest monument within the park, a large granite domed monument complete with a 7,500 pound statute of Winged Victory.
Antietam National Battlefield
Antietam National Battlefield is a National Park that commemorates a one-day battle outside Sharpsburg, West Virginia, that resulted in the highest single day of casualties in the Civil War. The battle took place on September 17, 1862, and left nearly 23,000 dead or wounded among the Union and Confederate Armies.
The Park includes a visitor center, a preserved battlefield, a field hospital museum, and a national cemetery.
While Europe had been involved in a massive war for two years, the United States managed to stay out of the fray until late 1941. On December 7, Japan attacked the American naval base at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, drawing the country into the war. Almost 2,500 soldiers were killed, and several ships were damaged, three irreversibly. Wreckage from ships still remains in the harbor.
The USS Arizona was damaged beyond repair, and sunk with more than a thousand sailors. It still “bleeds” oil to this day, from a leak in the hull. A memorial was created over the wreckage, careful to be respectful of the ship, which is a tomb to the men who died there.
Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial
Starting June 6, 1944, the Allies invaded German-held Normandy to help free France and end World War II. American forces played an integral role in the liberation of France, and about 10,000 American soldiers died or went missing during the action.
After the war, France turned a temporary American cemetery at Colleville-sur-Mer into the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, where the remains of about 9,500 known soldiers are buried, as well as the names of 1,500 missing. The cemetery is a moving memorial to the fallen and their sacrifices for the freedom of others.
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial
More than 17,000 American soldiers who lost their lives fighting in the Pacific theater of World War II are buried in the Manila American Cemetery and Memorial. These soldiers died fighting to free places like New Guinea and the Philippines from Japanese control.
Like in France, there is a memorial to the missing, which contains more than 36,000 names. The memorial and cemetery are in a beautiful and peaceful setting, with views of the lowlands, Laguna Bay, and mountains in the distance.
These are some of the places dedicated to remembering and honoring those brave men and women who gave their all for Americans and freedom loving people around the world. It’s the least we can do on this special holiday, to take some time to learn about the wars they fought in and places where they have found their eternal rest.