Remembering Heroic People: A Guide to USA War Memorials


War with all its horror, death, injury and sorrow, balancing against patriotism and honor are together truly beyond human comprehension. War is something that impacts us all on different levels and imparts us each with a very different emotion. War often leaves us with a variety of conflicting emotions all at the same time, and we struggle to make sense of our feelings. Yet there have been many times in our country's history when Americans have been required to make the tremendous sacrifice of participating in war.

People create memorials and monuments, not only to mark great events of valor, and victorious battles, but also out of grief and a sense of loss for those fallen, who will never again return to their loved ones. Sometimes monuments are created to speak to the emotion of loss, and other times to the more soaring emotions of patriotic pride, but no matter what the artists' intention in creating these monuments, each visitor leaves the site with a different impression.

Arlington National Cemetery

George Washington Parke Custis, 1781 – 1857, adopted son of George Washington and father of Robert E. Lee’s wife Mary, was the original owner of the land and builder of the house at Arlington National Cemetery. The house, now referred to as “The Curtis-Lee Mansion,” was originally built as a tribute to George Washington and housed many of George Washington’s belongings.

General Robert E. Lee and his wife Mary inherited the estate from her father, but it was seized by the union army who used it as a headquarters and a burial ground for fallen soldiers. Ft. Myer was built on the land and the government officially took over the property in 1862. Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton designated the house and 200 acres to the Army on June 15, 1864. At first the government, embittered by the war, intended to just commandeer the land without giving compensation but eventually paid General Lee’s son $150,000 for the property in 1883 after the matter went all the way to the Supreme Court.

Today, Arlington Cemetery features endless rows of white tombstones, the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, also known as Tomb of the Unknowns, and the grave of JFK. It is adjacent to the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial. Arlington is the burial place of soldiers from every American war. Even some of the revolutionary war dead, and the dead from many other wars were exhumed and reburied at Arlington National Cemetery. It is considered a great honor to be buried there. Over 100 grave side services are performed each day, as more American Veterans are interred.

Arlington National Cemetery is located in Arlington Virginia, on Memorial Drive. It is open to the public 365 days a year from 8 a.m. til 7 p.m. in spring and summer and 5 p.m. in winter.

Spanish-American War Monument Los Angeles

While there are many monuments to the Spanish-American War all across America, especially in California, the one located at Pershing Square at the corner of 5th and Grand in Los Angeles is the oldest. Installed May 30, 1900 in honor of the regiment which departed their community by train to the San Francisco Port only 2 years prior, this monument was directly inspired by the fact that Los Angeles was a staging point for the war. Fund raising for the statue progressed quickly, and the statue was ordered from sculptor and architect S.M. Goddard soon after. Although it may not be the most expensive monument, costing only $3,052, this monument is obviously a heart-felt tribute. The statue displays a soldier carrying a rifle.

Spanish-American War Monument Arlington

Winifred Lee Lyster first requested permission in 1901 for this memorial to be erected in memoriam of the Spanish American War. Dedicated on May 21, 1902 with an address by Theodore Roosevelt, the monument was unveiled in Arlington National Cemetery and commemorated the Spanish American War and its veterans. The monument is composed of a single Corinthian column 50 feet high and made of Barre Granite. It is topped with an eagle alighting on a globe.

The National Memorial Arch

In March 1912, construction of a great 60 foot arch was begun within Valley Forge Park in Valley Forge Pennsylvania. The arch is a simplified replica of the Roman monument, Triumphal Arch of Titus, and was designed and created by Paul Philippe Cret. Cret, a trained French artist and architect, was a professor at the University of Pennsylvania at the time.

The arch was erected to commemorate the suffering and patriotism of General George Washington and his men who fought at Valley Forge during the Revolutionary War. The arch was completed and dedicated on June 19, 1917. It was restored by the Masons of Pennsylvania in 1996 through 1997 after some concern was raised over issues of structural soundness and safety. Today, the beautiful granite arch is fully restored and open to the public

The Tomb of the Unknowns

The idea of creating and honoring a grave for unknown soldiers was first conceived by Rev. David Railton, a British clergyman during WWI. Rev. Railton was deeply moved and inspired when he found a grave with a roughly cut wooden cross which was inscribed, “An unknown British Soldier of the Black Watch.” The thought of families and friends of this man never knowing what had become of him and having nowhere to grieve once he was assumed dead, haunted Rev. Railton. Reverend Railton asked the government to exhume this soldier, who had been buried near Armentieres, and create a tomb and monument for lost and unidentified soldiers.

At first governments did not consider this a priority, but public support around the world led to, not only an unknown soldier tomb in Britain, but also in many other European countries. Brigadier General William D. Connor, Commanding General of American Forces in France, was impressed by the British and French projects and formally requested a similar grave and memorial for America. General Peyton C. March denied the proposal, because he was determined that every single body would be located and identified. He was optimistic that the Army Graves Registration Service would eventually meet that goal.

A resolution requesting the return to the U.S. of an unknown American soldier killed in France, was introduced December 21, 1920 by Congressman Hamilton Fish Jr. of New York. He further recommended that an appropriate tomb be constructed at the Memorial Amphitheater in Arlington National Cemetery. The resolution was passed, and on November 11, 1921 an unknown soldier was buried with full honors in the plaza of Arlington National Cemetery. The soldier represents all missing and unidentified soldiers from WWI. Since that time, an unidentified American soldier has been buried to represent those lost in WWII, and later another two were placed there to represent those lost in the Korean War and the Vietnam War.

The design of the tomb is that of a large but simple sarcophagus, eleven feet high, eight feet wide, and thirteen feet, eleven inches long. Carved in shallow relief on the front are three figures; the central female figure represents Victory, a male figure represents Valor, and on the other side is a figure representing Peace. It was designed by sculptor Thomas Hudson Jones, and architect Lorimer Rich of New York City.

The Liberty Memorial

Dedicated to World War I veterans, this memorial is stunning in size, scope, and beauty. Located in downtown Kansas City, Missouri, the memorial features a 217 foot, “Beaux-Arts” style limestone tower in the center and two large sphinx sculptures. Inside the tower there are terrazzo and Kasota marble tiles, and travertine balusters and railings on the stairways. Originally the tower was designed to display an “eternal flame” at the top of the monument but budget cuts and rising fuel prices forced the city to shut off the flame, except during special holidays.

In 1919 a massive community fund raising drive yielded $2.5 million in less than two weeks, and architect H. Van Buren Magonigle was selected to design the project. On November 1926, only eight years after the war, this monumental work was officially opened and dedicated by President Calvin Coolidge.

War Memorial Stadium

Originally created as a WPA Public Works Project and called Civic Stadium, this stadium was ordered by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and constructed between 1935 and 1938. It was made to honor all citizens who had served in the armed forces. The stadium was renamed the War Memorial Stadium in 1960, when it became the home of the Buffalo Bills during the 1960’s. During the mid 1960’s the seating capacity was extended to 46,201 when an upper deck was added. It is also more affectionately called the Old Rockpile. The oval shaped stadium was constructed between Jefferson Avenue, Best Street, and Dodger Street in Buffalo, New York. It was demolished in 1988, and is now the site of an athletic facility.

United States Marine Corps War Memorial

Also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, the U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial commemorates all U.S Marines who served from 1775 to present-day. The subject comes from an event in WWII. This cast bronze statue was designed from a photo shot by Joe Rosenthal, an Associated Press photographer. The photo and statue depict five marines and one Navy corpsman raising a U.S Flag on the top of Mount Suribachi during the battle of Iwo Jima.

The battle of Iwo Jima was vital to the U.S. strategy in the Pacific because the Japanese were using the island as an air base to launch kamikaze planes. The U.S. wanted to stop the kamikaze planes and use the island as an airbase themselves because of its size and location. Japanese forces were well entrenched in the hills and mountains of the island. Their higher vantage point made the beaches hard to take, since it was easy to rain fire down on the beach from the perspective of the high hills. Raising the flag was especially important as a signal that the troops had gained the mountain top.

The statue was designed by Felix W. de Weldon. Weldon arranged for the three surviving men, Ira Hayes, Rene A. Gagnon and John Bradley to sit for him as he modeled their faces in clay. Photos and physical statistics were compiled about the three deceased flag raisers in order for Weldon to recreate their images accurately also. In order to produce a lifelike representation, which expressed the muscle tension and effort of the men, the statue was originally molded in the nude, and clothing added with a very light touch, so that the muscles showed prominently. Once the statue was completed in plaster, its 108 pieces were disassembled and taken to Bedi-Rassy Art Foundry in Brooklyn, New York, where it was cast in bronze, a process which took almost three years.

The statue when completed was an amazing work, which accurately depicted each of the marines. Each of these six colossal bronze Marines is 32 feet tall and mounted on a ten-foot pedestal. The overall height of the statue is 78 feet, and features a sixty foot flagpole held at an angle, which displays a real cloth American Flag. President Dwight D. Eisenhower opened the statue as a public exhibit in 1954.

The memorial is located on Marshall Drive in Arlington, Virginia adjacent to the Arlington National Cemetery. It is open to the public twenty-four hours a day and is free to view. In addition, during the summer, the US Marine Drum and Bugle Corps holds a parade there each Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. This parade is also free to the public.

The USS Arizona Memorial 

Part of the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument, the USS Arizona Memorial commemorates the disaster at Pearl Harbor and honors the 1177 crewmen of the USS Arizona. The names of the crewmen killed are engraved into its walls. Dedicated in May of 1962, the memorial was designed by Honolulu architect, Alfred Preis, who was commissioned to create a bridge-type structure floating over the sunken ship which is the final resting place of 1,102 of its crew members. The memorial is located in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

The structure is essentially a floating building with three rooms, an entry, an assembly room, and a shrine. The assembly room features seven large open windows, one on each wall and the ceiling. There is also a large opening in the center of the floor so that visitors can look down and see the decks of the great ship. The 184 foot long structure was built to accommodate 250 people.

A visitor’s center on shore arranges boat tours of the monument and of the other ships and monuments located in the harbor. Tour boats go out every 15 minutes from 8 a.m. till 3:00 p.m. every day except Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Years.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall

At the western end of the national mall, in West Potomac Park of Washington, D.C. is a long black g-granite wall. The wall breaks at a 125 degree angle at the center. The center is just over ten feet tall, but tapers to a lower height at each end. The total length of the wall is 493.75 feet, and is composed of 140 polished black panels. Carved into the wall are the 58,260 names of those military personnel who died as a direct result of the Vietnam War, including 1300 who remain MIA. One hundred and fifty feet away, three young soldiers made of patina finished bronze, seem to emerge from the woods, and cast an apprehensive gaze at the apex of the wall.

Designed by Maya Lin, who was a 21-year-old Yale architectural student at the time, this monument expresses perfectly the hard fact and somber emotion that accompanies the realization of a massive loss of life. Miss Lin’s design was selected from among 1,421 contest submissions. The sculpture was the work of sculptor Fredric Hart. The project was funded entirely through private contributions to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund. $9,000,000 was raised and no additional federal funds were required. The walls were completed in November of 1982, and the statue and flag were set in place immediately prior to the dedication by the President in November of 1984.

The National D-Day Memorial

First conceived by Bob Slaughter in 1987, construction on this ambitious monument began in 1997 after a extensive ten year private fund raising and the official approval of Congress. Slaughter was a WWII veteran and part of the third wave of troops to hit Omaha Beach. Over those ten years, Bill Slaughter recruited support and gained publicity. He spearheaded the campaign to build the National D-Day Memorial.

The project proved to be much more spectacular than Slaughter had first imagined. Bedford, Virginia donated twenty acres for the project. It was a beautiful acreage with an incredible view of the Blue Ridge Mountains. It required 8,000 cubic yards of concrete, over 900 tons of granite, 6,000 tons of stone, 30 miles of electrical wiring, and 50,000 gallons of water for the reflecting pool. The central and predominating feature of the memorial is a 48 foot stone arch. The overall shape of the monument area is designed to replicate the uniform patch for the Allied Expeditionary Force headquarters. The monument itself is a sort of plaza area, which serves as a statuary with many statues. The overall cost of the project was $25 million. The project was dedicated on June 6, 2001 by President Bush, to honor the valor and sacrifice of the Allied Forces on D-Day.

The Vietnam Women's Memorial

On the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial stands the first National Monument to women in war. This war memorial is unique in that it is dedicated to caregivers. This statue depicts three army nurses caring for an injured soldier. The mood of this sculpture is unique and unparalleled in that it eloquently expresses compassion. As with the Vietnam Wall, it is a monument not to war, but to veterans, commemorating the women who selflessly cared for the wounded without concern for their own safety. It reminds us of those volunteer women who have served to heal those wounded in war.

The need for this sculpture was conceived by former army Nurse Diane Carlson Evans and designed by sculptor Glenna Goodacre. It was unveiled November 11, 1993. Its location on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. on the grounds of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial allows for a serene and natural setting among trees.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial

Though fund raising efforts were begun in 1984 and Congress authorized the project in 1986, ground was not broken on the project until 1993. This fascinating, elaborate and somewhat haunting memorial was not completed until 1995. Today it stands in its rightful place on the National Mall adjacent to the Lincoln Memorial.

Frank Gaylord was the principle sculptor, responsible for creating nineteen amazing, poncho-clad servicemen, which were cast in stainless steel. He created fourteen Army Soldiers, three Marines, one U.S. Air Force veteran, and one man representing the Navy. Louis Nelson was selected to create a mural of etched military personnel faces on a granite wall. An amazing thing happened when Frank Gaylord’s stainless steel men stood in their places in a field of juniper bushes and granite strips, facing Nelson’s granite wall. The stainless steel men were reflected in the wall in such a way as to create a very three dimensional looking effect, in which the steel men seem to be a part of the etching as well.

The African American Civil War Memorial Freedom Foundation and Museum

Commemorating the service of 209,145 African-Americans who served the Union Army and Navy during the Civil War, the monument on the corner of Vermont Avenue and U Street NW in Washington D.C. was created by Ed Hamilton of Louisville, Kentucky. It was designed by architects Devrouax and Purnell. Site design was by Ed Dunson and his associates. It was commissioned in 1997, by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and completed in 1998.

The sculpture is titled the “Spirit of Freedom” and features larger-than-life African American Soldiers in uniform. Adjoining the statue is the “wall of honor” with each of the more than 200,000 soldiers' names.

The National World War II Memorial

Located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., the National World War II Memorial was designed by Friedrich St. Florian and dedicated to the service and sacrifice of those who risked or gave their lives to achieve victory in World War II. With its lovely serene pool, ceremonial entrance, and formal garden style marble work, the memorial is both elaborate and tasteful. Fabulous fountain sprays and a massive plaza offer plenty of open space between features such as the Atlantic and Pacific Pavilions and the identical wreathed pillars commemorating each state. Features such as the field of stars on the freedom wall, commemorate those individuals who gave their lives in the war.

The project was dedicated on April 29, 2004 and is open year around as part of the National Mall but at times may be secured for special events.

The Patriots Point War Dog Memorial

Dedicated to military working dogs, this exhibit is designed as an educational tool to teach about the military use of dogs throughout history. This extensive exhibit is located in Charleston, South Carolina, on the USS Yorktown aircraft carrier, docked at the Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum.

The Patriots Point War Dog exhibit is on board a Navy Ship, but there is currently an effort to erect a permanent National War Dog Memorial in Holmden, New Jersey. It will be a simple bronze statue of a soldier kneeling beside his dog, and will be created by sculptor, Bruce Lindsay. The project has been in the fund raising stages since 2001. Both the exhibit and the plans for the new memorial belong to and are heavily supported by the U.S. War Dogs Association.

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