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Teaching kids about the history of our country and those who lost their lives serving in the military is a critical part of their education; if we don’t learn from the past we can’t learn from it and improve.
This is why Memorial Day is such an important holiday–because it honors the men and women who died while serving in the U.S. military. Unfortunately, it often gets hijacked as summer’s opening party instead of getting the reverence it deserves.
Part of this is probably because in the US today, fewer people are personally connected to anyone who has even served in the military, let alone lost their life in a conflict. Because of this, makes it a bit abstract and can make it hard for kids to understand why they should care so much.
By learning about the history of the holiday, and wars that we have fought, the day can be more about memorializing and honor.
What we now know as Memorial Day began as Decoration Day after the Civil War. Families would decorate the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and say prayers over them. In 1866, the town of Waterloo, New York became known as the official birthplace of the holiday. They held it as an official town event where businesses closed and residents decorated graves with flowers and flags.
What began as a memorial for Civil War soldiers, Memorial Day now honors all of the fallen soldiers in all of the wars the US has fought in.
In Washington DC, there are memorials commemorating the major wars that have been fought by the US. Since most of us can’t travel right now, visiting them virtually is a great way to show respect and learn about American history too.
This bronze statue serves as tribute to the United States Colored Troops (USCT). The wall lists the names of 209,145 USCT who fought for freedom during the American Civil War.
This monument is part of the African American Civil War Museum. You can find out more info about that on their website here: African American Civil War Museum.
There are 18 other memorials and statues scattered throughout the District representing the Civil War.
The District of Columbia War Memorial is dedicated to the 499 service members from DC that lost their lives in World War I. This memorial also contains all 26,000 DC residents who served in the war.
A World War I Memorial honoring all of the US soldiers from that war is in the works. It will be in Pershing Park.
One of the newest memorials in Washington DC, and incorporated into the National Mall, is the World War II Memorial. The memorial was dedicated in 2004. It honors the service of 16 million members of the US Armed Forces, the support of millions of people at home, and the ultimate sacrifice of 405,399 Americans in the war.
For more info about the memorial itself, visit this National Park Service page here.
And, you can even visit this one virtually here: World War II Memorial
The WWII memorial is very large, partly because it was built around the existing Rainbow Pool. Granite columns representing each U.S. state and territory at the time of World War II surround the pool. Quotes, references to theaters, campaigns, battles, and two massive victory pavilions showcase the efforts Americans put in to win the war.
The first time I visited Washington DC, and the National Mall, it was night time and this memorial stood out as something almost ghostly. I felt the spirit of this memorial immediately. Still impressive in the daylight, it’s definitely one of my favorites.
Dedicated in 1995 the Korean memorial honors the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed services during the Korean War. The memorial, located near the Lincoln Memorial, has 19 stainless steel statues wearing ponchos. They are about 7 feet tall and surrounded by juniper bushes.
Yeah, can you imagine being a teenager who had no idea about this memorial, walking around the Mall, and seeing these 7 foot-tall guys lit by little lights coming out of the dark? Part if me wants ti say there was fog, but I’m pretty sure that’s just my imagination. Awesome, creepy and very moving.
Visit it virtually here: Korean War Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial chronologically lists the names of 58,318 Americans who gave their lives in service to their country in a 246-foot-long wall made of black granite.
The National Park Service created a short video that explains the purpose of the wall and what it means. Watch it here. Dedicated in November 1982, this monument’s design was very controversial.
Only 2 years later, on Veteran’s Day in 1984, this statue of 3 servicemen was added to the area around the original wall.
The Vietnam Women’s Memorial honors the U.S. women who served in the Vietnam War. It shows three uniformed women with an injured soldier.
These are the major memorials in Washington DC that commemorate the major wars the United States has fought in. I hope that you enjoy looking around, learning something new, and taking time to honor the fallen US service men and women this Memorial Day.
Have you been to these? Which is your favorite?
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