Honoring Their Sacrifice: A Guide to U.S. War Veteran Monuments and Memorials
Throughout U.S. history, military veterans have devoted their lives to protecting the country. In an effort to remember their courage and dedication, we commemorate their service with holidays and events that recognize and honor veterans and their valuable commitment to upholding freedom. Memorial Day and Veterans Day both serve as occasions to show gratitude for military members past and present, and various statues, sculptures and other public installations also serve as powerful, tangible reminders of the importance of honoring veterans year-round.
In observance of Memorial Day, we’re taking a look at several prominent monuments dedicated to soldiers and service members and their bravery. These memorials, many of which are spread throughout the nation’s capital, serve as enduring reminders of the contributions and sacrifices veterans have made since the country’s founding.
World War I Memorial
The World War I Memorial is among the newer memorials in Washington, D.C., having formally opened on April 16 of 2021. Located in what was previously known as Pershing Park, the memorial honors the service of the people who were enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces during WWI.
Among the memorial’s central features is Sabin Howard’s A Soldier’s Journey sculpture, which features 38 separate figures depicted along a 58-foot wall. The sculpture was inspired by mythologist Joseph Campbell’s concept of the hero’s journey and chronicles a soldier’s journey that spans various moments that take place from the time he’s leaving for war until the day he returns home.
World War II Memorial
Built to honor the 16 million Americans who served in WWII, this impressive memorial is located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The memorial features 56 granite columns that stand 17 feet tall and represent U.S. states and territories, two 43-foot arches that represent the Atlantic and Pacific areas where the war was fought, and a large pool with cascading fountains.
A walk through the memorial also winds around bas-relief sculpture panels and inscriptions of quotes related to the war. Among the memorial’s thoughtful aspects is a wall of 4,048 stars that honors the more than 400,000 Americans who lost their lives while defending the country during WWII.
Women in Military Service for America Memorial
The Women in Military Service for America Memorial was originally designed as a ceremonial entrance to Arlington National Cemetery but has since been converted into the only major U.S. memorial honoring women service members. The elegant structure now features an educational center complete with interactive exhibits and stories about women who have served in the military throughout American history. Dedicated in 1997, the memorial was designed to preserve the contributions of all the women of the U.S. Armed Forces in the past, present and future.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial
The Vietnam Veterans Memorial is a large-scale, thought-provoking installation designed by famed architect Maya Lin. The large, polished granite wall bears the names of over 58,000 service members who made the ultimate sacrifice while serving in the Vietnam War.
Near the V-shaped wall are two statues. One, called The Three Soldiers, features three servicemen in uniforms and is meant to represent diversity — each soldier is a different race. The second statue, called the Vietnam Women’s Memorial, depicts a healthcare worker providing medical field aid and is dedicated to women nurses and others who served during the conflict.
Korean War Veterans Memorial
Among the most visually stunning memorials in Washington, D.C., the Korean War Veterans Memorial is located near the Lincoln Memorial on the National Mall. Formed in the shape of a large triangle that leads to a pool and American flag, it features 19 steel statues that each stand around 7 feet tall.
The statues depict soldiers of different ethnicities who served in the Korean War and in different branches of the military, including members of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines. Each statue rests on a granite slab among various plants meant to represent Korean terrain.
U.S. Air Force Memorial
The U.S. Air Force Memorial is located in Arlington, Virginia, near the Pentagon and Arlington National Cemetery. It consists of three towering 402-foot spires that were designed to mimic the cloud contrails of a precision “bomb burst” maneuver performed by Air Force Thunderbird pilots. The striking monument was dedicated in October of 2006 in honor of all the people who have served in the U.S. Air Force.
Surrounding the spires are two 56-foot-long walls fashioned out of reflective black granite. One bears the names of every Air Force Medal of Honor recipient, and the second is inscribed with inspirational quotations and the three core values of the Air Force: “Integrity first, service before self, and excellence in all we do.”
U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial
The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial is located on Arlington Ridge near the Lincoln and Washington Monuments in Washington, D.C. The stirring sculpture echoes Joe Rosenthal’s famous photo of Marines raising the American flag for the second time on the island of Iwo Jima during WWII.
The statue’s flagpole flies a real U.S. flag that remains in place 24 hours a day and 365 days a year. Inscribed on a gold ring surrounding the base of the statue are all of the major engagements the U.S. Marine Corps has been involved in since 1775, the year this branch of the Armed Forces was established.
American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is located near the U.S. Capitol. Dedicated in 2014, it’s the first U.S. memorial designed to honor the sacrifice of war veterans who became disabled while in the line of duty. The memorial features granite and glass panels, bronze sculptures, and stone inscriptions. In the center is a large reflecting pool with a ceremonial flame meant to represent the courage and enduring legacy of military members fromm all branches with visible or invisible disabilities.
African-American Civil War Memorial
The African American Civil War Memorial and Museum was opened in 1999 to “correct a great wrong in history.” Over 200,000 Black soldiers served in both the U.S. Army and Navy during the American Civil War, each playing a role in helping to unite the nation and freeing over 4 million enslaved people. The memorial features a statue of four African-American servicemen, along with the names of the 209,145 Black service members.
Across the street from the statue, is the museum, which features a vast collection of artifacts and documents among its exhibits. The museum also hosts special events designed to immerse visitors in the periods of American history between the Civil War and the 1960s.