On your travels around the United States, seek out the moments in history that matter to you. These lesser-known memorials are perfect for a vacation filled not just with fun but with a sense of perspective.
1. The National Memorial Arch in King of Prussia, PA
The National Arch is just as deserving of attention as the more popular memorials in Washington, D.C. The National Memorial Arch commemorates the Revolutionary War. Specifically, it’s designed to remember the desperate winter that General George Washington and his troops went through, camped out at Valley Forge.
The memorial is 60-feet high and modeled after a Roman arch that was built to commemorate the conquests of the Emporer Titus. You can find it in Valley Forge National Park, where it has stood since its dedication in June of 1917. Paul Philippe Cret designed the arch, which bears a quote from Washington regarding the dreadful winter he and his troops were forced to endure. It reads, “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.”
2. The African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
A majority of the visitors coming into D.C. throng to see the National World War II Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, which is understandable — they’re both moving tributes. However, a variety of memorials in the capital don’t receive nearly the attention they deserve. The African American Civil War Memorial is one of them.
The memorial features beautifully detailed statues of the black soldiers who formed the United States Colored Troops, a brigade of brave men who gave their lives in service to a country that was at best ambivalent about their existence. The troop consisted of over 200,000 black soldiers, represented by realistic figures and the retelling of their story. The title of the statue, “The Spirit of Freedom,” still rings bittersweet.
A curved wall surrounds the soldiers. It features the names of every black soldier who fought during the Civil War. Visitors can head to the associated museum to view the African American Civil War Memorial Registry. It holds the family trees of the modern descendants of those brave patriots.
3. The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C.
The memorial honoring the members of the armed services who fought in the Korean War is another attraction that all too often flies under the radar of tourists. It’s haunting and evocative all at once. Nineteen realistic soldiers creep through the bush, cast in stainless steel and clad in ponchos. Day and night, they patrol their triangular field, so true to life that you can almost hear them muttering and shushing each other as the undergrowth crackles beneath their feet.
The 19 soldiers honor not only the 5.8 million soldiers who served during the Korean war, which lasted three years, but also the 103,284 who were wounded and the 54,246 who lost their lives in the course of their service. The field of statues is backed by a memorial wall of black granite, which features etchings of photographs from the National Gallery. Altogether, it’s easily one of the most distinctive and visceral memorials in D.C.
4. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial in Arlington, VA
Arlington is home to the sleek Air Force Memorial and the Iwo Jima Memorial, also known as the Marine Corps Memorial. They typically garner the lion’s share of attention, but the Women in Military Service for America Memorial is one of the most beautiful tributes in the city. It honors the three million women who have stepped up to serve and defend their country since its very beginning.
The most notable aspect of the memorial is its curved, sprawling retaining wall, done up in neoclassical style. There’s also a lovely reflecting pool, along with an Education Center where visitors can learn about the over 258,000 women in the military. The roof features tablets made of glass that reveal quotes from and about these noble, courageous women. It’s a relatively new memorial, having only received its dedication in 1997.
5. The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument in Brooklyn, NY
You’ve never heard of the Prison Ships Martyrs Monument, you say? You aren’t alone. It commemorates events that occurred during the Revolutionary War. Even worse than Washington’s dark winter, however, this monument is literally dedicated to martyr soldiers who died on British ships. They were prisoners of war whose deaths did not come easily or quickly.
Located in Fort Greene, it’s a 100-foot Doric column. Both Calvert Vaux and Frederick Law Olmstead designed it. The two men are also responsible for Central Park and Prospect Park, which is in Brooklyn as well. It was crafted in such a way that it acts as a tombstone. The bodies of some of those prisoners of war are interred beneath the column.
In touring areas that are important to the nation’s history, it often pays to peer outside of the box and below the surface to find something new. This history of this country is rich, and there are so many wonderful ways to remember.