Salute the Troops of Present and Past

Visit these famous U.S. war memorials this Veterans Day to honor American soldiers and learn about the history of this important holiday.


Veterans Day is Nov. 11, but how often do you think about what that really means, other than a day off from work or school? The federal holiday occurs on the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice ending World War I, which took place on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918. Formerly called Armistice Day, it was turned into a holiday to honor all veterans (not just those from that war) and so the name was changed to reflect that. There are numerous monuments across the country honoring those who have served in all wars. They offer a great opportunity to learn why we should take the day to honor our military heroes. Take time on the holiday this year to learn more on an educational trip to one of the following memorials.

Gettysburg National Military Park 

Gettysburg, Pa.

During the Civil War, the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863, which involved about 51,000 casualties, was the bloodiest battle of them all. The Union victory ended General Robert E. Lee’s second invasion of the North, but at a huge cost to both sides. A new museum opened in April 2008 and details the Civil War from beginning to end, featuring items from a massive collection of Civil War to Gettysburg artifacts. Besides the museum, you’ll want to visit the Soldiers’ National Cemetery where Union army members who died from the Battle of Gettysburg were buried, and today remains the resting place for veterans and their families from all wars. This is also the spot where President Abraham Lincoln delivered the Gettysburg Address on Nov. 19, 1863. Drive to famous battleground landmarks, such Culp’s Hill, McPherson’s Ridge, Lauren Hill Cemetery, and the “High Water Mark,” among many others. You can easily spend all day here, so plan accordingly. Admission to the park is free. Admission to the film, A New Birth of Freedom $7.50 for adults, $6.50 for seniors and military, $5.50 for youth ages 6 to 18, free for children under 6. Open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. from April 1 to Oct. 31, 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. from Nov. 1 to March 31. Tel. 717-334-1124, ext. 8023.

Arlington National Cemetery 

Washington, D.C.

On Veterans Day, the Tomb of the Unknowns at the Arlington National Cemetery is a place that marks the symbolic celebration honoring war veterans. At 11 a.m. a combined color guard representing all military services executes “Present Arms,” a type of military salute, at the tomb. A wreath is placed upon the tomb and a bugler plays “Taps.” Veterans from all the nation’s wars—from the American Revolution through the Iraq and Afghanistan wars—are buried in the cemetery. Pre-Civil War dead were reinterred after 1900.

Since Washington, D.C., is a city of monuments, other war memorials should be on your list, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial (a national wall memorial), the African American Civil War Memorial, the National WWII Memorial and the Korean War Memorial. The Arlington National Cemetery is open daily: April 1 to Sept. 30, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., the rest of the year, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tel. 703-607-8000,

USS Arizona Memorial

Oahu, Hawaii

The “Day of Infamy” occurred on Dec. 7, 1941. The worst naval disaster in U.S. history is detailed at the USS Arizona Memorial in Oahu. The memorial is built over the remains of the sunken battleship where many of the 1,177 crewmen were killed when their ship was bombed by the Japanese naval forces. More than half of the Americans killed on that day were on the ship.

Plan on being at the site for a minimum of one hour. Your tour will begin at the visitor center, where you’ll have a brief introduction by a park ranger, a volunteer or, if you’re lucky, a Pearl Harbor survivor. This will be followed by a 23-minute film on the history of the Pearl Harbor attack. After that, you board a Navy-operated launch for the Memorial. Although the tour is free, sometimes the lines to get in can be long. While you wait, you can partake in an audio tour which guides you through the museum’s exhibits. Admission: free. Open daily, 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tel 808-422-0561,

The Alamo 

San Antonio, Texas

The phrase “Remember the Alamo” may resonate with you, but how much do you know about it? In 1836, a small group of “Texians,” as they were called, held out for 13 days against the Mexican Centralist army of General Antonio López de Santa Anna. The battle was one of many conflicts during the Texas Revolution, as Mexico and Texians battled over the land. Though the Texians lost that day, the Alamo was never forgotten and the slogan of “Remember the Alamo” became a rallying cry. Three buildings remain in San Antonio today: the Shrine, the Long Barrack Museum and the Gift Museum. Inside the Shrine you’ll see various artifacts such as a buckskin vest, a flintlock rifle used in the battle, a period Bowie knife and more. At the Long Barrack Museum, which opened in 1968, is the Clara Driscoll Theater where you can watch a 17-minute film produced by The History Channel. In the museum, exhibits on the Alamo and Texas History include Mexican military artifacts, long rifles, bowie knives and Alamo archeology. Admission: free. Open daily: Mon. to Sat., 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., Sun., 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tel. 210-2251391,

Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Crow Agency, Mont.

Native Americans didn’t have much of a chance against the invading forces of the United States in the 1800s, but at Little Bighorn they managed a victory, beating the U.S. 7th Cavalry in June 1876. What you may know as “Custer’s Last Stand” ended in the loss of many honorable people, including Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, 262 soldiers and attached personnel of the U.S. Army. It wasn’t until 1991, that the U.S. Congress changed the name of this battlefield in Montana and ordered the construction of an Indian Memorial. Prior to this, the battlefield was a tribute to the U.S. Cavalry. The current battlefield includes a visitor center, museum, Custer National Cemetery and the 7th Cavalry Memorial. Admission: $10 per vehicle, $5 for pedestrians. Hours vary widely, but Sept. to Oct., 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., Nov. to March, 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tel. 406-638-3204,

Destinations: Montana, Gettysburg, San Antonio, Oahu, Washington

Themes: Historical Vacations

Activities: Museums, Sightseeing

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