Each year, we honor the men and women who have given their lives while serving their country. These heroes gave the greatest sacrifice to protect what they held most dear, and in hopes of a better future in which they would never witness. As Americans, we recognize this day with patriotic parades of veterans and scouts, backyard BBQs and gatherings with neighbors, and solemnly visiting cemeteries to refresh flowers, lay wreaths and flags, and share stories of remembrance.
Below we have our top ten unique memorial and battle sites across the United States at which to participate in Memorial Day, where guests may visit to walk on hallowed ground and gather in-depth knowledge and immersive experiences on the engagements which shaped American history. If you’ve been looking for a new way to engage in this American holiday, this is your essential starter list.
Serving as a key naval base of operations in the first half of the 20th century, America’s Pearl Harbor suffered a surprise aerial attack by Japanese forces on Sunday morning, December 7, 1941. As the catalyst for the country’s entry into World War II, the event claimed 2,008 navy personnel, 109 marines, 218 army personnel, and 68 civilians, with nearly three quarters of total casualties within the sinking of the USS Arizona.
Today guests can visit the USS Utah, USS Oklahoma, USS California, USS West Virginia, USS Arizona, the Battleship Missouri, the Pacific Aviation Museum, and Ford Island – the currently-active naval base.
Gettysburg National Military Park
The first week of July 1863 would grow to become the most extensive battle ever to occur in North America, claiming the largest number of American service-lives in a single event. Nearly one-third of the total forces (157,289) involved ended in some form of casualty, including 7,058 fatalities.
Heralded as the key turning point in the American Civil War, the last and greatest opportunity for the Confederacy to have gained a superior advantage, Gettysburg is managed by the National Park Service and welcomes nearly two million visitors annually. The American Battlefield Trust operates numerous activities and opportunities as well.
Built at a key strategic point at the southern tip of Lake Champlain, French-constructed Fort Ticonderoga has seen critical involvement in several North American conflicts, including the Seven Years’ (“French and Indian”) War, colonial struggles between Great Britain and France, and the American Revolutionary War.
An operational fort since 1755, America’s Fort™ – receiving its name from an Iroquois word for “it is at the junction of two waterways” – offers countless programs and activities for guests throughout the Fort and its property, and is an ideal base of operations for adventures into New York’s wilderness and the Adirondacks.
General George S. Patton Museum
Fort Knox, KY
Heralded as one of America’s greatest WWII generals, General Patton’s legacy lives on within the military base in Fort Knox, KY. Patton commanded the U.S. Seventh Army in the Mediterranean theater and the Third Army in France and Germany following the Allied invasion of Normandy in June of 1944. Renowned for his distinct leadership style and colorful personality, Patton additionally graduated from West Point, designed the “Patton Saber,” and competed in the 1912 Summer Olympics in the pentathlon.
Today the free museum honors Patton and his leadership style by showcasing numerous artifacts and ephemera from his personal collection, as well as various large-scale vehicular artifacts such as tanks and jeeps.
The ocean-side, scenic complex is home to the Patriot’s Point Museum, the Cold War Memorial, the only Vietnam experience in America, the Congressional Medal of Honor Society and its Medal of Honor Museum, and a fleet of National Historic Landmark ships – with the WWII aircraft carrier USS Yorktown as its centerpiece.
Named for the sunken USS Yorktown from the Battle of Midway, the “Fighting Lady” served from 1943 – 1970, operating extensively in the WWII Pacific Theater, earning five battle stars during its service in Vietnam, and even recovering the Apollo 8 astronauts and capsule.
Old Fort Erie
Fort Erie, Ontario
Set on the banks of the Niagara River and Lake Erie, this British-built fort was erected in 1764, only to be later captured by American troops during the War of 1812, oft-repelling British advances. The siege of Fort Erie in 1814 claimed over 3,000 casualties, one of the heaviest tolls taken on Canadian soil. Abandoned and demolished several years later, the Fort was restored in the late 1930s.
Operated by the Niagara Parks Association, today Fort Erie offers historic reenactments, weapon demonstrations, tours, and speaker series representing British, American, and First Nation’s experiences at the site.
Kennedy Space Center Visitors Complex
Merritt Island, FL
The Forever Remembered gallery, part of the Space Shuttle Atlantis museum, memorializes the 14 astronauts who perished during the tragic loss of the Challenger (January 28, 1986) and Columbia (February 1, 2003) orbiters. Personal items from each astronaut and recovered hardware from both orbiters is on display, where guests can “learn about NASA’s physical recovery of the shuttles, the emotional recovery from these tragic losses, as well as NASA’s return to flight while emphasizing the importance of learning from the past.”
Within the museum, visitors can also get up close to the orbiter Atlantis, explore a Hubble Telescope model, several training modules, and more.
National WWII Museum
New Orleans, LA
Opening nearly two decades ago, this museum was originally known as The National D-Day Museum, honoring the history, strategy, and over 2,499 fallen American men and women who participated in the largest amphibious invasion in history. The Museum has since expanded to cover additional theaters and events from WWII, a global conflict which claimed 418,500 American military and civilians in “the war that changed the world.”
Today this world-class museum welcomes 650,000 annual guests to extensive exhibit galleries, public programs, special events, summer programs, and even operates international travel programs to critical WWII battle sites.
National WWI Museum and Memorial
Kansas City, MO
Dedicated in 1921, the classical Egyptian Revival-style Liberty Memorial Monument pays tribute to the 116,708 American personnel who perished in WWI from combat, wounds, and influenza. Restored and reopened in 2006 with the National WWI Museum, the site serves as America’s official WWI Museum and a National Historic Landmark.
Today the Museum and Memorial is Kansas City’s #1 attraction (and fifth-ranked Museum in America on Yelp), and offers interactive displays, films, testimonials, and one of the largest collections of WWI artifacts in the world.
San Antonio, TX
Originally constructed as a home for Spanish missionaries, the Alamo was later converted to a fort for Spanish soldiers. In early 1836, many Americans who had relocated to Mexican-owned San Antonio after winning Spanish independence in 1821 rebelled against the new Mexican government. Overwhelming Mexican forces laid siege against the 182 to 257 Texians within the Alamo fort, all of whom perished in the battle. The event is noted as a galvanizing encounter which helped pave the way to the Annexation of Texas.
2019 marks a period of exciting evolution at the Alamo, as the site, San Antonio, and Texas leadership are underway in a Comprehensive Interpretive Plan. This plan combines urban planning and regeneration, heritage interpretation, content and collection development, museum and exhibition design, operational planning, and public consultation. The initiative’s principal aim is to restore dignity and respect to the site, creating spaces where visitors and local communities can feel reverence for the fallen, and pride in this unique cultural asset in the heart of downtown San Antonio.
However you decide to spend this Memorial Day, ensure you take time to remember the men and women who have given their lives to enable the opportunities and quality of life for both Americans and people across the globe, and throughout history.