If you’re looking for rich historical sites that commemorate our nation’s military history, you won’t have to travel far from the Yard. In fact, there are a significant number of military attractions, historical sites and museums in the Annapolis area and just a bit beyond. You could spend weeks trying to cover them all. We’ve pulled together eleven of our favorites to help you get a good sense of the full range of branches covered, time periods- and sights that you just can’t miss. Come along for the tour!
Let’s start in the heart of Washington DC for one of the most famous military memorials in the country, prominently positioned at the National Mall. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1982, and it pays a silent but emotional tribute to those who paid the ultimate sacrifice during the decade-long Vietnam War. There is a book next to the memorial if you’d like to look up one of the more than 58,000 names listed on the black granite walls, which were built with 70 pieces in a “V” shape of two 200 foot-long sections. As you walk along the sloped path, you can feel the inscribed names and delve into deep introspection on the conflict and its consequences.
On the other side of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool is another special tribute to fallen service heroes. The Korean War Veterans Memorial contains several thought-provoking features, including the United Nations Wall with the 22 countries that fought North Korean and Chinese Communist forces or medically supported the UN effort; Wall and Pool of Remembrance with the names of 36,574 American service women and men and 7,114 members of the Korean Augmentation to the United States Army (KATUSA); a pool of water and the inscription “Freedom is Not Free” and a Mural Wall with the images of those who served. Perhaps the most well known and moving piece is “On Patrol,” where nineteen life-sized steel statues of soldiers forever make their rounds, and a stone is inscribed with the words “Our Nation Honors Her Sons And Daughters Who Answered The Call To Defend A Country They Never Knew And A People They Never Met.”
Slightly off the beaten path where tourists roam by the busload, the World War I monument seems of another era—because it is. This classical Doric dome of pristine Vermont marble nestled in a pastoral setting just north of the Tidal Basin was built as a Marine Corps bandstand to honor those lost in the first World War. It provides a quiet spot to reflect on the 499 men and women from DC (listed alphabetically with no mention of rank, race or gender) who perished in the first World War, but it is also a poignant reminder to honor all who gave their lives in that terrible conflict.
If you take a stroll a bit north and east to the far eastern end of the Lincoln Memorial Reflecting Pool, you’ll come to one of the newest and most popular monuments on the Mall, the National World War II Memorial. Dedicated in 2004, this enormous memorial seeks to commemorate the sacrifices of over 16 million Americans in that war, through 56 wreathed granite columns that stand for unity among the 48 states, seven federal territories and the District of Columbia along with two towering 43-foot tall arches that celebrate victory in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters, all circling a magnificent fountain. The Freedom Wall is spotted with 4,048 gold stars that represent each American life lost (every star represents 100 Americans). A stone notes solemnly, "Here we mark the price of freedom.”
Just a hop, skip and several strides away east and north is the expansive Smithsonian National Museum of American History, a building containing 3,000 military small arms and 2,400 civilian firearms that chronicle the evolution of infantry strategy from gunpowder to firepower. Marvel at the 4,000 swords and knives, and see Civil War era telegraph equipment, World War I home front memorabilia, early computers and more, spanning the breadth and depth of many U.S. conflicts.
Cross the street and you’ll come to this awe-inspiring building. Widely recognized as one of the most popular museums on the planet, no military tour is complete without this site. You’ll want to check out the “World War II in the Air” exhibit with about 10,000 artifacts, including actual planes, digital demonstrations, classic films and more—along with out-of-this-world equipment from the space race and the promise of what’s to come. The museum is undergoing renovations, so check their site for hours and availability before you go.
Just across the river from D.C. next to the Arlington National Cemetery is another famous monument that recognizes the heroism of our Marines during World War II. It forever memorializes the Marine Corps with listings of every major battle they fought in that war. Based on the famous 1945 Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph taken by Joe Rosenthal, it depicts a small group of Marines triumphantly raising the American flag on the island of Iwo Jima, Japan, on February 23,1945.
On this bucolic hill of 600 acres overlooking the Potomac and lit by the eternal flame of John F. Kennedy’s grave lie over 400,000 men and women. These are the brave people who have served our country in several ways: as active-duty military and retired reservists, by earning the military's highest honors or as prisoners of war. You’ll find recognizable names like William Howard Taft and more, as well as the one place representing those not identified but always remembered in the Tomb of the Unknowns.
At Arlington National Cemetery is the Women in Military Service for America Memorial. This unique and beautiful memorial is the “leading memorial and education center honoring the commitment, contributions and experiences of Servicewomen,” according to its website. Opened to the public on October 19,1997, it memorializes the three million women who have served in or with the Armed Forces since the American Revolution, with a beautiful “Court of Valor” containing a reflecting pool and 200-jet fountain that represents the sound of women’s voices. The stunning terrace with views of the Washington Monument sits atop a Hemicycle, and there’s a building that recounts women’s historical military contributions through an education center, interactive exhibits and a fascinating collection of military women’s stories.
Not far away in the Cardozo neighborhood of DC near Howard University is a smaller museum that tells the important stories of the 209,145 African-American soldiers who served in the Civil War. Through a vast collection of historic photographs, documents and artifacts supplemented by educational seminars and re-enactments, it brings their incredible and often overlooked achievements to life. It is currently expanding by three times its size and moving to the historic Grimke School at 1923 Vermont Ave NW, and you can follow their Facebook page for updates. When the indoor portion is closed, you can still view the Memorial Plaza and its Spirit of Freedom Statue.
Of course we can’t forget USNA, which has been a military academy for naval officers since 1845 in historic Annapolis, MD, only a 40 minute drive from the center of Washington, DC. Here you’ll find a large number of monuments around the Yard, artifacts throughout and a concentration of photos, memorabilia, weaponry and stories in the well-stocked USNA Museum, not to mention the living military history that happens on the Yard each day. The Naval Academy Cemetery is just a 15-minute walk from the Naval Academy Visitor Center. It is an inspiring, intimate cemetery well worth exploring, where you will find the gravestones of Naval Academy Alumni, Midshipmen, and others including: Fleet Admiral King, Senator McCain, fallen Navy Seal Erik Kristensen.
So Many More to Explore!
We’ve highlighted just a few monuments, memorials and museums that celebrate our nation’s military history, but there are many more throughout DC (National Native American Veterans Memorial, Veterans Memorial Park and more), along the East Coast (National Museum of the United States Army, National Museum of the Marine Corps, the National Naval Aviation Museum, the Navy Seal Museum, East Coast military bases and more) and throughout the country (The Military Memorial Museum, Gettysburg National Military Park and more). The list goes on! We are proud to be part of such a long-lasting and patriotic tradition that continues to this day and beyond.
You can be part of this history. Come visit the Yard, where the midshipmen make history every day, training to be our nation’s future naval leaders. When you visit the Yard, you’re supporting the women and men who support our freedoms, day in and day out. Your tours, dining experiences and shopping directly fund their uniforms, haircuts, meals, activities, clubs and more. Visit today and see history in the making. We welcome you to the Yard!