10 Ways To Honor Memorial Day

Rebecca WatsonNPF Blog
Dark, bronze, rectangular panels set into a light stone wall that stretches from the bottom right to the center of the photo, in the direction of the Washington Monument, a tall obelisk in the distance. The sun is on the horizon.
The "Pacific" bas relief sculpture of the World War II Memorial - NPS Photo

On the last Monday of May, our nation comes together to observe Memorial Day and honor the men and women who gave their lives in service of our country and many national parks provide places for reflection and commemoration of those who sacrificed themselves to protect our nation.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion…” – President Abraham Lincoln; November 19, 1863

The National Park Foundation (NPF)'s work in preserving history and culture in our parks helps safeguard the historic sites and collections that hold our shared history, helping all people gain a deeper understanding of parks as our common ground and shared inheritance. Explore some of the ways you can honor the memory of U.S. military members in our national parks. 

Visit the Site of a Battlefield

Trail covered with leaves through the woods

Vernal Pool trail at Minute Man National Historical Park

NPS Photo / Victoria Stauffenberg

From the birth of our nation to the moments which shaped its history, battlefields protected by the National Park Service preserve the complex history of military campaigns fought on American soil, in all their struggles and their triumphs. Parks such as Minute Man National Historical Park, which preserves the battlefields of Lexington and Concord during the American Revolution, and Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park, which marks the 1846 clash of Mexican and U.S. troops, help visitors illuminate these pivotal moments of conflict in the very places these historic events happened. Immersing yourself history connects you to those who fought and those who were lost during these battles.   

These historic spots preserve the past and continue to evolve as a living memorial to those who were lost in the military conflict. NPF supported the donation of land a 75-acre tract of land in Gettysburg National Military Park, the installation of new interpretive displays at Champion Hill Battlefield in Vicksburg National Military Park, and the construction of a new visitor center at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. These projects helps visitors develop a more comprehensive understanding of these places, the events that occurred there, and the people whose stories they preserve.

Learn About the Military's Past Use of Parks

The links between the U.S. military and national parks doesn’t just encompass military sites or memorials. In the modern era, national parks have provided areas for troops to train and recreate. Dive into the fascinating history of the collaboration between the U.S. military and the National Park Service. From a system of trenches built to train new troops during World War I in what is now preserved as part of Petersburg National Battlefield, and the cold weather equipment testing and training in Mount Rainier National Park during World War II to the Mount McKinley Army Recreation Camp in what is now preserved as Denali National Park & Preserve, parks have had an important role in the training and care of U.S. troops.

Buffalo soldiers at Yosemite National Park

Buffalo Soldiers at Yosemite National Park

NPS Photo

Of course, military members were also some of the first protectors of our national park spaces. Buffalo Soldiers, regiments of all African American soldiers, were tasked with the management of places such as Sequoia and Kings Canyon National ParksYosemite National Park, and Skagway and Dyea, now part of Klondike Goldrush National Historical Park. The legacy of the Buffalo Soldiers and that of Captain Charles Young are preserved at Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument. NPF played a major role in the creation of the park by providing the necessary funding, through our African American Experience Fund, to purchase the historic property from Omega Psi Phi Fraternity, Inc.’s Friendship Foundation in 2013.

Volunteer Your Time

As the military members honored on Memorial Day dedicated their service to our country, so too can you give back by donating your time and efforts to a park. Whether it’s a one-day project, such as planting trees as part of a reforestation project, or a long-term position, such as sataffing visitor services, parks across the country invite you to become a VIP – a Volunteer in Parks. Explore a few of the types of volunteer experiences you can find in parks, and search for volunteering opportunities in parks on volunteer.gov.

Visit a Monument or Memorial Site

Rows of stone graves decorated with small American flags

Civil War prisoner graves decorated for Memorial Day at Andersonville National Historic Site

NPS Photo / Peacock

Parks across the country help educate visitors about a person, a place, or a specific moment in time, through the stories that have contributed to the multifaceted history of our nation in all its beauty and imperfections. Memorial Day honors those who lost their lives in service to our country, and many national parks commemorate their stories, lives, and sacrifice in monuments and memorials. From the National Cemetery at Andersonville National Historic Site and the 96 monuments at Antietam National Battlefield to the landscapes of Valley Forge National Historical Park and Pearl Harbor National Memorial, a visit to the monuments and memorials within parks can provide the opportunity to reconnect with history and remember the fallen. 

The nation’s capital city is home to many memorials that make up part of the National Mall and Memorial Parks, including the African American Civil War Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial, and more. NPF has supported many projects along the National Mall, such as studying transportation on and around the Mall to improve safety for visitors, enabling students to visit the Mall and meet with rangers, and supporting recycling efforts and conducting a waste stream analysis to ensure the Mall and the memorials it houses are preserved and enjoyed by generations to come.

Find a National Park Event

While many parks stand as permanent tributes to fallen soldiers year-round, many sites will hold events in memoriam of the greatest sacrifice made by these brave American veterans during the Memorial Day weekend. Locate a park near you and check on the park’s website if there are in-park or digital Memorial Day events you can attend this year. You can also explore the National Park Service’s system-wide calendar to see which parks are hosting events during the weekend, if you plan on making a trip of your park visit!

Learn About Veterans Stories in Parks

A statue of three Vietnam servicemen

Servicemen Statue at Vietnam Veterans Memorial

NPS Photo / Terry Adams

Parks across the spectrum of designations also preserve the stories of individuals who served in the military. Parks help us learn about the Tuskegee Airmen, the Buffalo Soldiers, and individuals like Deborah Sampson and Medgar Evers who helped shape the ever-evolving story and identity of our country. Honor the lives of veterans whose stories are preserved and shared in our parks. 

Mellon Humanities Fellows, made possible through the support of NPF and a generous donation from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, help expand the types of stories told and preserved in our national parks. In 2020, NPF supported the introduction of a new Mellon Humanities Fellow focused on the history of monuments and commemoration. Working with National Park Service staff, the Fellow will help create interpretive and educational resources such as exhibitions, lesson plans, digital projects, and more to help enhance, expand, and deepen storytelling at parks.

Help Protect Our Parks

NPF helps preserve our military history in national parks and together with the park community, works to ensure all people can find their own connections to parks as places of solitude, beauty, reflection, and recreation. Through innovative and collaborative projects, we’re working to protect our nation’s most special places for generations to come. Support NPF and our work in parks by donating today and discover the many ways you can support NPF’s work, including tribute gifts.

Walk a Trail of Remembrance

National Historic Trails honor the routes people took to get to these places and offer a unique opportunity to retrace history through landscapes. Memorial Day weekend is the perfect time to hit a trail that was once used by military members.

Street banner for Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail hanging outside a 18th century building

Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail

NPS Photo

The Washington-Rochambeau Revolutionary Route National Historic Trail, for example, crosses multiple states and traces the routes used by allied forces in the Yorktown campaign during the American Revolution. A network of roads and waterways, the trail today passes through historic sites that tell this story and allows visitors to step into history. The Star-Spangled Banner National Historic Trail, which winds through Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., tells the stories of the events, people, and places that led to the birth of the U.S. national anthem during the War of 1812.

Visit a Former Military Fort

Many historic forts help preserve the stories of the men and women who served in the U.S. military and their daily lives spent in service at these places. From Fort Matanzas National Monument, with its watchtower dating back to 1742, to the Presidio of San Francisco, part of Golden Gate National Recreation Area, military forts and their occupation by various troops – American and otherwise – help tell the story of our country and those who fought for it.

Share Your Own Story

The wire sculpture of Native Americans on horses with the sunrise in the background at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

Spirit Warrior Sculpture at the Indian Memorial at Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

NPS Photo

Visitors to parks today bring their own experiences and stories. National parks can hold significant meaning unique to each visitor. How do you honor Memorial Day? Are there specific national parks that allow you reflection on military service and sacrifice? Tell us in the comments below and share your own Memorial Day park story.  

As you prepare to welcome the unofficial beginning of the summer season, we hope you will take a moment this Memorial Day to celebrate and honor those who have made the greatest sacrifice. And remember, if you’re visiting a park in person, be sure to check for any changes in operations before heading out and be sure to visit safely.

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