Honoring the Sacrifices They Made

Katherine RivardTravel Ideas
Sunrise at the Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial
Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial — NPS

The stories of our military women and men are remembered year-round in national parks. These special sites of remembrance honor the sacrifice and bravery of those who stepped forth to protect our nation and stand for its ideals. Some of the darkest chapters of our history are preserved at these sites so that we may never forget what was lost. Take time to commemorate their stories, read their names, learn about the struggles they faced so that we could endure. Honor the sacrifices they made by visiting these national parks.

The Revolutionary War

Twice, George Washington led his men across the Delaware River during the Revolutionary War. It was Christmas of 1776 when Washington first led the Continental Army across the icy river. The next day, his men attacked and ultimately defeated the British-hired Hessian troops — one of their first successes after a string of defeats.

A week later, Washington again crossed the river with his troops to attack in New Jersey. As the Continental Army began to accrue victories, they gained credibility abroad for the first time, and soon received support from France. It was the continued efforts of the Continental Army despite difficult circumstances that would ultimately lead to our country’s independence.

When visiting the Lower Delaware National Wild and Scenic River today, stop in one of the four visitor centers to learn more about the area’s past. As the largest free-flowing river in the eastern United States, this unit of the National Park System runs through several state and local parks. Paddle along the river as the troops once did or spend a leisurely afternoon picnicking beside this crucial waterway. If the weather proves to be problematic, take the driving route along the river, being sure to stop by Washington Crossing Historic Park or Washington Crossing State Park.

The War of 1812

Though America had won independence, conflict with Great Britain boiled over once more during the War of 1812. One of the most significant battles during this war was the Battle of Lake Erie. During this naval battle on Lake Michigan, Master Commandant Oliver Hazard Perry led his men as their fleet proved victorious against England’s experienced ships, securing control of the lake and forcing the British to retreat up the Thames River. This triumph, in combination with the win at the Battle of Thames later that year, would ultimately be crucial for ensuring that Ohio and Michigan would remain as part of the sovereign territory of the United States of America.

Today, visitors to Perry’s Victory & International Peace Memorial can learn more about the importance of this battle and better understand what the soldiers were fighting for. Ranger programs bring the history to life and park’s schedule often includes black powder musket or carronade demonstrations to transport visitors back in time. Continue to soak in the significance of what happened in this historic place by staying past dusk and participating in their stargazing programs.

The Mexican-American War

The Mexican-American War began at what is today’s Palo Alto Battlefield National Historical Park — the only park specifically designated to interpret the U.S.-Mexican War. Long before the breakout of the war in 1846, U.S.-Mexican relations had been fraught with tension over land disputes. While campaigning for the presidency, President James Polk even pledged to the American people that the United States would extend to the Pacific Ocean and include the Republic of Texas as the 28th state.

The tension between the Mexican government and locals finally boiled over with the prairie of Palo Alto as the stage for the first battle of the war. General Zachary Taylor, sent by President Polk, and General Mariano Artista, appointed by Mexico’s General Paredes, led their armies against each other, with American troops providing crushing blows to their less-equipped opponents.

Mexican forces continued to suffer heavy losses in the battles of the Rio Grande, but Mexican leaders resisted for two years as Taylor moved through northern Mexico. The Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo was finally signed on February 2, 1848, folding Texas into the U.S. and establishing the Rio Grande as the state’s boundary.

Though the park is open year-round, special events and programming kick off each September and run through late spring. Guided ranger tours begin in December and run through March. Once you’ve learned more about the Mexican-American War and its enormous impact on both nations, walk the park’s trails and roam over 3,400 acres of undeveloped land. This Texas site continues to add new programs and ways to enjoy the park each year so people can learn about this oft-overlooked period of history.

The Civil War

Deeply divided in the late 19th century, internal tensions in the U.S. culminated in horrific losses for all. In Western states, in particular, those who served were often volunteers — local merchants, farmers, teachers — who put their beliefs first to fight for their cause. The Western states were a crucial part of the conflict, and of these battles, the Battle of Pea Ridge was the most pivotal Union victory west of the Mississippi River, allowing the Union to gain control of Missouri.

Pea Ridge National Military Park remains one of the most intact Civil War battlefields. Watch the park’s 28-minute film to learn more about the battle, then dive into the park’s museum. To take in the scenery and remember the thousands who fought here, bike, walk, or horseback along the park’s trails. Travel the 7-mile trail to slowly take in the park’s natural and historic areas at your own pace.

The Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

People picnicking at the Presidio at Golden Gate National Recreation Area
National Park Service

America’s first overseas war began in 1898. The Spanish-American War was largely caused by the explosion of the U.S.S. Maine, and the continued American support of Cuba and the Philippine rebels as they campaigned against Spanish rule. Not knowing that the U.S. Navy had defeated Spain’s fleet guarding the Philippines, President McKinley ordered a campaign against Manila. A peace treaty was finally signed with Spain in late 1898, ending the Spanish-American War. But, while Cuba received independence, the United States kept the Philippines, setting off the Philippine War. The soldiers selected for these assignments almost all first lived and trained at the Presidio.

Located within Golden Gate National Recreation Area, the Presidio holds pieces of history that date long before and after these wars. After exploring the military history of the Presidio, explore its natural side, which includes 1,000 acres of open space and over 300 native wildflowers, trees, and plants. Trails cut throughout the area and visitors can find their way along Baker Beach, through the national cemetery, to Inspiration Point, or to any number of other spots within the picturesque area.

World War I

City Hall at Keweenaw National Historical Park
National Park Service

As World War I waged on in Europe, the U.S. was doing its part to support its allies by providing copper — an element that had become crucial in the production of all weapons and equipment by 1914. Copper’s durability and other unique properties made it the perfect material for use in creating armored tanks, airplanes, and more.

As one of the country’s most important copper producers, the Keweenaw Peninsula helped supply allied nations with the element. Up until 1914, when trade halted, Germany had been the largest importer of Keweenaw copper. Nevertheless, with increased demand from allied nations, the Keweenaw mines had its most productive year, producing 267 million pounds of copper in 1916.

Michigan’s Keweenaw National Historical Park is filled with activities for visitors, both above and below ground. Learn more about how this region’s industry helped fortify our troops and allies during the war as you go on a guided tour. Then reflect on the long-lasting impacts of these events as you bike or hike along the surrounding trails.

World War II

During World War II, the United State Army Air Corps began an experiment to decipher whether African Americans could lead and fly military aircrafts. The troops ranged from pilots to technicians, medics, and all other supporting positions, and included Caucasian military personnel, Native Americans, Caribbean Islanders, Latinos, and women. Nearly 1,000 African American aviators entered the Army Air Corps, in addition to over 10,000 military and civilian African American women and men who supported war efforts in other capacities.

Exploring Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site today, learn about the Freeman Field Mutiny and how these women and men fought on behalf of their country, despite their own struggle for equal rights at home. Walking through the site, you’ll be able to stop for brief tidbits and trivia scattered throughout the park. Then picnic and reflect at the site’s scenic overlook, which provides views of original buildings from the 1940s.

The Korean and Vietnam Wars

Though the United States never directly entered into armed conflict with the Soviet Union during the Cold War, the threat of communism spreading in Asia led to the Korean and Vietnam wars. In June 1950, as North Korea began to invade the South, the U.S. stepped in, balancing against China’s support of the North. Fighting continued until the divide of the two states in 1953. Shortly after, American troops began to support the similar efforts in Vietnam to prevent the country’s Vietcong from gaining power. These catastrophic wars devastated the countries and left millions dead.

D.C.’s National Mall and Memorial Parks commemorates a multitude of periods and events from our country’s history, from our first presidency at Washington Monument to the war in the Pacific at U.S. Marine Corps ‘Iwo Jima’ Memorial.

More recent wars and conflicts are remembered here in a special way at the Korean War Veterans Memorial and Vietnam Veterans Memorial. The names of the more than 58,000 women and men who gave their lives during the conflict line the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Visitors can also visit “The Three Servicemen” statue, as well as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial.

A statue of a woman helping a wounded soldier.

Vietnam Women’s Memorial


On the opposite side of the Reflecting Pool stands the Korean War Veterans Memorial, consisting of a Wall of Remembrance and 19 stainless steel statues. Slowly take in name after name of individuals who perished while serving our nation. Then rest beside the monuments, stroll along the Reflecting Pool, or picnic on the surrounding lawns to remember this piece of our nation’s past.

Find time to consider the history of our country, from the first shot of the Revolution to modern day conflicts, and the many who sacrificed their lives to keep this nation free. Whether through educational tours or quiet walks of remembrance, there are countless ways to remember the lives lost for our country. These meaningful places offer a glimpse into the past and a reminder of all that our country stands for. #FindYourPark/#EncuentraTuParque to experience this for yourself.

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