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By Les Megyeri
I’m a proud retired Army officer. Since I retired 12 years ago, I pay honor to those veterans who were in the military and who dedicated their lives to serving this nation by making a pilgrimage to a military site each November on Veterans’ Day. Here’s my listing and places I have visited:
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, Museum and Boyhood Home in Abilene, KS: Eisenhower lived here from 1898 until being appointed to West Point in 1911 and it is also his final resting place for him and his wife. The museum houses artifacts from veterans and from Eisenhower, particularly his papers. The visitors’ center, gift store, perfectly manicured grounds and burial chapel are worthy of a full day of exploration. Fortunately, I had read Eisenhower’s biography “Soldier of Democracy” by Kenneth S. Davis, prior to my visit.
- National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, VA: The entrance states, “In tribute to the valor, fidelity and sacrifice of Allied Forces on D-Day, June 6, 1944 and commends all Allied Armed Forces during the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France on June 6, 1944, during WWII.” The memorial covers 50 acres overlooking the town that borders the Blue Ridge Mountains in southwest Virginia. Its location is due to the fact that 34 of Virginia National Guard soldiers from Bedford were part of D-Day and 19 of them were killed during the invasion’s first day. The “Bedford Boys” proportionately suffered the greatest losses of any American town during the campaign. The movie, “Saving Private Ryan” was based on the best-selling book “The Bedford Boys” by Alex Kershaw and director Steven Spielberg helped fund the memorial.
- Fort McHenry National Monument and Historic Shrine in Baltimore, MD: This monument is best known for its role in the War of 1812, when Americans successfully defended Baltimore Harbor from attack by the British Navy in the Chesapeake Bay in 1814. The fort was first built in 1798 and was used continuously by the U.S. Armed Forces through WWI and by the Coast Guard in WWII. The sight of the flag that signaled the American victory over the British in the Battle of Baltimore inspired Francis Scott Key to write the poem that later became “The Star Spangle Banner,” our national anthem.
- Fort Sumter Charleston, SC: This sea fort is notable for two battles: the first of which signified the start of the American Civil War when the South Carolina Militia artillery fired on the Union garrison in 1861, the first shots of the war. The second battle in 1863 was a failed attempt by the Union to retake the fort. Even though the fort was destroyed, it remained in Confederate hands until evacuated as General Sherman marched through South Carolina in 1865. Today, the original fort site, the visitor education center and Ft. Moultrie on Sullivan’s Island focus on the events during the Civil War.
- Andersonville National Historic Site, GA: This site was a Confederate prisoner-of-war camp during the final 14 months of the Civil War. The site also contains the National Cemetery and the National Prisoner of War Museum. Known for its overcrowded conditions (up to four times its capacity), inadequate food and water and unsanitary conditions, Captain Henry Wirz, the fort’s commander, was tried and executed after the war for war crimes as 45,000 Union prisoners were held there of which 13,000 died from scurvy, diarrhea and dysentery. The novel “Andersonville,” by MacKinlay Kantor, won a Pulitzer Prize in 1956, and the seventh episode of Ken Burns’ 1990 Civil War documentary featured Andersonville in a segment entitled “Can Those Be Men?”
- U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA: Located on the 500-acre campus is the U.S. Army’s educational institution where each year 800 Army colonels and lieutenant colonels are admitted for senior leadership assignments. Its Army Heritage Educational Center houses an extensive library and exhibits, as well as honors outstanding graduates like Eisenhower, Lesley McNair, George Patton, Jr., Omar Bradley, Ulysses S. Grant, Maxwell Taylor, William Westmoreland, Creighton Abrams, Alexander Haig and Tommy Franks. Carlisle Barracks is the nation’s second oldest barracks and houses the Hessian Powder Magazine and prison for Hessian prisoners of war captured at the Battle of Trenton. Also, at the Barracks, is a small cemetery that holds the remains of Indian children who died while attending the Carlisle Indian Industrial School during 1879-1918.
- Gettysburg National Military Park, Gettysburg, PA: This park holds the Gettysburg Battlefield and Cemetery. The Museum and Visitors’ Center contains 43,000 Civil War artifacts, and restoration of the battlefield is still ongoing. Each November, a re-enactment of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address along with a parade is held. Nearby is the Eisenhower Farm and home which is open for tours. Approximately two million visitors a year come to visit the many state memorials, monuments, and markers erected throughout the park to commemorate units and regiments who fought there. Most weekends, Civil War re-enactors are on site to lecture to visitors about the 3,512 interments and graves of the 979 unknowns as well as Spanish-American War and WWI veterans and families buried there as well for a total of 6,000.
- Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, DC: This memorializes those who served in the Korean War. It is in the form of a triangle intersected by a circle. More than 2,500 images representing land, sea and air troops are sandblasted into the wall, but outwardly there appear to be 38 soldiers representing 38 months and the 38th parallel that separated North and South Korea. Within the triangle are 19 stainless steel figures representing a platoon on patrol dressed in full combat gear from all branches of the Armed Forces. A low wall also lists the members of the nations that contributed to the war effort, and another granite wall reads “Freedom is not free.” The number of dead was recently revised to 54,246.
- Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington D.C.: Also known as “The Wall”. Set on two acres, the Wall honors those who died and who are unaccounted for during the Vietnam War. It is visited by approximately three million people a year, and the stone’s 144 panels were quarried in India. Last year, there were a total of 58,320 names listed, and directories of the names are located nearby. On site is a bronze statue called “The Three Soldiers,” and each are identifiable as European American, African American and Hispanic American. The nearby Vietnam Women’s Memorial is dedicated to women who served, mostly nurses. Visitors take rubbings of the names on the Wall or leave memorials on site.
- World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.: This consists of 56 pillars and small arches surrounding a fountain and was dedicated in 2009. The walls hold scenes from the servicemen’s lives such as getting their physical exams, taking the oath and being issued military gear. The scenes progress through combat, burying the dead or homecoming. The last scene is of a handshake between the American and Russian Armies when western and eastern fronts met in Germany. The Freedom Wall there has 4,048 gold stars, each representing 100 Americans who died in the war and the message, “Here we mark the price of freedom.”
- Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, VA: Located on 624 acres, the dead of America’s conflicts are buried, beginning with the Civil War. It sits on the estate of General Robert E. Lee’s wife, Mary Lee Custis. It has been expanded to incorporate the U.S. Air Force Memorial. On any given day, the Old Guard can be seen giving full military honors to recently deceased veterans, and at holidays, the organization Wreaths Across America honors the fallen. The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier is part of the Arlington Memorial Amphitheater, where ceremonies are held and the U.S. National Motto is inscribed on the Great Seal of the U.S.: “E pluribus unum” or, “Out of Many, One.”
- Dwight D. Eisenhower Memorial, Washington, D.C.: This is the site of my most recent pilgrimage as it will be formally dedicated this November. Designated to, “perpetuate his memory and his contributions to the U.S.,” the controversial Frank Gehry design was approved in 2015 to be placed on the National Mall. Sculptures depict Eisenhower in various settings. The giant welded tapestries supported by columns will depict an aerial view of Normandy Beach and General Eisenhower with 101st Airborne troops prior to the D-Day invasion on June, 1944, and another will depict Eisenhower’s home in Abilene, KS.
Thus, my military pilgrimages in commemoration of Veterans’ Day each November will have come full circle. Although my above list was randomly selected, Americans may want to establish their own lists, but most importantly, whether veteran or not, one’s faith in this nation’s military might is renewed.