15 Incredible Monuments That Honor American Soldiers

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Getty

Memorial Day honors the brave men and women who have given their lives in the nation’s armed forces. One fitting way to recognize that sacrifice is to visit a monument dedicated to their service. Though many monuments honoring U.S. veterans are located in Washington, D.C. or Arlington, Virginia, there are memorial sites to visit around the world, each offering a beautiful and distinctive tribute.

1. Tomb of the Unknown Soldier // Arlington, Virginia

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington, Virginia
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No one knows for sure which American soldier rests under the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery. The unidentified soldier died in France while fighting a World War I battle, and his remains were interred at the site of the Washington, D.C. monument in 1921. The unidentified soldier was chosen to represent the many American soldiers who lost their lives during World War I. Engraved on the snow-white marble tomb are the words, “Here rests in honored glory, an American soldier known but to God.” Eventually, an unknown soldier from World War II, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War were also interred (though the Vietnam soldier was eventually identified and moved by his family to a cemetery in St. Louis).

2. The National World War II Memorial // Washington, D.C.

National World War II Memorial, Washington, D.C.
iStock/NoDeRog

The National World War II Memorial, which opened in 2004, honors the 16 million members of the U.S. armed forces who served during World War II, the more than 400,000 soldiers who died, and the civilians who worked at home to support the war effort. The entrance to the Washington, D.C. memorial features 24 bronze bas-relief panels illustrating how the war affected the lives of those who fought and those who waited for soldiers to return. A wall of more than 4000 gold stars pays tribute to the lives lost, and 56 granite columns noting U.S. states and territories, split into two-half circles, encompass a pool fitted with fountains.

3. The Korean War Veterans Memorial // Washington, D.C.

Korean War Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
iStock/Png-Studio

The Korean War Veterans Memorial is an outdoor monument located near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C. It commemorates the sacrifices of the 5.8 million Americans who served in the U.S. armed forces during the three-year Korean War. During that period 54,246 Americans died and 103,284 were wounded. The memorial is distinctive because of the 19 larger-than-life stainless steel statues of poncho-clad soldiers that occupy a triangular field, as well as for the black granite memorial wall covered in etchings of National Archives photos.

4. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial // Washington, D.C.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.
iStock/vmbfoto

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial pays tribute to those soldiers who were killed or went missing in action during the Vietnam War. The memorial consists of three parts: The Memorial Wall, the bronze Vietnam Women’s Memorial, and The Three Soldiers statue. The wall is actually two walls that stretch almost 300 feet and contain 58,000 names, according to the date of casualty. The Women’s Memorial honors the 265,000 women who served, many of whom were nurses. The Three Soldiers shows the camaraderie between soldiers from different backgrounds while serving their tours of duty.

5. The Marine Corps Memorial // Arlington, Virginia

Marine Corps Memorial Iwo Jima Statue, Arlington, Virginia
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The Marine Corps Memorial, also known as the Iwo Jima Memorial, does not pay tribute to a specific war but rather the dedication of Marine Corps members. The bronze statue at this monument may be the most famous and easily recognizable of all U.S. war memorials. It is modeled on a photograph of six soldiers who raised an American flag at Iwo Jima in 1945, an action that symbolized the end of World War II. The memorial is dedicated to the Marines lost in all U.S. wars, as well as those who served with them. The base of the memorial lists every major battle that Marines have fought in.

6. The National Memorial Arch // King of Prussia, Pennsylvania

National Memorial Arch, Valley Forge, Pennsylvania
iStock/Delmas Lehman

The National Memorial Arch commemorates the difficult winter endured by General George Washington and his Revolutionary War forces when camped at Valley Forge. Paul Philippe Cret’s design for the 60-foot high arch was inspired by an arch built for the ancient Roman emperor Titus. Located in Valley Forge National Historical Park, the arch was dedicated in June 1917. Inscribed at the top is a quote from George Washington which refers to the winter his troops spent there: “Naked and starving as they are, we cannot enough admire the incomparable patience and fidelity of the soldiery.”

7. The Air Force Memorial // Arlington, Virginia

Air Force Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
iStock/hillwoman2

The Air Force Memorial in Arlington, Virginia honors the service not only of the men and women of the United States Air Force, but also the Aeronautical Division and Aviation Section of the U.S. Signal Corps and all other aeronautics and air corps services. The memorial’s design evokes images of flight, and the stainless steel spires glisten on sunny days and are illuminated by individual light sources at night. At the west entrance, statues of two soldiers stand guard, symbolizing patriotism and power.

8. African American Civil War Memorial // Washington, D.C.

African American Civil War Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
Gareth Milner, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

During the Civil War, more than 200,000 African-American soldiers served in the United States Colored Troops. The African American Civil War Memorial in Washington, D.C. tells the story of these 19th-century heroes and commemorates their service with a bronze statue titled "The Spirit of Freedom." The memorial also includes a curved wall inscribed with the names of the men who fought in the war. The accompanying museum’s African American Civil War Memorial Registry documents the family trees of more than 2000 descendants of the people who served.

9. The Women in Military Service for America Memorial // Arlington, Virginia

Women in Military Service for America Memorial, Arlington, Virginia
Carol M. Highsmith, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

The Women In Military Service For America Memorial in Arlington, Virginia, honors the 3 million women who helped defend the nation during its almost 250-year history. The memorial honors their service with exhibits, film, and a Memorial Register, which preserves the stories of more than 258,000 women. The memorial features a neoclassical curved retaining wall, a reflecting pool, and an education center, where a roof of glass tablets is inscribed with quotes by and about the women who defended their country. The memorial was dedicated in 1997.

10. The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial // Washington, D.C.

American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial
iStock/amedved

The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial in Washington D.C. is the first national memorial dedicated solely to disabled veterans. Leaving the battlefield alive did not mean the battle was over for many American servicemen and women—more than 4 million veterans have been injured in the line of duty, and those injuries can profoundly affect their post-service lives. The memorial's 48 etched-glass panels display the stories of these soldiers. At the center of the memorial, which opened in 2014, is a star-shaped fountain and triangular infinity pool, which constantly recycles water. A ceremonial flame stands at the core of the memorial that is located just east of the U.S. Capitol Building and the Botanic Gardens.

11. The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument // Brooklyn, New York

Prison Ship Martyrs Monument, Brooklyn, New York
iStock/Alex Potemkin

The Prison Ship Martyrs Monument may not be one of the best known of the nation’s memorials, but it honors the 11,500 American prisoners of war who died aboard British war ships during the Revolutionary War. Some of the prisoners who died under the terrible shipboard conditions are buried underneath the monument. The monument’s granite Doric column was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, who designed both Manhattan's Central Park and Brooklyn's Prospect Park. The 100-foot column stands in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, and was dedicated in 1908.

12. Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial // Colleville-sur-Mer, France

Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial, France
iStock/Edward Haylan

Some impressive monuments to the service of America’s soldiers can also be found in other countries. France has a total of 11 cemeteries and monuments dedicated to the service of U.S. soldiers, and the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer is located on a bluff overlooking one of the Normandy beaches that U.S. troops landed on during the Normandy invasion. The 172.5-acre cemetery contains the graves of 9387 soldiers, many of whom lost their lives on D-Day. The memorial has a semicircular colonnade with a bronze statue in the center called the "Spirit of American Youth Rising From the Waves." A garden to the east features inscriptions of the names of 1557 soldiers who lost their lives during the Normandy campaign but could not be found or identified.

13. Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial // Margraten, Netherlands

The 65.5-acre Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial is located in Margraten on the route German troops used to retreat after U.S. forces liberated the Netherlands. The memorial features a tall tower facing a reflecting pool. At the base of the tower is a statue of a mourning woman that represents the losses suffered during war. Visitor buildings feature engraved military operations maps, a Court of Honor with a reflecting pool, and Tablets of the Missing, which has 1722 names. The burial area is the resting place for 8301 of the nation’s military members.

14. United Nations Memorial Park // Busan, South Korea

United Nations Memorial Park, Busan, South Korea
iStock/Im Yeongsik

The United Nations Memorial Park in the South Korean city of Busan was dedicated in 2013. The memorial park contains 2300 graves of service members from 11 countries. Altogether, 1.7 million U.S. military personnel served during the Korean War, and although 33,739 died in battle, most were reinterred in the United States. Only 36 graves of U.S. soldiers remain in Busan; the American monument on the site reads, “This monument is to the American men and women who gave their lives in defense of the freedom of the Republic of Korea 1950-1953.” The park’s main gate, dedicated in 1966, illustrates the concept of Earthly life growing toward heaven.

15. The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial // Cambridge, UK

The Cambridge American Cemetery and Memorial honors the service of U.S. soldiers in during World War II and was dedicated in 1956. Notable Americans buried or memorialized there include Joseph P. Kennedy Jr., the older brother of President John F. Kennedy, and musician Glenn Miller. The curved cemetery has 3809 headstones, and the wide mall of reflecting pools has a chapel. A new visitor’s center, which opened in 2014, offers information about air campaigns carried out during the war, including two large marble maps laying out military plans.

When Theodore Roosevelt's Antique Gun Was Stolen From Sagamore Hill

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Shortly before hitting the battlefield on July 1, 1898, Theodore Roosevelt had a decision to make. He was about to lead a volunteer cavalry known as the Rough Riders in the Battle of San Juan Heights in Santiago, Cuba, during the Spanish-American War. In protecting both his life and the lives of his men during combat, what sidearm should he choose?

Roosevelt, an avowed arms enthusiast, had an arsenal in his personal collection as well as numerous firearms issued by the U.S. military. The gun he chose to holster on his waist was a Colt Model 1895 .38 caliber double-action revolver with six shots, a blue barrel, and a checkered wood grip. While it may not have been the most formidable weapon at his disposal, it was the most emotionally resonant. The gun, a gift from his brother-in-law, had been retrieved from the wreck of the U.S. battleship Maine, whose sinking had claimed the lives of 266 men and helped usher in the war. He considered the gun a tribute to the sailors and Marines lost in the tragedy.

Now it had become an instrument of that war. In the conflict, Roosevelt aimed his revolver at two opposing soldiers. He missed one. The other was struck—and the wound was fatal. “He doubled up as neatly as a jackrabbit,” Roosevelt later wrote.

Just a few years later, Roosevelt would be president of the United States. The gun remained in his possession until his death in 1919, and eventually came into the care of Sagamore Hill, his onetime home and later a historic site. The Colt occupied a place of honor in the property’s Old Orchard Museum, behind glass and next to the uniform that he wore during the charge.

In April of 1990, a museum employee walked past the display and noticed something unusual. The Colt was gone. The weapon used by the 26th president to kill a man would go missing for 16 years, recovered only under the most unusual of circumstances.

“This poor gun has been through a lot,” Susan Sarna, the museum’s curator, tells Mental Floss. “It was blown up on the Maine, sunk to the bottom, resurrected, goes to San Juan Hill, comes here, then gets stolen—twice.”

 

According to a 2006 article in Man at Arms magazine by Philip Schreier [PDF], the senior curator at the National Rifle Association’s National Firearms Museum, the Colt has indeed had a hectic life. Manufactured in Hartford, Connecticut, in March 1895, the firearm (serial number 16,334) was delivered from the factory to the U.S. government and wound up on board the USS Maine when the ship was first commissioned in September of that year. The gun was considered ship property and remained on board until February 15, 1898, when the Maine exploded in Havana, Cuba. Many blamed the Spanish for the explosion, and hundreds of men lost their lives.

At the time, Roosevelt’s brother-in-law, William S. Cowles, was heading the U.S. Naval Station. He and his team were sent to the site to inspect the scene. Divers retrieved bodies and other items, including the Colt. Knowing Roosevelt—at the time the Assistant Secretary of the Navy under President William McKinley—was fond of weapons and a genial warmonger, Cowles gave it to him as a gift. While it was perfectly functional, it's clear Cowles intended the Colt to serve to honor the memory of those who had died.

The Colt revolver that once belonged to Theodore Roosevelt is pictured on display at Sagamore Hill
Roosevelt's Colt revolver on display at Sagamore Hill.
Courtesy of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

Roosevelt later took it into battle, using it to shoot at enemy forces. (He would earn a posthumous Medal of Honor in 2001 for his actions that day.) Shortly after, the weapon was inscribed to represent its participation in two exceptional events. On one side of the handle:

From the sunken battle ship Maine.

On the other:

July 1st 1898, San Juan, Carried and used by Col. Theodore Roosevelt.

Following Roosevelt’s death in 1919, the Sagamore Hill estate in Oyster Bay, New York, was home to his wife, Edith, until her death in 1948. The property was later donated to the National Park Service in 1963 and became Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. The gun went on display along with many of the former president's other personal effects, eventually settling in the Old Orchard near the uniform he wore during the Battle of San Juan Heights.

In 1963, the Colt came up missing for the first time. With no guard or contemporary security system in place, someone nicked it from the building. Fortunately, it was soon found in the woods behind the museum, slightly rusty from being exposed to the elements but otherwise unharmed. The perpetrator may have gotten spooked after taking off with it and decided to abandon the contraband, but no one had a chance to ask—he or she was never caught.

By April of 1990, the gun and uniform were in a display case borrowed from the American Museum of Natural History. While somewhat of a deterrent, it didn't offer much in the way of security. “The case could be lifted and the lock just popped open,” Sarna says.

Sarna had just started at the museum back then. According to her, the case had either been disturbed by a thief or possibly left open by someone cleaning the display, inviting a probing set of hands. Either way, the gun disappeared—but it wasn’t immediately obvious.

“No one was sure what day it had happened,” she says; the best guess was that the theft had occurred between April 5 and 7. “You’d have to walk into the room it was in and look in the case. If you’re just walking by, you’d see the uniform, but not necessarily the gun.”

It was chief ranger and head of visitor services Raymond Bloomer Jr. and ranger John Foster who discovered the theft one morning. The lock had been popped but the glass was not broken. Sarna and the other employees conducted a search of the property, believing that perhaps someone had taken the Colt out for cleaning. When that failed to produce any results, they notified the National Park Service, which is the first line of investigation for theft on government-owned park property. The NPS, in turn, contacted local authorities in Nassau County and Cove Neck, New York. Soon, the FBI was involved.

Predictably, law enforcement looked at museum employees with a critical eye. “There were all different types of people here interviewing us,” Sarna says. “In museums, the majority of thefts are an inside job.”

Theodore Roosevelt is pictured in uniform
Roosevelt in uniform while leading the Rough Riders.
Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Park ranger and museum staffer Scott Gurney, who was hired in 1993, tells Mental Floss that the suspicion cast over employees—none of whom were ever implicated—remained a sore spot. “I found an old police report about it in a desk and asked a ranger about it,” Gurney says. “He got really mad at me and told me not to bring it up again. It was kind of a black eye for the people working there.”

As Sarna and the others set about installing a security system in the museum, the FBI started casting a wide net to locate the weapon, which was uninsured. “It was basically a shoplifting incident,” Robert Wittman, a retired FBI agent in their art crimes division who worked on the case from the mid-1990s on, tells Mental Floss. “It wasn’t all that unusual. In the 1970s and 1980s, lots of small museums were getting hit.” Worse, one of the museum staff working the front desk within view of the display was, according to Gurney, legally blind. The lack of security, Wittman says, was in part because pieces weren’t initially all that valuable on the collector’s market.

The Colt was unique in that it was so readily identifiable. Thanks to the inscriptions, it would invite questions if the thief attempted to sell the weapon. Any attempt to alter it would destroy its cultural value and defeat the purpose of taking it. The FBI sent notices to gun dealers and monitored gun shows in case it turned up. Nothing seemed promising.

“We heard things constantly,” Sarna says. “Someone said it was seen in Europe. Someone else said it was in private hands, or that a collector had it.” Later, when the museum was able to start receiving emails via the burgeoning world of the internet, more tips—all dead ends—came in. Another rumor had the gun being bought during a gun buyback program in Pennsylvania and subsequently destroyed. This one looked promising, as it bore the same serial number. But it turned out to be a different model.

A reward was offered for information leading to the gun’s retrieval, with the amount eventually climbing to $8100. But that still wasn’t sufficient for the gun to surface. “We really had no lines on it,” Wittman says.

Then, in September 2005, Gurney began receiving a series of calls while working in the visitor’s center. The man had a slight speech impediment, he said, or might have been intoxicated. Either way, he told Gurney he knew where the gun was. “He told me it was in a friend’s house, but that he didn’t want to get the friend in trouble.”

The man continued calling, each time refusing to give his name and ignoring Gurney’s suggestion to simply drop the gun in the mail. The man also spoke to Amy Verone, the museum’s chief of cultural resources. He was certain he had seen Theodore Roosevelt’s gun, wrapped in an old sweatshirt in DeLand, Florida. He described the engravings to Verone, who hung up and immediately called the FBI.

 

After more calls and conversations, including one in which Gurney stressed the historical importance of the weapon, the caller eventually relented and gave his information to the FBI. A mechanical designer by trade, Andy Anderson, then 59, said he had seen the gun the previous summer. It had been shown to him by his girlfriend, who knew Anderson was a history buff. She told Anderson her ex-husband had originally owned the firearm. It had been in a closet wrapped in a sweatshirt before winding up under a seat in the woman’s mini-van, possibly obscured by a dish towel. Presumably, her ex had been the one who had stolen it back while visiting the museum as a New York resident in 1990.

Theodore Roosevelt's Rough Riders uniform is pictured on display at Sagamore Hill
Roosevelt's Rough Riders uniform sits on display at Sagamore Hill next to his Colt.
Courtesy of Sagamore Hill National Historic Site

After Anderson contacted Sagamore Hill, FBI agents were dispatched from the Daytona Beach office to DeLand to question Anderson. He obtained the revolver from his girlfriend and handed it over, though he apparently tried to convince the FBI to let him return the weapon without disclosing the thief’s identity. The FBI didn’t agree to an anonymous handoff, however, and in November 2006 the ex-husband, a 55-year-old postal employee whom we’ll refer to as Anthony T., was charged with a misdemeanor in U.S. District Court in Central Islip, New York.

Wittman remembers that the split between Anthony T. and his wife had been acrimonious and that she had no involvement in the theft. “We were not going to charge her with possession of stolen property,” he says.

Wittman went to Florida to pick up the Colt and brought it back to the Philadelphia FBI offices, where it was secured until prosecutors authorized its return to Sagamore Hill on June 14, 2006. Schreier, the NRA museum’s senior curator, arrived at Sagamore Hill with Wittman, FBI Assistant Director in Charge in New York Mark Mershon, and Robert Goldman, the onetime U.S. assistant attorney and art crime team member who was himself a Roosevelt collector and had doggedly pursued the case for years. When Schreier confirmed its authenticity, the gun was formally turned back over.

There was no reasonable defense for Anthony T. In November of that year, he pled guilty to stealing the Colt. While he was eligible for up to 90 days in jail and a $500 fine, Anthony T. received two years of probation along with the financial penalty and 50 hours of community service. According to Wittman, cases of this sort are based in part on the dollar value of the object stolen—the weapon was valued at $250,000 to $500,000—not necessarily its historical value. “The sentencing may not be commensurate with the history,” Wittman says.

From that perspective, the Colt takes on far greater meaning. It was used in a battle that cemented Roosevelt’s reputation as a leader, one credited with helping bolster his national profile. It was used in commission in the death of a human being, giving it a weight and history more than the sum of its metal parts.

“It’s looked at as one of his greatest triumphs,” Sarna says of the Rough Riders and the U.S. victory in the 1898 conflict. “It brought us into a new century and out of isolationism.”

It’s once more on display at Sagamore Hill, this time under far better security and surveillance. (Though the museum is still vulnerable to heists: a reproduction hairbrush was recently swiped.) Sarna, who wasn’t sure if she would ever see the Colt again, is glad to see it where it belongs.

“Thank goodness they got divorced,” she says.

It’s not publicly known why Anthony T. felt compelled to take the Colt. Wittman describes it as a crime of opportunity, not likely one that was planned. After the plea, Anthony T. was let go from his job, and his current whereabouts are unknown. Prosecutors called it a mistake in judgment.

Anderson, the tipster, lamented any of it had to happen. “We’re talking about a mistake he made 16 years ago,” Anderson told the Orlando Sentinel in November 2006. “I have no regrets, but I never meant to cause trouble. I wish Anthony the best.”

If Anthony T. was an admirer of Roosevelt’s, he might find some poetic peace in the fact that he pled guilty to violating the American Antiquities Act of 1906, which was instituted to prevent theft of an object of antiquity on property owned by the government.

That bill was signed into law by Theodore Roosevelt.

The Ingenious Reason Medieval Castle Staircases Were Built Clockwise

Shaiith/iStock via Getty Images
Shaiith/iStock via Getty Images

If you’re a fan of Game of Thrones or medieval programs in general, you’re probably familiar with action-packed battle scenes during which soldiers storm castles, dodge arrows, and dash up spiral staircases. And, while those spiral staircases might not necessarily ascend clockwise in every television show or movie you’ve watched, they usually did in real life.

According to Nerdist, medieval architects built staircases to wrap around in a clockwise direction in order to disadvantage any enemies who might climb them. Since most soldiers wielded swords in their right hands, this meant that their swings would be inhibited by the inner wall, and they’d have to round each curve before striking—fully exposing themselves in the process.

Just as the clockwise spiral hindered attackers, so, too, did it favor the castle’s defenders. As they descended, they could swing their swords in arcs that matched the curve of the outer wall, and use the inner wall as a partial shield. And, because the outer wall runs along the wider edge of the stairs, there was also more room for defenders to swing. So, if you’re planning on storming a medieval castle any time soon, you should try to recruit as many left-handed soldiers as possible. And if you’re defending one, it’s best to station your lefties on crossbow duty and leave the tower-defending to the righties.

On his blog All Things Medieval, Will Kalif explains that the individual stairs themselves provided another useful advantage to protectors of the realm. Because the individual steps weren’t all designed with the same specifications, it made for much more uneven staircases than what we see today. This wouldn’t impede the defenders, having grown accustomed to the inconsistencies of the staircases in their home castle, but it could definitely trip up the attackers. Plus, going down a set of stairs is always less labor-intensive than going up.

Staircase construction and battle tactics are far from the only things that have changed since the Middle Ages. Back then, people even walked differently than we do—find out how (and why) here.

[h/t Nerdist]

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