WASHINGTON, May 25, 2013 — Memorial Day comes a bit early this year thanks to the last Monday in May always being designated Memorial Day. For some it’s a three-day weekend of good eats, parades and fun.
However, it should be a time when we celebrate the lives of the fallen and remember those who fought and died in American wars to keep us free from the Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan.
It is also the weekend that kicks off the unofficial start of summer. So while many people will visit the graves of those who fell in war, like the servicemen and women who will decorate the 250,000 graves at Arlington Cemetery with flags, others will march in parades, still others will barbecue in the backyard with friends, and kids will jump into pools that usually open for the first time this year.
There are always plenty of things to do this long weekend as the weather warms up from DC to Chicago to San Francisco. And don’t forget the Indy 500 at Speedway, Ind. on Sunday, May 26, starting at 12 noon, ET.
Here are seven places to visit to commemorate those who in died in service of their country:
1. Washington, DC — What better place to be than in the nation’s capital, home of some of America’s greatest memorials to those who served and made the ultimate sacrifice. Before and after the National Memorial Day Parade on Monday, May 27, which starts at 2 p.m. down Constitution Avenue, head over to the wreath laying ceremonies at Arlington National Cemetery, Navy Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or the World War II Memorial. End the day with a free concert sponsored by PBS on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol at 8 p.m. with hosts Joe Mantegna and Gary Sinise and guest artists along with the National Symphony Orchestra. Gates open at 5 p.m.
2. New York City — The Memorial Day Commemoration at the USS Intrepid aircraft carrier and museum started on Friday with a free screening of the Tom Cruise classic “Top Gun.” On May 25 and May 26, go to watch demonstrations and performances by the U.S. Coast Guard, the USO Show Troupe and others. Then honor our fallen servicemen and women at a Memorial Day Commemoration Ceremony (May 27 at 11 a.m.) or listen to Emmy Award–winning news anchor David Ushery discuss the nation’s segregated WWII armed forces with veterans on May 28 from 6 to 7:30 p.m.
3. Boston — The Cradle of Liberty will hold several observances in honor of the fallen. On Sunday, May 26, a Memorial Day ceremony will be conducted at Mount Hope Cemetery (355 Walk Hill St.) in Mattapan from 11 a.m. until 2 p.m. The event includes a short parade from the cemetery gate up to the WWI and WWII Monument, where the ceremony will be held.
Then on the evening of Memorial Day, May 27, a free concert to honor veterans will be held in Christopher Columbus Park (110 Atlantic Ave. in the North End), featuring the Boston City Singers and the Metropolitan Wind Symphony. The concert is called “Remembrance 2013: A Musical Tribute to our Heroes” and begins at 6:30 p.m.
4. New Orleans — Yes, you can party hearty in New Orleans. But you can do that every day of the year. Instead, take some time out and bring the kids to the only World War II Museum in the U.S. (945 Magazine Street at corner of Andrew Higgins). Affiliated with the Smithsonian Institute, it houses four interactive galleries and visitors will have a chance to hear Personal Accounts by people who fought in the war and about the contributions of the “Greatest Generation.” Kids will love the museum’s collection of aircraft, vehicles, weapons, uniforms, and home front materials. The museum is open seven days a week from October through June from 9 a.m. till 5 p.m.
5. Milwaukee, Wisconsin — Milwaukee is holding one of the more unusual tributes to those who fought for us, honoring “All Women Who Have Served Or Are Still Serving In The Military and That Includes Our Donut Dollies.”
For those of you who have never heard of the Donut Dollies, they were the women who were sent to Vietnam during the war to bring hometown America to the troops. They didn’t actually come bearing donuts, despite their nickname, but worked with the Red Cross as morale boosters in Vietnam, running recreations centers, visiting hospitals and traveling to the frontlines via Iroquois helicopters to bring games, fun and smiles to the soldiers.
Milwaukee’s 148th parade begins at 2 p.m.. on Memorial Day, starting at 4th and Wisconsin Avenue and ending at the lakeside Veterans Park, where a ceremony to honor the war dead will be held at the Reflecting Pool on Fitch Plaza, followed by a performance of the Metropolitan Community Band.
6. Chicago — For a unique treat, head for The National Veterans Art Museum (4041 N. Milwaukee Avenue) for a special exhibit called Tenacity and Truth: People, Places and Memories, a brand-new showcasing of works from the museum’s permanent collection. The art cuts across all mediums and is represented by a variety of artists from all eras, from WWII, Korea, the Cold War, Vietnam, to Iraq.
The works on display illustrate everything from the tediousness of everyday boredom paired with the anxiety of waiting for the next crisis; the anguish suffered by many in the aftermath of war; the imprint of landscapes both breathtaking and threatening; the faces of comrades and enemies seared into memory; and the abstracted visions that haunted many after they returned home.
Admission is free with the official opening of exhibit and a reception on Saturday, May 25. The museum is open from 10 a.m. until 5 p.m., including Memorial Day.
Chicago will kickoff its Memorial Day activities with a parade and the traditional wreath laying, but for a different insight into veterans and wars, head over to National Veterans Museum.
7. San Francisco —
An important port since Sir Francis Drake explored the coast of California, San Francisco boasts several military historic sites. One of the favorites of tourists is the Presido, which for 218 years was a military outpost first of the Spanish, then the Mexicans, and finally the Americans.
Not to be missed is the exhibit of the Buffalo Soldiers, the African American soldiers of the 19th century, who were also stationed there. The exhibit is open Thursday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
The Fort Point National Historic Site still stands guarding the entrance into the San Francisco Bay as it has since the 1800s beneath the breathtaking Golden Gate Bridge. Almost removed for the bridge, instead engineers build the bridge around it. Today it is one of the best places to take photos of the Golden Gate.
Not to be missed is the SS Jeremiah O’Brien, docked at Pier 45 at Fishermans Wharf. It survived WWII, but almost did not survive demolition. But military history lovers saved the ship and is only one the two functional Liberty ships remaining. You explore it when it’s dockside or go out with it when it moves into the Bay for a ride back into time. Go to Tourism for ticket info.
And be sure to go board the USS Pampanito, a WWII class Fleet submarine, also located at Pier 45, and imagine yourself living in such cramped quarters beneath the waves, patrolling the Pacific in search of the enemy. The Pampanito went on six major operations, sinking several Japanese ships and damaging many others. Open every day to visitors, starting at 9 a.m., a visit takes about an hour to an hour and a half to complete. Tickets are $12 for adults, $8 for seniors and $6 for children six to twelve.
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