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National Memorials: Places of Honor

While digging through the rubble of destruction after the terror attacks on the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, workers discovered the remains of a severely damaged pear tree. The tree looked unsalvageable, yet under the care of the local parks department, smooth limbs eventually emerged from the gnarled stumps.

Now green and full of life, the tree serves as a symbol of resilience and rebirth at the September 11 Memorial and Museum. You will find similar emblems of hope at national memorials across the country.

The stories of some of the standout American memorials, such as the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum, the USS Arizona Memorial and the National Mall, will leave groups with a memory attached to a feeling they will likely recall for the rest of their lives. Though each of these memorials recalls hardships past, the ultimate message of optimism for the future shines through.


National September 11 Memorial and Museum

New York

Everyone remembers where they were when they learned about the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The National September 11 Memorial and Museum commemorates those who lost their lives with the peaceful image of water.

“The memorial features two twin reflecting pools set in the footprints of the original towers,” said Anthony Guido, director of communications for the site. “The water drops at two levels and creates a serene atmosphere with the sounds of the water.”

Bronze inscriptions of the names of those that died during the attacks line the wall surrounding the twin memorial pools. New 45-minute guided memorial tours explain the symbolism behind the pools, as well as the historical significance of the event.

Underneath the pools, groups can explore the museum’s 11,000 square feet of exhibition space individually or with guides. On the historical exhibition side of the museum, visitors can explore a three-part series of exhibits: the Day of 9/11, Before 9/11 and After 9/11. Films, artifacts, images, first-person testimonies and audio recordings enlighten visitors on the local and global significance of the event.

The museum’s In Memoriam section commemorates the lives lost with family photographs, oral remembrances and rotating selections of personal artifacts. The Wall of Faces exhibit displays portrait photographs of the nearly 3,000 victims to give guests an idea of the scale of the lives lost. Touch screens provide additional information on each victim.

Hope is the main message at the museum’s Foundation Hall, which showcases a surviving retaining wall of the original World Trade Center. In front, the “Last Column” stands 36 feet high and is covered with mementos, inscriptions and missing posters placed there by rescue workers and others. It stands as an encouraging reminder of the unbreakable spirit of the survivors.


National Mall and Memorial Park

Washington, D.C.

A face that all Americans know almost as well as their own draws more than 7 million people to Washington’s National Mall each year. The Lincoln Memorial is the most visited of the many National Mall memorials because the site honors a man every American has studied in school.

Yet this iconic memorial remains just one of many memorials that vary in purpose from remembering fallen soldiers to celebrating the democratic principles of our country.

Groups can choose from a number of guided tours that explore these important sites. Tours of the parks reveal additional history about the memorials themselves and the persons or events they commemorate. Commissioned by President George Washington, the National Mall’s green space affords a relaxing way to pay homage to the United States with its numerous American elms, Japanese cherry trees and ornamental pools.

To view the entire expanse of the National Mall, which runs from the U.S. Capitol to the Potomac River, visitors can ascend the Washington Monument for a patriotic view. With advanced tickets, groups can take the monument’s elevator to the 500-foot-high observation deck.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial proves a moving experience for visitors. Guests walk past a wall carved with the names of more than 58,000 service members who gave their lives during the war.

“The Vietnam Memorial almost sneaks up on you,” said Mike Litterst, public affairs officer for the National Mall and Memorial Park. “Unlike all the other memorials that rise up, the Vietnam Memorial is built into the landscape, so you don’t notice it from far off. That full impact of the human cost of that war really hits home.”

Visitors who last explored the National Mall before 2011 will have a compelling reason to revisit the park, since the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial opened to the public that year on August 28. The sculpture of King stands surrounded by a variety of quotations over his career. His figure symbolically emerges from a large stone that refers to one of his speeches about a mountain of hope emerging from a mountain of despair.