Marking “An ever famous American Victory”

Dotted across the pristine grounds of Arlington National Cemetery are dozens of commemorative monuments and memorials recognizing individuals, military units, wars, battles and other historical events. On a quiet corner, not far from the Tomb of the Unknowns, stands a chest-high memorial to what Winston Churchill described as “undoubtedly, the greatest American battle of the war.”

Churchill spoke those words to the British House of Commons on January 18, 1945, a month and two days after an attack by German forces caught Allied armies by surprise. The protrusion in the lines caused by the limited German advance gave this campaign its prevalent name: The Battle of the Bulge. 

The Battle of the Bulge Memorial is designed in Greek temple style, with a pitched top supported by a Doric column on each side. The monument is built of white Vermont granite. It bears the inscription “Triumph of Courage” and is dedicated to “World War II American Soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the Greatest Land Battle in the History of the United States Army”.  

The Battle of the Bulge, known more formally as the Ardennes Counteroffensive, was Hitler’s last major attack in Western Europe, a final gambit to stop the Allies steady advance from the west which had begun after the Normandy invasion.

His plan was risky.

A massive force of 45 divisions would attack through the Ardennes Forest of southeastern Belgium, Northeastern France and Luxembourg against exhausted and unprepared Allied troops.  German forces would then push northwest and retake the port of Antwerp, Belgium, denying its use as a vital supply link to the Allies quickly advancing armies.  

This would be a blitzkrieg attack, relying on surprise, speed, and captured Allied fuel to be successful. Hitler’s ultimate goal was to divide and encircle the US 12thand British 21stArmy Groups, then force a negotiated peace on his terms. 

The famous “Bulge” in the lines is depicted on this map from American Military History, Volume II, Chapter 5, published by the US Army Center for Military History

While Hitler’s senior advisors counseled against the attack, Hitler judged the Americans unable to withstand the massive blow he envisioned and he ordered the attack to proceed. 

Before dawn on December 16, the German launched a three pronged attack along a 40-mile corridor with over 250,000 troops.  Rainy, foggy weather covered the attack and kept Allied planes on the ground. At first, the assault moved quickly. Initially the Germans encountered American units either diminished from earlier combat operations or newly deployed and untested. Advancing German forces cut off and surrounded many US units, including the 106th and 28th Divisions. While the Germans captured over 8,000 prisoners, they also met determined resistance which began to slow their advance. 

Shoulder Insignia of the 106th Infantry Division The 106th Division’s 422nd and 423rd Infantry Regiments were encircled and captured during the initial German attack on 16 December. The remnants of the division were able to join other US units in the successful and heroic defense of St. Vith, an Ardennes City with several key road junctions.

One example that has become part of American military lore is the experience of the 101st Airborne Division, which was centered on the Belgium town of Bastogne. The 101st Airborne was rushed to Bastogne arriving on 19 December to relieve other American forces and help defend the city.  Bastogne was the junction of seven roads which traversed the Ardennes and was vital to the German advance, making the 101st’s mission of holding the town critical.

Shoulder Insignia of the 101st Airborne Division – The 101st received its “Airborne” designation in 1942. In addition to its service during the Battle of the Bulge, the division fought with great distinction during the Normandy invasion, Operation Market Gardens and in the liberation of the Netherlands. 

Soon surrounded by German forces and running low on ammunition, food and other supplies, the 101st withstood continued German attacks. When a German commander demanded the surrender of the American defenders of Bastogne, the acting division commander, Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe famously replied “Nuts” in a written response.  The 101stwould hold their position until December 26th, when the US 4thArmored Division broke through the German lines and provided necessary relief.  

Brigadier General Anthony McAuliffe, acting 101st Division Commander at Bastogne – US Army Photo

While the Germans took the Allies by surprise and achieved some initial success, they did not meet their objective of retaking Antwerp nor dividing the allies and forcing a settlement. Tenacious defenses by American units denied access to key transit routes through the Ardennes, slowing the German assault. Clearer weather allowed Allied air forces to return to the skies. The advance was ultimately blocked and Allied armies began maneuvering in order to launch counterattacks against the salient in the lines. Meeting ever stiffer resistance and lacking fuel, German forces withdrew back toward their original positions by January 25th. Through it all, the Germans sustained critical equipment and manpower losses they could not replace while only delaying the Allied advance east by about 6 weeks. 

The victory came at a tremendous cost to the US Army.  The Allies would commit over 700,000 troops to countering this German advance, approximately 610,000 were US soldiers. The US Army sustained over 89,000 casualties during the fighting, including 19,000 killed during combat.  These were the highest American losses for a single operation during World War II.  

Soldiers of the 347th U.S. Infantry Regiment, 87th Infantry Division, receive rations in La Roche, Belgium in this January 13, 1945 US Army photo. Note the soldiers’ heavy winter weather gear. The winter of 1944-1945 was one of the coldest on record. 

In 1981, several veterans of the battle founded the Veterans of the Battle of the Bulge® to perpetuate the memory of the sacrifices involved during the battle and to preserve historical information about it. The group was instrumental in building the Battle of the Bulge Memorial, lobbying Congress to authorize its location in Arlington National Cemetery, raising funds from the Governments of Belgium and Luxembourg for its construction and organizing its dedication in 2006. 

Today, this veterans group is known as the Battle of the Bulge Association® and remains active in commemorating the battle and honoring the sacrifices of the brave men and woman who secured victory.

The newsletter archives available online contain a treasure trove of firsthand accounts of the battle submitted by members through the years. These vivid narratives convey the courage, tenacity and ingenuity of American soldiers which were indispensable in securing what Churchill would predict would be “an ever famous American Victory”….

Virtually Marking Victory with the Imperial War Museums

By the Spring of 1945, Germany had been on the defensive for approximately a year. Allied forces continued a steady advance across German occupied territory, and ultimately into Germany itself. 

Finally, with Hitler dead and Berlin under Red Army control, on May 7 and again on May 8, senior representatives of Germany’s High Command signed documents declaring an unconditional surrender to the Allied Powers. May 8 was declared Victory in Europe (V-E) Day in the United States and the United Kingdom — and celebrations erupted in large cities and small towns alike.

Unfortunately, on the 75th Anniversary of V-E Day, many large-scale public observances of the day are being cancelled or postponed due to the COVID-19 coronavirus. Like many other aspects of life during this pandemic, some events are being moved online. Such is the case for V-E Day as well.

True to its mission, although its physical locations are closed, the United Kingdom’s Imperial War Museums (IWM) have assembled an extensive and informative website to guide viewers through the major events and themes surrounding V-E Day.

The Imperial War Museums have an extensive collection of wartime artifacts such as this Willys Jeep. It was a gift to the British Red Cross in Italy by the Commander of the US 5th Army. 

The IMW have a long history of documenting war and its consequences. Founded as the National War Museum in 1917, even before the Allied victory in World War I was certain, the museum was established to recognize the contributions of all elements of British society in both fighting the war and supporting the war effort. 

The name was quickly changed to the Imperial War Museum to also acknowledge the critical role played by the militaries, governments and peoples of the British Empire. A committee was formed to begin collecting artifacts, weapons, documents, photographs and other items of interest. King George V formally opened the museum’s first exhibits in London’s Chrystal Palace in 1920. 

This small fishing boat, named the Tamzine, was used in the evacuation of the British Army from Dunkirk in the spring of 1940.

Through the years, the scope of the IWM broadened to include preserving the stories and chronicling the experiences related to all armed conflicts fought by British, Empire and Commonwealth forces, as well as studying the impact wars and armed conflict have upon societies.  Naturally, as the mission grew  so did the collections. Today there are five distinct museum locations now comprising the Imperial War Museums. The main museum is located in a former mental hospital in the London neighborhood of Lambeth.

In preparation for the centennial of World War I, the IWM – London underwent a $67 million renovation in 2014 to update elements of the museum building and redesign the exhibits. Visitors now enter a four story atrium adorned with articles of war from the past one hundred years, among them a WWI era cannon, a Spitfire fighter aircraft, a V2 Rocket, a Harrier jet, and a car destroyed in a Baghdad bombing.  Wrapping around the atrium are five floors housing the exhibits which transport you through ten decades of British military history, heroics, frustrations, adventures and struggles. The focus though is not a dry and seemingly endless litany of facts about dates, battles, units and weapons, but rather a detailed examination of the impact of wars as told through contemporary accounts and a tremendous collection of artifacts.

This Spitfire fighter aircraft hangs in the open atrium of the IWM – London. It reportedly flew 57 combat missions during the Battle of Britain in 1940.

The IMW’s specially crafted website to commemorate the end of World War II is designated V75. The site’s design aligns very neatly to the overall approach taken by the IWM to developing its physical exhibits and other special programming on war and its impact. Historical summaries, pictures, accounts and cross references to multiple artifacts associated with the end of World War II from the IWM archives are brought together to paint a picture of the experience of war — usually through the eyes of ordinary soldiers and civilians — in order for the viewer to consider, assess and contemplate. While that is more challenging for a two dimensional website, V75 still provides thoughtful overviews and interesting insights.

A German Enigma Machine, which was used to encrypt German diplomatic and military communications. British cryptographers were able to decipher German communications which greatly assisted the Allied war effort.

V75, like other detail rich IWM websites, spreads out like a spider web. Subjects such as the origins of the famous “V” for wartime victory, civilian celebrations in London on V-E Day, or the general election of 1945 lead the viewer to a trove of additional information about other events surrounding the end of World War II and its aftermath.

On Friday, May 8, the V75 website will feature a four-minute audio compilation combining first hand observations and recollections from V-E day, drawn from the extensive archives of the IWM. Britons are being asked to take time to listen to the recordings and reflect on the sacrifices of the World War II years and what the ultimate victory means for them today. 

On the same day, the V75 site will also unveil several new works of art providing contemporary examinations by various artists, including visual arts, spoken word, music and poetry. Later this summer, the V75 website will be updated to include materials and references related to the bombing of Hiroshima on August 6 and Victory in Japan (V-J) Day on August 15.

This Union Jack was carried by the British delegation that surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in February 1942. During the war, it was hidden by British prisoners. On September 12, 1945, it was raised over the Municipal Building in Singapore after the Japanese surrendered their forces in southeast Asia.  

Commemorations allow us to look back at what was lost, but also at what was gained — and what brought us to where we are today. Spending some time at the Imperial War Museums V75 site reminds us of the sacrifices and losses sustained by an earlier generation in the fight against fascism. It also reveals to us that the world we live in today is still shaped by that war and those sacrifices.

Remembering the Liberators

…we were actually hit by a stench that we immediately knew had to come from burning flesh… everybody who saw what was going on there was literally stunned into silence. The only thing that was spoken after that were when orders were given to move food and blankets into the camp… 

– Sergeant Paul Lenger – 8th Armored Division


On April 13, 1945, elements of the 8th Armored Division assisted in the liberation of the Langenstein-Zwieberge concentration camp, a subcamp of the much larger Buchenwald camp in nearby Weimar, Germany.  More than 7000 prisoners from 23 countries were held at Langenstein-Zwieberge between April 1944 and April 1945. 

The division colors of the 8th Armored, along with the colors of 35 other US Army divisions, are displayed each April at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony held in the US Capitol, providing a stately backdrop to the day’s proceedings. These 36 divisions were acknowledged by the US Army Center for Military History has having liberated a Nazi concentration camp. 

The division colors of the 1st Infantry Division. Military units having their own flag, colors, standard or guidon is an ancient military tradition which continues today. US Army colors for infantry divisions have two wide horizontal stripes, one red and one blue with the division’s distinctive shoulder insignia in the middle. On May 8, 1945, the 1st Infantry division liberated Zwodau and Falkenau an der Eger, two subcamps of the larger Flossenbürg concentration camp. 

The first Allied liberation of a Nazi concentration camp occurred on July 24, 1944 as Red Army units advancing west came upon the Majdanek Concentration Camp, located near Lublin, Poland.  Several news outlets, including the New York Times, reported to the world some firsthand accounts of the atrocities the soldiers had found. The Times reporter, W.H. Lawrence referred to Majdanek as “the most terrible place on the face of the earth”.

Grisly discoveries would continue through the Spring of 1945 as Allied armies continued their ground campaigns across German held territory. Red Army units, moving west through German held territory in Ukraine, Belorussia, Poland, and the Baltics liberated many camps, notably Treblinka, Auchwitz, Sachsenhausen and Ravensbrueck. British Army units moving west through northern Germany liberated Neuengamme and Bergen-Belsen. Further south, the U.S. Army liberated Buchenwald, Dora-Mittelbau, Flossenbuerg, Dachau and Mauthausen. 

The division colors of the 4th Armored Division. During World War II, colors for armored divisions had horizontal stripes of red and green. On April 4, 1945, the 4th Armored overran Ohrdruf, a subcamp of the Buchenwald concentration camp, near the German city of Gotha. It was the first Nazi concentration camp liberated by the US Army. One week later, General Eisenhower would visit Ohrdruf to see first-hand the conditions there. He would write to the Chief of Staff, General of the Army George Marshall, “The things I saw beggar description”.

Forty years later, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, DC, was in the planning stages. Museum leaders approached the Secretary of the Army to ask permission to display the colors of US Army units involved in liberating the camps in the museum building, as well as at the annual Days of Remembrance ceremony. The Army agreed to the project. The Holocaust Memorial Museum and the US Army Center for Military History quickly recognized ten divisions as camp liberators: the 3rd, 4th, 6th, 10th and 11th Armored Divisions and the 42nd, 45th, 80th, 90th and 103rd Infantry Divisions.

45th Infantry Division – The “Thunderbird” Division was first organized in 1924 consisting of National Guard units in the southwest. In 1940, the division was reactivated and in June 1943 deployed to North Africa. On April 29, 1945, the 45th, along with the 42nd and 20th Armored divisions met at the Dachau Concentration Camp near Munich. At that time, they discovered more than 30,000 prisoners in the overcrowded camp. 

As awareness of the project grew, more veterans’ associations sought to become involved. Ultimately, the Center for Military History established some additional parameters. Recognitions would remain at the division level, official records of the division’s involvement in liberating the camp needed to be held by the National Archives and Records Administration, and the division needed to arrive at a camp within 48 hours of the first division unit’s detection of a camp’s presence. A division’s specialized units with support missions involving medical care, mess operations, logistics, displaced persons, and public health were often brought in to provide initial support to survivors.  

80th Infantry Division – The “Blue Ridge” Division’s insignia was adopted in 1918 and represents the Blue Ridge Mountains of Pennsylvania, Virginia and West Virginia. The 80th Infantry Division would relieve the 6th Armored Division at Buchenwald concentration camp on April 12, 1945. It later turned south into Austria where it liberated Ebensee, a subcamp of the Mauthausen concentration camp, on May 6, 1945.

Unfortunately, due to the coronavirus, the museum is currently closed to visitors and 2020’s Days of Remembrance Ceremony is a virtual, online event. But both the Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Center of Military History maintain excellent websites with detailed history of the roles these divisions and subordinate units played in liberating the concentration camps. Unit profiles, riveting firsthand accounts, maps, videos and photographs are all available. Bibliographies for additional reading are also included.  

First organized in 1979, the annual Days of Remembrance as observed in the United States is an 8-day period, designated by the United States Congress. It includes various ceremonies and educational programs held nationwide to mark the catastrophic events of the Holocaust and inform current generations.   

This initiative to recognize the US Army units helps us all to remember the liberators as well as the liberated. 

104th Infantry Division – The “Timberwolf” Division was first organized within the Reserves in 1921. It arrived in France in September 1944. The 104th logged almost 200 days of fighting in northwestern Europe, fighting in France, Belgium, and western Germany. It participated in the Battle of the Hürtgen Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and the encirclement in the Ruhr Pocket. On April 11, 1945, the Timberwolves liberated the Dora-Mittelbau Concentration Camp near Nordhausen in Thuringia, Germany.

The World War II Memorial Marks a Nation’s Victory and a Generation’s Sacrifice

“Time is short!” is a maxim often repeated by military planners. It was similarly intoned by the planners and organizers of the World War II Memorial on the National Mall.

2019 marked the 15th anniversary of Memorial’s dedication. While there had long been consensus on the need for a national memorial in Washington, DC to commemorate America’s victory in World War II, the initial progress was slow. Yet the WW II veterans were aging. As most WWII veterans were entering their late 60’s or 70s, there was a growing concern within the broader veteran community about the need to build a memorial before that generation passed away. 

Congressional legislation authorizing the project stalled several times, finally passing in 1993. Once signed into law, an advisory board was formed, a sight selected, funds raised, designs submitted and construction begun.

The image of Nike, from the World War II Victory Medal, under the Atlantic and Pacific pavilions at the World War II Memorial

Finally, on May 29, 2004, as part of the largest reunion of US World War II veterans, President George W. Bush dedicated the World War II Memorial. In his speech that day, President Bush remarked that winning the war “would require the commitment and effort of our entire nation. To fight and win on two fronts, Americans had to work and save and ration and sacrifice as never before”. 

The memorial, over ten years in the making, honors that two front victory, that commitment, that sacrifice and the unity of the American people who achieved it. That honor is reflected in part by the memorial’s location, on the National Mall between the Washington Monument and the Reflecting Pool, with the Lincoln Memorial appearing in the distance. The location signifies how the struggle to win World War II is comparable with the contributions of Lincoln and Washington in American history. 

The Lincoln Memorial with the World War II Memorial in the foreground.

Approaching from its 17th Street entrance, the memorial greets you, a broad expanse of granite, water and metal. It can be confusing at first. Its neoclassical design incorporates a jumble of names, figures, and symbols.  But slowly, the imagery becomes cohesive and themes emerge — victory of course, but also unity and reverence. 

The visitor’s eyes are first drawn to the oval shaped Rainbow Pool with its twin fountains. This feature was originally designed in 1923 by Frederick Law Olmstead and was part of the National Mall for many decades. It was later incorporated into the World War II Memorial’s design.  Arranged in a semi-circle around the pool are 56 granite columns, one for each US state and territorial possession during World War II.  Alternating victory laurels of wheat and oak leaves (signifying agricultural plenty and industrial capacity respectively) adorn each column while a bronze rope, indicating unity, ties the columns together. 

The Rainbow Pool with the Atlantic Pavilion and several state columns.

On each end of the pool are two 43-foot-tall pavilions, representing the victories in the Atlantic and Pacific theaters. Major campaigns and battles of each theater are inscribed at the base of the pavilions. Four stately bronze eagles, one for each branch of the US Armed Forces are perched inside. They hold aloft a large victory wreath representing how the combined efforts of the armed forces secured victory on the land, on the sea and in the air. On the pavilion’s floor is a bronze disk with an image of the Greek goddess Nike, the same image depicted on the World War II victory medal issued to US service members after the war. 

An Atlantic Theater bass relief scene depicting US paratroopers preparing to jump.

Aligned along the entry walkway are two series of bronze bass relief plaques rendering period images from the World War II era.  Scenes from the war in Europe are found on the north side, aligned to the Atlantic Pavilion. Scenes from the Pacific are found on the south side, aligned to the Pacific Pavilion. Depictions from both the battlefront and home front are included, showing the unity of the American people in the war effort. The last two plaques denote victory — U.S. and Russian soldiers linking up in Europe and civilians celebrating the end of the war in the Pacific.

While the memorial is meant to honor the 16 million Americans who served in World War II, there is a special section to honor the approximately 400,000 American servicemen and woman who died during the war. The Remembrance Wall on the western edge of the memorial is composed of over 4,048 gold stars on a blue background, each gold star representing 100 fallen service members. On either side of the Remembrance Wall are two small waterfalls which, along with the Rainbow Pool’s fountains, muffle the sounds of the many boisterous pedestrians, vehicles and overhead aircraft transiting the area. The cascading waters allow for quiet contemplation before this visual reminder of the price of war.

Over 4,000 Gold Stars adorn the Remembrance Wall. The tradition of displaying the Gold Star to mark the death of a US service member goes back to World War I.

Naturally, the process to build the memorial was not without some contention. While there was a sense of urgency among some, there were also objections raised to the memorial’s prominent location on the National Mall, its design, and the accelerated approval and construction timeline. (Congress exempted the World War II Memorial from certain legal requirements other groups needed to follow out of concern for the aging World War II veterans.) Despite these controversies, today the World War II Memorial is one of Washington’s most visited sites. The National Park Service estimates the memorial drew about 4.8 million people in 2018. 

A bouquet left at the memorial in memory of a World War II veteran.

The memorial has even spawned a nationwide organization known as the Honor Flight Network, dedicated to transporting veterans from around the country to Washington DC to see those memorials dedicated to their service and sacrifice. Since 2005, the Honor Flight Network has transported over 220,000 veterans, along with 163,000 escorts, to Washington. The memorial draws many other organized visits by veterans groups and survivors organizations leading to emotional reunions and the presentations of long overdue awards such as this one recently recounted in the Washington Post. Events such as this, as well as the many wreathes, flowers, notes, pictures, and other mementoes left at the Memorial are testament to its effect as being a meaningful tribute to the legacy of our WWII generation.

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Computer Registry 

Adjoining the Memorial is a small National Park Service building with computer kiosks where the visitors can access the Registry of Remembrances, an unofficial compilation of names, units and events entered by members of the public to honor US service members who helped to win the Second World War. More information on the registry and how to enter information about someone you know can be found here. 

Route Recon

The World War II Memorial is located at 1750 Independence Ave. SW, Washington, D.C., near the intersection of 17th Street and Independence Avenue. Very limited parking is available on West Basin Drive, on Ohio Drive SW, and at the Tidal Basin parking lot along Maine Ave., SW.  

A better option to access the National Mall is the Washington Metro System. The nearest station for the World War II Memorial as well as the Washington Monument is Smithsonian Station. Use the Mall Exit when leaving the station.

Two images of Kilroy are hidden within the World War II Memorial. The Kilroy image was widely drawn by American servicemen in both theaters. See if you can find Kilroy when you visit.

Happy 75th Birthday Pentagon!

The Puzzle Palace, Fort Fumble, the Big Spoke, Bat Cave on the Basin, the Concrete Carousel.

The world’s most famous five sided building has many nicknames, but the headquarters of the U.S. Department of Defense is more simply known as the Pentagon.

1 Pentagon Aerial View
Overhead view of the Pentagon 2008 Photo by David Gleason from Chicago, IL. (CC BY-SA 2.0)

2018 marks the 75th anniversary of this iconic Washington, DC landmark.

In the late 1930’s, as the world edged closer to war, Secretary of War Henry Stimson and War Department leaders knew they needed a new building to house the department’s expanding workforce. At that time, employees were scattered in multiple buildings around the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia.

2 Munitions and Main Navy Buildings
An overhead view of the Main Navy and Munitions Buildings.  Built at the beginning of World War I, these buildings housed a large number of War and Navy Department workers. The buildings were located on the Mall in the vicinity of the current Viet Nam Memorial. The buildings were demolished in 1970. Photo: Histories of the National Mall, accessed 25 January 2018, http://mallhistory.org/items/show/57.

Designing and planning the new building began in earnest in 1940, with two proposed sites selected in Arlington, Virginia, just over the Potomac River from Washington. The first proposed site was the U.S.Department of Agriculture’s Arlington Experimental Farm. The other was Hoover Field, an early Washington area commercial airport. The Pentagon owes its particular five-sided shape to the irregular layout of the experimental farm location. The unique design of five pentagons nested together connected by radiating hallways allowed planners to maximize the structure’s available work space.

3 Pentagon Ramps
Pentagon concourse in 1944. In order to save steel, building designers used concrete ramps, rather than elevators, for workers to move floor to floor. Photo: U.S. War Department

Ultimately, the Hoover Field site was selected over the farm location, but the five-sided design was kept. The building was to be made of concrete, to minimize the need for steel, which was needed for war production. Limestone facades over the concrete completed the neoclassical look of the Pentagon we know today.

The final contracts were signed and ground was immediately broken on September 11, 1941. The attack on Pearl Harbor three months later only added to the urgency to complete the Pentagon’s construction, which took just sixteen months. When construction was completed on January 15, 1943, some War Department workers had already moved in.

The Pentagon was the headquarters for the War Department from 1943 through 1947, when the National Security Act formally established the Department of Defense (DoD). Then the Pentagon became the headquarters for this new department as well as for each of the armed services. As the size, budget and influence of the military grew during the Cold War, the term “the Pentagon” would become synonymous with the DoD and American military bureaucracy, with all of its successes and excesses, strengths and weaknesses, victories and mistakes.

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Members of the general public have been able to tour the Pentagon since 1976, when the tour program was implemented as part of America’s bicentennial. Today Pentagon tours are still available, but they do require some planning ahead.

Tours are by reservation only, which can be made by visiting the Pentagon Tours website. Reservations must be made at least two weeks before the tour date. The DoD is very careful about who is allowed into their headquarters so follow all the instructions on the website carefully.

On the day of the tour, arrive at the Pentagon Visitor Center (near the entrance to the Pentagon Metro Station) with sufficient time to clear an airport style security checkpoint. The Pentagon tours website recommends arriving one hour ahead of time.

After clearing security, there is a waiting area, also used by other Pentagon visitors. The waiting area has a gift shop with the expected collection of hats, key chains, post cards and other trinkets with Pentagon or military service themes. (If something catches your eye, be sure to buy it before the tour begins as you will not pass by the gift shop again). There is also a mockup Pentagon briefing podium and backdrop for taking selfies or group photos, sure to impress friends and family.4 Pentagon Podium

Tours are led by junior enlisted service members. One cannot help but feel a bit of pride in these young men and women, dressed in their class A uniforms with crisp creases and polished brass. Guides are selected from the military services various honor guard units stationed in the area. One guide confided it is a good job to have, working in a climate controlled building with weekends and holidays off. The biggest challenge he said was memorizing all the facts and walking backwards for most of the mile-long tour.

As one of the world’s largest office buildings, the guide had many facts about the Pentagon to share. They are recited effortlessly, with machine gun-like repetition. The Pentagon is five stories tall, with an additional two stories underground and covers 28.7 acres. Today there are over 17 miles of corridors, 54 escalators, 70 elevators, 131 stairways, 284 restrooms, 8,979 parking spaces, 16,250 lighting fixtures and 26,000 employees.

The tour followed the guide up one of the 54 escalators to the Pentagon’s extensive retail area. The original building designers wisely included extensive retail space so workers would not have to leave the building for common necessities. Today the Pentagon’s  workers can visit about 20 fast food restaurants, three banks, a clothing store, drug store, barber shop, hair salon, dry cleaners, jewelers, post office, vision center, even an office of the Virginia Department of Motor Vehicles.

5 ANZUS Corridor
The displays in the ANZUS Corridor, on the Pentagon’s second floor, commemorate the 1951 Security treaty between Australia, New Zealand and the U.S. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

But the tour is more than just facts, figures and shopping. Many Pentagon corridors have special defense-related themes with museum quality displays. However, the tour is only about 60 minutes long. While the tour group keeps moving most of that time, the size of the building makes it impossible to see every special exhibit in that amount of time. The tour planners though selected a route that allows the guides to broadly focus on the missions of the U.S. Armed Forces and their storied pasts.

The center piece of the Air Force displays is a series of scale models of Air Force aircraft, past and present. After the guide discussed the size of the C-5 Galaxy transport aircraft, the capabilities of the F-22 Raptor fighter and the stealthiness of the B-2 Spirit bomber, he pointed out his favorite aircraft, the Waco CG-4A Combat Glider.

6 Waco_CG-4A_USAF
A Waco CG-4A-GN (45-27948) Combat Glider on display at the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force  Photo: U.S. Air Force

The guide explained how the gliders saw service during World War II. The light bodied aircraft earned the nickname “the Flying Coffin” due to their precarious mission of flying unarmed while carrying troops and equipment deep behind enemy lines as a precursor to invasions and large advances. Gliders and their crews served with distinction in Sicily, Burma, Normandy, Southern France and Bastogne among other places.

Somewhat surprisingly, the tour next passed the displays of the United States Coast Guard. The Coast Guard is a component of the Department of Homeland Security, not the DoD. But at several times through its history, especially during wartime, the Coast Guard has served as part of the Navy. The displays trace the Coast Guard’s history from its forerunners first establishment in 1790 as the Revenue Cutter Service. Naval aviation followed the Coast Guard, then a corridor dedicated to Dwight D. Eisenhower represented the Army.

8 Memorial
Inside the Pentagon’s interior 9/11 Memorial. Photo: U.S. Department of Defense

The one stop the tour does make is at Pentagon’s interior 9/11 Memorial. The memorial is located on the first floor of the outer ring, in the area struck by American Airlines Flight 77. The walls of the memorial feature a textured metallic finish with black stone tablets recognizing the sacrifices made that day, commemorating the names of those who died and detailing the medals awarded to the military and civilian casualties. Adjoining the memorial is the Pentagon Memorial Chapel, which opened in 2002.

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The Secretary of Defense Medal for the Defense of Freedom was established after the 9/11 attacks for civilian employees of the DoD killed or wounded in the line of duty.

The corridor leading to the memorial and chapel has one of the Pentagon’s most unique displays, the Pentagon Memorial Quilts. In the months and years after the attack, individuals and groups from across the United States (and some foreign countries as well) sewed then donated quilts to the Pentagon to mark the tragedy and aid in recovery. The quilts reflect a variety of themes but most reflect patriotism, loss, memorializing the fallen, gratitude for the responders and support for the military. There are about 120 quilts in the collection. Around fifty are displayed at the Pentagon with others rotated and loaned for display in communities and military facilities around the world.

Because of the security precautions, visiting the Pentagon takes a special effort, but it is well worth it. The Pentagon’s size, shape and mission certainly make it a unique location to visit. But walking its hallways, hearing its history, seeing its occupants walk briskly about, and seeing the exhibits remind us all of what it takes to serve.

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Route Recon

The best way to reach the Pentagon is by taking the Metro Rail system. There is a Metro station at the Pentagon, served by the Blue and Yellow lines.  As you exit the metro gates, make a left and proceed up the escalator. The Pentagon Visitors’ Center will be on your right.

There is NO public parking at the Pentagon. If traveling by car, park in the parking garage at the Pentagon City Mall. The Pentagon is about a 10-minute walk away. After exiting the parking garage or mall, cross Army-Navy drive and take a pedestrian tunnel  over to the Pentagon. When you exit the tunnel, follow signs for the Metro, which will lead you to the Pentagon Visitor’s Center. Visit the Pentagon Tours website for more information.

Mess Call

There is no eating during the Pentagon tour and unless you have an escort, you will not be able to visit any of the Pentagon’s eating establishments. The nearby Pentagon City Mall and neighborhood have a wide variety of dining options

FDR: A Man and His Memorial

SignJust west of the Tidal Basin lies the memorial to the 32nd President of the United States, Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Unlike most memorials in Washington, DC that consist largely of a single structure or statue, the FDR memorial is a mix of engravings, vegetation, statues, sculptures, walls and water features. It’s big, spread out over an area encompassing more than five football fields.

Noted landscape architect Lawrence Halpern designed the memorial so visitors could experience it in their own distinct way, which explains its unique, open, and rambling nature. Many Americans remember FDR as the only President elected to four terms and Mr. Halpern incorporated this unique accomplishment into his design. The memorial is laid out in four distinct sections or “rooms” with each room corresponding to one of FDR’s terms of office.

But to better understand the man and his memorial, it is important to look beyond these four rooms and FDR’s time in the White House. He was born into a wealthy New York family. Schooled at Harvard and Columbia Law School, he ultimately chose a career in politics rather than the law.

He modeled that career after his fifth cousin Theodore’s, although the members of his branch of the Roosevelt family were Democrats, while Teddy’s were Republicans. FDR was first elected to the New York State Senate in 1910 from a Republican leaning district. He was a reformist, pro-labor state senator who worked to limit the impact of the political machines which dominated much of the state’s politics.

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As an early supporter of Woodrow Wilson in the 1912 presidential election, FDR was appointed Assistant Secretary of the Navy in 1913. At the time, this was the number two position in the Navy Department, answering directly to the Secretary. He was eager to take the job. FDR greatly admired the Navy; he once claimed to own 10,000 books about the Navy and had read all of them but one. His cousin Teddy had also been Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and he saw the job as an important political stepping stone.

His seven years as Assistant Secretary provided FDR with valuable experience that served him well as President. As Assistant Secretary, he negotiated contracts, supervised civilian personnel and tried to orchestrate the work of the Navy’s various bureaus. He learned the importance of keeping good relations with Congress, how to work with big corporations and maintain the support of labor unions.

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Scattered blocks symbolic of the chaos of war.

He also became acquainted with numerous Naval and Marine officers, many of whom he would call upon some twenty years later to serve in key commands and staff assignments. He founded the Naval Reserve and as World War I approached, he learned to apply various bureaucratic mechanisms to effectively harness industrial production and prepare the Navy for wartime. He was so highly regarded in his overall tenure at the Navy Department, he was selected as the Democratic Party’s Vice Presidential nominee in 1920. Although the Democrats lost that year, FDR’s advocacy for the common man in his policymaking and his remarkable communication skills would propel him to two terms as New York’s governor and, ultimately, to the White House.

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Statue of a man listening to one of FDR’s Fireside Chats. FDR delivered 30 such radio addresses during his Administration, explaining his policies and programs to the American public in a simple, yet confident conversational style.

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Water is an important feature in this memorial. Over 100,000 gallons of water are recycled through the water features each minute. The water pools, the water falls, the water streams along, silently in some places, loud in others.

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Visitors to the FDR Memorial experiencing a waterfall.

FDR loved the water. As a youth, FDR was an avid swimmer and sailor. After he was diagnosed with polio in 1921 at age 39, hydrotherapy became an important part of his rehabilitation. He purchased property in Warm Springs, Georgia where he returned regularly for treatments in the warm, mineral rich water.

FDR would devote tremendous time and energy to his therapy and was very supportive of others also afflicted by polio. He founded the Warm Springs Foundation, so many could experience the same therapeutic benefit of the waters. He would also found the National Institute for Infantile Paralysis, which we know today as the March of Dimes. While FDR would regain some limited use of his legs, he was always very careful not to be photographed or portrayed using the crutches or wheelchair he still relied upon.

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The statue of FDR (as he might wish to be portrayed) and his dog, Fala, in the Third Room of the FDR Memorial. Note FDR’s cloak covering the wheelchair.

FDR’s portrayal at the memorial was the subject of some controversy when it opened in 1997. A large statue of a seated FDR, along with his canine companion, Fala, shows FDR’s large cloak covering his wheelchair. Some thought his disability should be in full view as an example and inspiration to others. Ultimately, a bronze statue of FDR in a wheelchair was added in 2001 at the memorial’s entrance.

Scattered throughout the memorial are 21 inscriptions of famous quotations from FDR’s speeches, fireside chats and writings. They clearly evoke the troubles and challenges of the times. But they also reflect FDR’s unique ability to reach each individual in his audience and assure the listener of FDR’s concern for them and their future. Some quotes are very familiar (“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself…”), others less so.

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Excerpt from FDR’s I HATE WAR Speech.

The central/showpiece quote in the third room, denoting World War II, comes from FDR’s “I Hate War” speech. FDR actually delivered this speech in 1936, as he was increasingly concerned by events in the world. He understood the impact of a global war and hoped to sway other nations to join the United States in avoiding conflict. That effort was, of course, not successful and the haphazard waterfalls and scattered granite blocks in the room—several inscribed with “I HATE WAR”—are meant to evoke the chaos and destruction of that war.

FDR died on April 12, 1945 at his home in Warm Springs, Georgia, just 26 days before the unconditional surrender of Germany and the end of World War II in Europe. The last room of the memorial is dedicated to his legacy. There is a small relief of his funeral cortege and several quotes about the future he hoped to realize and the peace he hoped to build.

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Statue of First Lady Eleanore Roosevelt in the Fourth Room of the FDR Memorial. This is the only presidential memorial to also honor a first lady.

The FDR Memorial is one of the most unique in Washington and well worth a special visit. Like all the memorials in the vicinity of the National Mall, the FDR Memorial is open 24 hours a day. The late evening or early morning hours are actually good times to visit, when the grounds are quieter and the nighttime illumination or early light create special effects on the walls, water, statues and other features. Park Rangers are on site daily from 9:30 am until 10:00 pm. There is also a book store by the entrance with a variety of materials about FDR, his wife Eleanor, and the Great Depression, as well as souvenirs of Washington, DC.

Interestingly, FDR desired something much different as a memorial. He once remarked to his friend, Supreme Court Justice Felix Frankfurter, that if a memorial should ever be dedicated to him, it should be about the size of his desk and placed on the grass lawn in front of the National Archives.  He wanted it kept very plain, with only the inscription “in Memory of Franklin Delano Roosevelt”. He got his wish; the memorial was dedicated in 1965 and can be found at the corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and 9th Street, NW, right next to the National Archives.

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Route Recon

The two closest Metro stops to the FDR Memorial on the Mall are Federal Triangle and Smithsonian, both on the Blue, Orange and Silver Lines. DC Circulator’s National Mall route or Metrobus routes 32, 34 or 36 are also options. Visitor parking is available on Ohio Drive, between the Lincoln and Jefferson Memorials. Handicapped parking spaces are set aside at locations on West Basin Drive in front of the memorial. It is always important to note that street parking is often limited in DC.

75 Years After Pearl Harbor, the Taney Still Serves

What better way to observe the 75th Anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor than to visit the last U.S. ship afloat which saw action on that fateful December morning.

The U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney is moored about 40 miles north of Washington, D.C. The Taney is part of the Historic Ships in Baltimore, a floating museum of notable ships from our nation’s naval and maritime heritage.

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U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Taney (WHEC-37)

The Taney (pronounced TAW-ney) was one of seven Coast Guard vessels in the Treasury class of High Endurance Cutters. The Treasury Class would be known for their ability to perform many different types of missions and their many years of service to the Coast Guard. The Taney was built in Philadelphia and launched in 1936. She was assigned to Honolulu from 1936 through 1941 where she undertook missions familiar to today’s Coast Guard: law enforcement, maritime patrols, and search and rescue, among others.

pearl-harbor-poster_travel-objective-dcOn the morning of December 7, 1941, the Taney was moored in Honolulu Harbor, about eight miles away from Pearl Harbor. While not directly attacked that day, she did engage Japanese aircraft in her vicinity.

In the war’s early years, the Taney stayed in the Pacific, conducting maritime patrols, pilot rescues, and counter-submarine operations.

From 1943-1944, the Taney served in the Atlantic theater, performing convoy escort duty between the U.S. and Europe, and engaging German planes in the Mediterranean. In late 1944 the Taney was converted to an Amphibious Command Ship and returned to the Pacific. She was Rear Admiral Calvin Cobb’s flagship at the battle of Okinawa where her crew served with great distinction defending her from more than 250 attacks by Japanese aircraft.

After the war, the Taney returned to peacetime missions: reporting weather conditions, conducting search and rescue missions, and supporting law enforcement operations. From 1946-1972, the Taney was based at Alameda, California.

img_5794The Taney also participated in the Viet Nam War. From 1969-1970, she patrolled the waters off Viet Nam, supporting naval bombardments, preventing enemy resupply operations and providing medical assistance to South Vietnamese nationals.

In 1972, she was transferred to the east coast, continuing her peacetime missions, as well as serving as a training ship for Coast Guard cadets and officer candidates.

The Taney was decommissioned in 1986 and transferred to the City of Baltimore as a museum ship.

After 50 years of service to the Coast Guard, the Taney certainly lived up to her designation as a “High Endurance” cutter.

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Today the Taney is found on Pier 5 of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. Climb aboard, walk the decks, explore the berths and you get a sense of the rhythm of mid-20th century “Coastie” life.

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A blue line with arrows painted on the deck guides you through the living quarters, dining areas and work spaces. Placards and actual shipboard notices to the crew, dating from the 1980’s, explain how crewmembers spent their days moving between duty, meals, hygiene and sleep with long hours of routine punctuated by brief periods of white knuckle danger, recreational diversions or just a few peaceful moments to observe a Pacific sunset.

Available space is tight on the 327-foot-long cutter, so privacy was clearly a luxury reserved for the Taney’s senior officers, especially when the size of the crew doubled to over 250 personnel during World War II. There are also special exhibits devoted to the attack at Pearl Harbor and the Taney’s service in Viet Nam.

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img_5785Younger visitors can learn about the Taney’s Mascot “Soogie”, a dog who sailed on board from 1937 until 1948.

Paw prints on the floor direct kids to information kiosks with details about this Coastie canine and his life at sea.

In recognition of her service at Pearl Harbor, each year on December 7 at 12:00 noon, the Historic Ships in Baltimore hosts a memorial ceremony on board the Taney. The event is free and open to the public.

But any season is a good time of year to visit the Taney and learn her stories. A few hours on board and you can’t help but develop a healthy respect for the ship and the crew members who sailed her through a half century of service to the United States.

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