The NPS is the keeper of national memories. From the Minute Man National Historical Park which explores the opening battle of the Revolutionary War to Gettysburg, the Vietnam Memorial and Pearl Harbor, those memories are of war.
On this Memorial Day during the NPS centennial year, I’m recalling all of those powerful park units I’ve been to which explore the history of battles fought at home and aboard, and where visitors can contemplate the meaning of war, and the sacrifices of soldiers and the people they left behind.
I’m also reflecting on the stories I’ve been told about the healing power of parks. From the curators of objects left along the Wall at the Vietnam Memorial, to soldiers once deployed in the Middle East reuniting at Dinosaur National Monument, it’s clear that national parks are special spaces for remembering and for renewal.
Read more about this and more in Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.
Photo courtesy of the NPS.
National parks are free today—Veterans Day!
Throughout the national park system there are dozens of parks with connections to wartime. Some are obvious, like Gettysburg National Military Park and the WWII Valor in the Pacific National Monument. Still others are not so evident but no less important—like Yosemite and even Dinosaur national parks.
National parklands have long been places for healing, for recovering from wartime—for veterans and civilians alike. While writing Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service, I read countless accounts and spoke to veterans about the power parks have to mend the spirit.
Today we are not red or blue, or liberal or conservative, we are simply thankful.
Feeling especially grateful? Support the NPS in the work they do as the keeper of national memory. And learn about the forthcoming Education Center at the Wall, a collaboration between the NPS and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (which is being completely funded by private donations).
Want to learn more about the links between parks and wartime? Buy the book!
Prophets and Moguls, Rangers and Rogues, Bison and Bears: 100 Years of the National Park Service.
Photo courtesy of US Navy, “Sailor plays Taps aboard the USS Arizona Memorial to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Battle of Midway.”
When President Abraham Lincoln alighted at the Gettysburg Train Station on November 18, 1863 day was already giving way to darkness. He walked a block to the home of David Wills, attorney and school superintendent, who had invited the president to say “a few appropriate remarks” at the dedication of the nearby national cemetery that Wills had been instrumental in establishing. That now world famous speech–the drafting of which was completed in Wills’ home–is known as the Gettysburg Address.
At that time the train station had only been in operation for about five years but already it had seen plenty. It acted as a hospital during the devastating Battle Of Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863) during which an an estimated 51,000 soldiers were killed, wounded, captured, or listed as missing. Many were transported through the station after the gunpowder had settled.
Standing in the small station today is a solemn experience, the ground as hallowed as the nearby cemetery and battlefield. When I visited it last fall I couldn’t believe such a moving and historically significant spot wasn’t part of the Gettysburg National Military Park. But late last December that changed with the passage of federal legislation which added the train station to the national park system.
Learn more about Gettysburg National Military Park.
Read the Gettysburg Address.
Photo courtesy Destination Gettysburg.