Each year on Memorial Day weekend, many Americans take time to honor the men and women who have fought and died for the United States, from the American Revolution through Iraq and Afghanistan. Many of the nation’s most famous monuments, memorials and cemeteries dedicated to veterans, such as Arlington National Cemetery, the National WWII Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, are located in the Washington, D.C., area and have become popular year-round tourist destinations. But the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs operates 131 national cemeteries, in addition to almost three-dozen other monument sites. The National Park Service maintains more than a dozen other national cemeteries. Here is a look at five interesting but lesser-known sites paying tribute to U.S. veterans.
5. Tomb of the Unknown Revolutionary War Soldier
Officials originally planned this as a monument to George Washington, but it was instead turned into a memorial to all soldiers who served in the American Revolution. Located in Philadelphia’s Washington Square, an unknown number of soldiers were buried at the site, although few died from actual combat in the Philadelphia area. After the British occupied the city in 1777, countless hundreds of American prisoners died under the inhumane conditions. Many others succumbed to smallpox. Future U.S. President John Adams, upon visiting the area that year, later wrote, “I never in my whole life was affected with so much melancholy.”
4. Fort Logan National Cemetery
Fort Logan sprang into being as a frontier post near Denver, Colorado, in 1887, and two years later, officials set aside a small 3-acre cemetery plot. From that humble beginning, the Fort Logan National Cemetery now covers 214 acres, and has seen more than 96,000 interments, most from 20th century conflicts. Although the military post closed following World War II, many original buildings still remain, especially the officers’ quarters, and the Friends of Historic Fort Logan offers monthly tours and maintains a museum on site.
3. John Paul Jones Sarcophagus
The Naval Academy Chapel in Annapolis, Maryland, is the final resting place for one of America’s greatest naval heroes, John Paul Jones. Fighting against a well-trained and better-funded British fleet, Capt. Jones won several key engagements against the British during the American Revolution. During one battle, taunted by the British to surrender, Jones famously proclaimed, “I have not yet begun to fight!” Jones died of kidney disease at age 45, while living in Paris after the war. His body, sealed in a lead casket, was buried in a royal cemetery that soon became abandoned after the French Revolution. A century later, the U.S. ambassador to France, Gen. Horace Porter, began an intensive six-year hunt for Jones’ body, personally funding a search that dug through streets and basements before finally locating Jones’ remains in 1905. The remains were returned to the United States and laid to rest in 1913 in an elaborate marble and bronze sarcophagus in a crypt at the U.S. Naval Academy. Open to the public, the sarcophagus is patrolled by an honor guard during visiting hours.
2. Memphis National Cemetery
This cemetery in northeastern Memphis, Tennessee, is the final resting place for more than 42,000 veterans, most from the Civil War era. Among those buried here are victims of the 1865 explosion and sinking of the SS Sultana in the Mississippi River, the worst maritime disaster in United States history. An estimated 1,600 people perished in that accident, most of them recently released Union POWs who crowded onto the overloaded ship in a rush to get home. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, Memphis National Cemetery has the second-largest number of unknown soldiers interred of any U.S. national cemetery.
1. San Francisco National Cemetery
Located on the grounds of the famous Presidio near San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge, this became the first national cemetery on the West Coast in 1884. Some 30,000 American veterans have been laid to rest here, including Civil War leaders, Buffalo Soldiers, three-dozen Medal of Honor recipients, and many veterans who died in the Pacific Theatre during World War II. You can visit the cemetery during an excursion to the Golden Gate National Recreation Area.