National memorials are sometimes a bit challenging for visitors because the monuments are both attractions for tourists and sites of some of the most devastating moments in our nation’s history. But each memorial always aims to honor the memory of those lost and pass on lessons from that moment in time.
“The site was meant for life to move forward; it was never meant to be a cemetery,” Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial executive director Kari Watkins said of the outdoor symbolic memorial.
Take some time to visit these amazing memorial destinations as your group travels around the United States.
Visitors wait for the doors to open, then step inside a re-created boardroom and sit on a bench against the wall. On a conference table in front of them is a tape recorder. Over the speakers come the mundane sounds of the Oklahoma Water Resources Board convening at 9 a.m., April 19, 1995. Two minutes into the recording, visitors hear the unbelievable roar of the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. It’s a moment that causes both chills and tears because it’s a moment that changed the nation.
The Oklahoma City National Museum and Memorial added the hearing room as part of a $10 million makeover, completed in 2015, that reimagined its exhibits to be more interactive and hands-on and, ultimately, more meaningful. Galleries show the aftermath, the initial confusion and chaos, the incredible rescue and recovery efforts, and survivors’ stories.
“It allowed us to add depth that we had never had before, sharing thousands of people’s stories and artifacts,” Watkins said. People can explore at their own pace, or groups can arrange for guided tours; but no matter how long they stay, “at the end, they’re all getting the same story from different storytellers.”
The museum also offers three free group-only experiences. Museum staff will arrange to have a rescue worker, a survivor or a family member speak to the group, provide a behind-the-scenes tour of the archives or schedule a hands-on lesson in its learning lab.
Outside, groups can explore a symbolic memorial park.
Every year, nearly 25 million people visit the National Mall in Washington, D.C., arguably the heart of the city, with the U.S. Capitol on one end, the Lincoln Memorial at the other and the Washington Monument towering in between. Several other memorials and monuments ring the mall’s two-mile expanse, including the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, the World War II Memorial, the Korean War Memorial, the Jefferson Memorial, the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial and the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
As people explore D.C., “of course they go to those best-known memorials,” said Kate Gibbs, domestic media relations manager for Destination DC. However, visitors may be “delighted” to discover some of the city’s lesser-known but equally impressive memorials, she said, such as the Vietnam Women’s Memorial dedicated to the U.S. women, mostly nurses, who served in the war, as well as the American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial, which was dedicated in October 2014 and is the first to honor disabled veterans.
Most visitors know they can ride the elevator to the observation deck of the 555-foot-tall Washington Monument, but groups can experience memorials in several unusual ways. Bike and Roll DC offers various monument tours by bicycle — both day and night versions — as well as private group tours. Bike and Roll, and City Segway Tours take groups on Segway sightseeing trips of the National Mall, and DC by Foot offers name-your-own-price walking tours of the Mall and its memorials and monuments.