10 great places to honor the military on Veterans Day

Veterans Day should be more than an excuse for a day off work, says retired Marine Maj. Gen. Bob Dickerson. “Americans have the freedoms they have because other people were willing to go forth and fight for them.” He suggests marking the holiday weekend with a visit to a military park or memorial, and shares some suggestions with Larry Bleiberg for USA TODAY.

Lejeune Memorial Gardens
Jacksonville, N.C.

A collection of monuments greets visitors outside the Marine Corps’ Base Camp Lejeune. The newest addition, the Montford Point Marine Memorial, honors African-American Marines who trained at a segregated camp during World War II. Other areas include the nation’s second-largest Vietnam War memorial, a beam from the World Trade Center, and a site devoted to the 1983 Beirut bombing that killed more than 240 servicemembers. “It reflects the devastating loss we suffered,” Dickerson says. jacksonvillenc.gov

USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Mobile, Ala.

Stretching longer than two football fields, this World War II battleship today welcomes visitors to explore its deck, guns, machinery and bunks. Home to 2,500 sailors, it won numerous battle commendations, and led the American Fleet into Tokyo Bay as the war ended. “Thousands of sailors lived and fought there,” Dickerson says. “People have to understand, it wasn’t just a ship, it was home.” The park also has the World War II USS Drum submarine. ussalabama.com

USS Arizona Memorial
Honolulu

Dickerson was moved the first time he visited the site where more than 1,000 sailors died during the 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. “If you want to cry, go to Arizona,” Dickerson says. “It’s an entombment site.” nps.gov/valr

National Museum of the Marine Corps
Triangle, Va.

Much more than a memorial, this interactive museum tells the story of the Marines, letting visitors try on a backpack and experience what it’s like to have a drill sergeant yelling in their ear. “Families and new Marines go there to reflect on history. There’s a section for every place Marines fought on the globe,” Dickerson says. usmcmuseum.com

Soldiers’ National Cemetery
Gettysburg, Pa.

The military cemetery, established after the 1863 Civil War Battle of Gettysburg, is most famous for its dedication. It’s here that Abraham Lincoln offered his Gettysburg Address, recognizing the fallen as martyrs, and not mere casualties of war. “We should never forget history for the fear that we’ll repeat the same mistakes,” Dickerson says. Although officials did their best to identify the dead, hundreds of graves remain marked as unknown. nps.gov/get

Alamo
San Antonio

Although the soldiers were fighting for the Republic of Texas, not the United States, Dickerson is moved by this former mission where fighters were trapped in 1836. “It was overwhelming odds, and they were cut off and hoping for rescue,” he says. “The Alamo ended up being a rallying cry.” Today, Texans consider the site a shrine to liberty, and hallowed ground. thealamo.org

Minute Man National Historical Park
Concord, Mass.

The nation’s military history traces back to Boston, where the opening battle of the Revolutionary War was fought. “Lexington was the first shot,” Dickerson says. “This is where we broke away from England.” The park schedules guided tours and musket demonstrations, bringing the events to life. nps.gov/mima

Normandy, France

As a military commander, Dickerson was humbled by the Normandy coast where more than 100,000 American and Allied troops landed on D-Day in 1944. “You try to think how you could motivate anyone to walk into a wall of steel and lead put up by the Germans and take the high ground,” he says. “You stand in awe of what they did.” Today military cemeteries offer silent tribute to the sacrifice. abmc.gov

Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery
San Diego

While military installations line the California Coast, Dickerson suggests a visit to San Diego and its scenic cemetery overlooking the ocean. “You have a significant navy presence. It’s a stepping-off point for the Pacific,” he says. Memorials at the burial grounds remember the World War II Philippines battle off Samar, one of the largest naval engagements in history. sandiego.org

Vietnam Veterans Memorial
Washington

While there’s no shortage of monuments in our nation’s capital, Dickerson suggests a visit to this wall, etched with names of more than 58,000 servicemembers who died in the conflict. “It’s very moving. I had a lot of friends who went to Vietnam, and I see their names. It’s where a lot of veterans go to bring closure.” nps.gov/vive