Respectful silence: Visiting D.C. war memorials with kids

by Jill Berry on June 10, 2010

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. is suitable for kids of all ages.

On my first visit to D.C., I recall chatting loudly to a college friend while speed walking through the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. I was on a mission to see everything on the National Mall in one day. I soon realized that the other visitors at the wall were silent. As I slowed down my fast pace, I started reading the names on wall for the first time. I was not prepared for how profound the experience of visiting the wall would be…and how silent.

When I became a mom, I knew I had to wait until my children were older to take them to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial and the other war memorials in D.C. No one wants to hear a baby crying when they are remembering their loved one, do they? I wanted my children to be respectful visitors, not disruptive ones.

So when is the right age for a child to visit a war memorial? Which war memorials in D.C. can you take a child of any age to, and which are more appropriate for tweens and teens? When planning your visit, it’s important to consider a variety of factors, including the age, temperament, and maturity of the child, and the physical layout of the attraction.

D.C. War Memorials for All Children

The World War II Memorial: The World War II Memorial is located in the shadow of the Lincoln Memorial. It features massive pillars, a large fountain, and a remembrance wall. More than two-thirds of the World War II Memorial consists of grass, plants, and water. This sprawling area is suitable for children of all ages to walk, run, and even skip while visiting with their parents.

A child can speak in an “outdoor voice” at the World War II Memorial without disturbing other visitors due to the size of the open areas. The memorial is so vast that a person could pay their respects to a loved one without being distracted by kids. My toddler son found the large open walkways to be a welcome break from the confines of the stroller.

There are 56 pillars representing the states, D.C., and territories that participated in World War II. The pillars form an oval-shaped barrier around a large fountain. My elementary school children asked a few questions about World War II before running to find the stone pillar honoring service people from Maryland. The WWI Memorial honors the 16 million Americans who served at home and abroad, including over 400,000 who died.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial: The Korean War Veterans Memorial is another memorial with a huge footprint. Plenty of room for kids to move around except during the summer tourist season. This memorial would be appropriate for children of all ages as the walkways are wide. As with the World War II Memorial, this memorial is large enough that a visitor could find a quiet spot to remember a loved one.

The Korean War Veterans Memorial, located southeast of the Lincoln Memorial on Independence Avenue, shows the march of 19 soldiers towards an American flag. The 19 statues are arranged in a “pie slice” that fits in to a “pie-shaped” paved plaza with a Pool of Remembrance in the middle. The Korean Veterans Memorial was dedicated in 1995 to the 1.5 million American men and women who served in the Korean War.

My children were intrigued by the detailing on the statues of the soldiers at the memorial. One of the soldiers holds a large walkie talkie, while another carries a rifle.

D.C. War Memorials for Tweens and Teens

Vietnam Veterans Memorial: On a visit to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, I explained to my children that people see this memorial as a cemetery or a church. I pointed out a person touching a name on the wall, another person leaving flowers with a message, and yet another person doing a pencil rubbing of a loved one’s name. I told my tween and teen to use their indoor voices.

There is a narrow pathway beside the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, or The Wall, as it is also known, where visitors walk, read the names, make a pencil rubbing of a particular name, or spend a moment of silence. Once you are walking down the path, you must follow those in front of you to exit the area. It would be difficult to push a stroller with a fussy toddler away from the wall due to the lack of space.

The Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall, designed by Maya Lin, is made up of two black granite walls almost 250 feet long. The two walls are sunk into the ground with one pointing towards the Washington Monument and the other the Lincoln Memorial. Each wall has 72 panels, and all but two panels list names of those who died in the war.

As you plan your visit to D.C. with kids, you will want to find a hotel near the National Mall. For a kid-friendly hotel, take a look at the Residence Inn Washington D.C. Capitol. For a hotel with a pool, try the L’Enfant Plaza Hotel. Want free internet access in rooms? The Holiday Inn Washington-Capital would be a good choice.

–Jill Berry of Musings from Me

[Photo Credit: Flickr/Jeff Kubina]

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