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World War II Sites in the National Park System

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial; Jeremy Sullivan photographer.

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial; Jeremy Sullivan photographer.

Did you watch all 15 hours of the Ken Burns mega-series "The War" which wrapped up last night on PBS? I did! I probably spent too much time in front of the TV these last 10 days, but it was worth it. Burns and his team really are very good at telling an emotionally charged story. As I read in a recent Time Magazine article, producer Lynn Novick says that during their interviews with war survivors, "we asked all the time, What happened? and then, How did you feel?"

Having watched the series, I have wondered, what are the World War II sites managed by the National Park Service? It's not quite as easy to answer as maybe you'd expect. There are the obvious ones (USS Arizona Memorial in Hawaii for instance), but as I discovered, there are a lot of park units that played at least a small role in the war effort.

Did you know:

  • Mount Rainier National Park was the birthplace of our first ski/mountain troops, which eventually evolved into the 10 Mtn. Div.?
  • The Department of the Interior Building in D.C. had anti-aircraft guns on its roof?
  • Many of the National Seashores were used as lookouts for German subs?
  • Shenandoah was selected as an inland removal site for the administration if it had been required to move from D.C.?
  • The military wanted to cut old growth Spruce trees from Olympic National Park, but Director Newton Drury prevented it?
  • Governors Island National Monument was used as a supply / logistics base during both WWI and WWII?

Here are the specific World War II sites that I've come up with. Did I miss any?

In the Pacific -
USS Arizona Memorial (Hawaii)
War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam)
American Memorial Park (Saipan)
Aleutian World War II National Historic Area (Alaska)

Homefront -
Rosie the Riveter National Historic Park
Port Chicago Naval Magazine (as I talked about yesterday)
Minidoka Internment National Monument
Manzanar National Historic Site
Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site

Forts -
Golden Gate National Recreation Area (including the Presidio)
Gateway National Recreation Area (including Fort Hancock and Floyd Bennett Field)

Monuments in D.C. -
World War II Memorial
Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial
US Marine Corps War Memorial (Iwo Jima statue on the George Washington Parkway)

Special thanks to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees for helping me compile some of the details in this story.


Jeremy, like you I did put in my ten hours watching Ken Burns documentary: THE WAR. Every time that I drive past Manzanar (WW II Japanese Detention Center) which is settled on the east side of the Sierra's, it's hard to imagine the extreme hardship that this nation went though during WW II...and it's Japanese citizens. Manazana is located with a beautiful backdrop of the majestic Sierra mountains, yet it composes a stark nakedness and loneiness for which it's location sets. My deceased uncle served in the United States Marines as a combat soldier and saw some of the bloodiest war campaigns in the South Pacific. His war trophies were settled by the fireplace mantle inside his quaint Iowa farm house: a cup of golden teeth extracted from dead Japanese soldiers. His hearing was severly impaired from the concussions of heavy artillery gun fire, but he never spoke a word about "The War" to me or about his war injuries. His pain of the war was greatly relieved by being a gentle productive farmer back in Iowa...which he was better at that then killing.

And don't forget the Ahwahnee in Yosemite was transformed into a military hospital for recovering vets during much of the war. There are some amazing photos in the Yosemite Research Library of the tents set up on the Ahwahnee lawns.

There must be a story for many, many parks in the system. Fort Jefferson (Dry Tortugas) was a seaplane base during the war and they cut down trees in the Everglades to make up for a shortage of wood for houses.

If you are in Boston the Charlestown Naval Shipyard National Park is home to the U.S.S. Cassin Young which is a WWII built destroyer. She is currently in her 1950's configuration, but she was hit by two kamikazes. The last one just two weeks before the war ended and potentially the last ship hit by a kamikaze in the Okinawa campaign. Even in the 1950's condition she retains most of her WWII equipment and looks. She is in good condition and free of charge. She is located across the pier from the U.S.S. Constitution. Two great ships one worthwhile visit.

At Fort Sumter in Charleston, SC, the USS Yorktown(the 2nd one) is open to tour. I don't remember it actually being a NPS site but you pay to enter at the same place you pay to tour Fort Sumter. I spent 7 hours on it and didn't want to leave. I missed seeing Fort Sumter!
In Fredericksburg, TX near LBJ Ranch, there is the George Bush WW II Museum & Nimitz Museum. It's my favorite museum in the world. Once again not really an NPS site but associated close enough to be mentioned.

In the Fremont National Forest in Oregon, there's a monument to Elsie Mitchell and five school children. They were killed instantly in 1945 when a Japanese balloon bomb exploded. The Japanese built these bombs and set them aloft in the jet stream to drop on the United States. The goal was to cause mayhem, terror and forest fires. These bombs fortunately mostly exploded harmlessly or didn't explode at all except for the tragic case in Oregon. These children and Mrs. Mitchell were the only casualties on the U. S. mainland from enemy action during World War II.

Thanks for the input everyone. I realize that I forgot an important NPS unit related to the war: Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site in Alabama. I've updated my list above to include that site.

And, like the site Kath mentions, there are a bunch of other non-NPS managed sites out there related to the WWII. A couple others that I thought of today in that category, the USS Alabama museum in Mobile, Alabama, and the USS Missouri which I believe is available for self-guided tours in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.

There are a lot of war monuments and memorials that are not in the US Park system. I have been to the two Pacific arena national cemetaries that include memeorials. One is in Honolulu the other is in Manila. Both are very inspiring and a tremendous tribute to the men and women who are buried there.
Here is the url to the American Battle Monument Commision; It includes information for other wars as well.
Best regards

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