Honoring our Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day and Year-Round

Memorial Day is more than a much needed day off and an opportunity to stoke up the grill. Sure, it conveniently kicks off the start of the summer season, but it’s more than that. It’s more than a parade; more than an excuse for a picnic. Memorial Day is more than a weekend of mattress sales.

An American flag stands in an open field with the sun setting in the background.
Photo by Aaron Burden via Unsplash.com

The history of the holiday goes back to the Civil War when wives and survivors began decorating the graves of fallen soldiers with flowers and flags. Likely the result of communities across the country holding annual tributes in cemeteries, General John A. Logan of the Northern Civl War Veterans made Decoration Day official on May 5th in 1868.

Decoration Day came to be known as Memorial Day over a span of several decades. In 1968 Congress passed the Uniform Monday Holiday Act which formally recognized the national holiday that we know today.

Far be it for anyone to tell you how to celebrate this relaxing holiday. Perhaps the last Monday in May is your chance for a getaway or to visit with family and friends. Or perhaps baseball, beer and BBQ are your preference. Either way, we’re here to remind you that you can honor our nation’s military heroes any time of year. Long Island and NYC offer a variety of historic settings and experiences where one can immerse themselves in military culture. You can solute the accomplishments of our wartime past. Or you can memorialize the many soldiers who have sacrificed their lives for the betterment of our country.


Standing since 1892, the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial Building honors the 39 residents of Huntington killed during the Civil War. At first the town’s library, it now serves as a visitor’s center and exhibit for historic resources.

Eight large granite pylons surround a monumental bronze eagle on a plaza situated at the southern end of Battery Park. The 19-foot tall pillars of the East Coast Memorial each list the names, rank, organization and state of the 4,601 missing American servicemen who lost their lives while in combat during World War II.

The Vietnam Veterans of America, Suffolk County Chapter (11) installed the Wall of Wars Memorial in 2014 in the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Garden Courtyard at Northport VA Medical Center on Long Island. It honors the memory of all of America’s service men and women.

A triangular stone spear pokes into the Long Island sky from Suffolk County Vietnam Veterans Memorial Park on Bald Hill (also known as Bald Hill Veterans Memorial Hill) where an overlook provides a view that stretches for miles. The monument is dedicated to Veterans of the Vietnam War in 1991. Our American flag is vividly tattooed around the upper third of the pointy structure.

70 planted pine trees commemorate the fallen soldiers of Richmond Hill who died in combat during World War I. The Richmond Hill War Memorial also features a sculpture of a soldier, an ornamental flagstaff and bronze honor rolls. All this at the Myrtle Avenue entrance to Forest Park in Queens.

Military Cemeteries

Located in Riverhead in Suffolk County, Calverton National Cemetery has the largest area of any national cemetery in the U.S. Constructed in 1978 from 902 acres of reused land, it’s one of the busiest cemeteries in the country for daily burials.

Rows of tombstones in a cemetery, each decorated with a miniature American flag.
Photo by Joshua J. Cotten via Unsplash.com

Cypress Hills National Cemetery honors Civil War veterans, but its grounds also include the graves of soldiers who fought in the American Revolutionary War, Spanish–American War, Korean War and Vietnam War. 24 Medal of Honor recipients are buried here in NYC’s only US National Cemetery.

Green-Wood is a National Historic Landmark with its rich Revolutionary War history. It sits between Park Slope and Sunset Park in Brooklyn. Its 478 acres of hills, valleys, ponds, paths, mausoleums, monuments, and marble sculptures make it a beautiful and peaceful place to appreciate art, architecture, bird watching, landscaping, and history.

Many Medal of Honor recipients are buried at the Long Island National Cemetery in Farmingdale, NY. Most are soldiers from World War I. A granite memorial to Fallen Comrades of Nassau & Suffolk Counties was built around 1940, and two memorials have been created since 2000: Chosin Few Memorial (Korea) and the AMVETS All Veterans Memorial.

Preserved History

Fort Totten Park is more than a summer haven for swimmers and sunbathers. This Queens park hosts year-round activities and events for citizens of all ages, but for explorers and history fanatics, it may best be known for its preserved Civil War fortress. Visitors are welcome to wander at their leisure. The park offers regular tours, as well.

American soldiers are mounted on tanks circa WWII.
Photo by Suzy Brooks via Unsplash.com

From the National Park Service website: The U.S. Army, and later the U.S. Coast Guard, operated Governors Island for two centuries, until 1996, making it one of the longest continually operated military bases in the country. Major attractions include Castle Williams and Fort Jay, both of which offer free guided and self-guided tours.

For an example of historical preservation in plain site, make your way to Bed Stuy in Brooklyn where the Sumner Armory still stands since its completed construction in 1894. Originally known as the 13th Regiment Armory, the National Guard built this massive structure as a training facility but it has since become a homeless shelter. The 23rd Regiment Armory (Bedford Armory) in Crown Heights and 14th Regiment Armory in Park Slope are equally impressive.

Learning Experiences

If you’re wishing to travel back in time to get a taste of what it was like to be a soldier helping to free France during WWII, you’ll have to sign up for The Armor Experience at The Museum of American Armor in Bethpage, NY. This fully immersive experience has you traveling in an armored vehicle in uniform probing enemy defenses in what was similar to the French countryside, complete with a celebratory sample of G.I. coffee. The museum offers an incredible display of exhibits ranging from armored vehicles to tanks and mobile machine gun batteries.

The Civil War Round Table of New York is a membership organization that meets every month in NYC to host dinners and talks where authors, experts, and historians speak on various aspects of the Civil War, including updates on historic preservation activity. Non-member guests are welcome to these “Dinner and a Speaker” events for a slightly costlier fee than that for members.

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