Around the World: Plan Ahead for Memorial Day in DC
Even if your home town stages a Memorial Day parade to honor the men and women who’ve served in the U.S. military, there’s no place like the nation’s capital and national cemetery to show your respect and celebrate Memorial Day, taking place this year on Monday, May 27.
In fact, for many, visiting Washington DC and Arlington National Cemetery on Memorial Day is a pilgrimage of patriotism.
It’s good to begin the tour with stops at the impressive memorial monuments dedicated to George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. These patriotic landmarks may not be integrated into \official Memorial Day observances, but the spirit of the day certainly calls for you to visit them and pay them your respects.
Another mandatory stop is Arlington National Cemetery which, in addition to being the location of several important Memorial Day ceremonies, will have flags placed on more than 250,000 graves over the Memorial Day weekend. It’s all tradition. The flags are deployed by soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment (The Old Guard), who are joined by members of the U.S. Marine Corps Ceremonial and Guard Company, U.S. Navy Ceremonial Guard, U.S. Air Force Honor Guard and the U.S. Coast Guard Ceremonial Honor Guard. The flags remain in place until the end of Memorial Day. And, on May 27, the Memorial Day Roses Foundation provides free roses to visitors who’ve come to pay their respects.
As for the actual Memorial celebrations, they begin during Memorial Day weekend, with celebrants arriving on Saturday and Sunday for private and public events.
Staged on Sunday, May 26, the annual Rolling Thunder Motorcycle Rally is a major event with thousands of motorcycles –usually 900,000 riders-- leaving from the North Pentagon parking lot and riding to the Reflecting Pool across from the Lincoln Memorial where, at 1:30 P.M., the gathering culminates with speakers and a musical tribute. The motorcycle rally calls for improved assistance and benefits for veterans and the resolution of ongoing MIA/POW issues.
Another Memorial Weekend Rolling Thunder tribute is on May 24, with the blessing of the bikes at 5:00 PM at Washington National Cathedral, followed by a candlelight vigil at 9:00 PM at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial,
There is an informal and ongoing Thunder Alley meet up on May 25 from 9:00 AM to 9:00 PM at 22nd and Constitution Ave. NW. You don’t need to be on a bike to drop by.
On May 27, the National Memorial Day Choral Festival presents a stirring concert in the afternoon at the Kennedy Center. The 300-voice choir is accompanied by the U.S. Airforce Orchestra, performing patriotic classics. Tickets are free of charge, but must be ordered in advance at https://memorialdaychoralfestival.org/tickets/
There’s another stirring free concert presented free of charge on the West Lawn of the U.S. Capitol. Sponsored by PBS, this year’s performance will feature the National Symphony Orchestra and guest artists, including Gary Sinise, Joe Mantegna and others. The concert takes place between 8-9:30 PM, but the gates open at 5 PM, and get there early because space is limited and demand is vast.
On Memorial Day, Monday, May 27, ceremonies begin at 9 A.M. at the World War II Memorial (Independence Avenue Southwest Washington, DC), with the laying of a wreath in honor of World War II veterans. Sponsored by the National Park Service and the Friends of the National World War II Memorial, the ceremony will be attended by many surviving World War II veterans.
Simultaneously, there is another wreath laying ceremony staged at the Air Force Memorial (One Air Force Memorial Drive, Arlington, VA) at 9 A.M., with an invocation, speeches, the national anthem and Taps.
Beginning at 10 A.M., there are several events set for the Navy Memorial (701 Pennsylvania Avenue NW). First, there is the Fleet Reserve Association Wreath laying. Then at 12 Noon, the U.S. Navy Band performs in concert. And, at 1 P.M., there is the Naval District of Washington wreath laying.
At 11 A.M., the most attended Memorial Day wreath laying ceremony takes place at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Arlington Cemetery. The ceremony is followed by a Memorial Day Concert. And, this is, of course, a good time to see Arlington Cemetery with its stunning flag decorations.
At the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Constitution Avenue and Henry Bacon Dr. NW), the wreath laying ceremony takes place at 1 P.M., with the Presentation of the Colors and speakers culminating in a Memorial Day Service at 2:00 PM.
Of course, the day’s biggest event is the National Memorial Day Parade, which has a huge column of participants including many marching bands and veterans units that have come to the nation’s capital from all 50 states. The parade begins at 2 P.M., starting from Constitution Avenue and 7th Street NW. It then moves along Constitution Avenue, past the White House, continues to 17th Street. Sponsored by the World War II Veterans Committee, the parade is exuberant, colorful and spectacular, with a stunning array of patriotic floats, a lot of flags and helium balloons in red, white and blue.
At 4 P.M., Memorial Day’s formal ceremonies draw to a close at the Women In Military Service for America Memorial, located at the gateway to Arlington National Cemetery. The event includes full formal military honors, wreath layings and a keynote address. But what makes this memorial so especially moving that members of the public are invited to express their personal tributes during the program, which culminates with the scattering of rose petals in memory of the departed.
Before leaving Washington DC and your Memorial Day adventure, you should visit President Lincoln’s Cottage (140 Rock Creek Church Road Northwest), which is actually on the grounds of the Soldiers’ Home, and next to the USSAH National Cemetery (predecessor to the Arlington National Cemetery), where you will see military graves dating back to the Civil War. On Memorial Day, wreath laying ceremonies take place at the Soldiers’ Home at 11:15 A.M., and at USSAH National Cemetery at 12:15 P.M. And President Lincoln’s Cottage is open from 10 A.M. to 3 P.M., with tours offered for $15 for adults and $5 for children. It’s best to make advance reservations for the tours by calling 202-829-0436.
If you can’t make a patriotic pilgrimage to Washington, DC for this year’s Memorial Day,
Consider putting it on your agenda for next year. Memorial Day is a well-established Washington DC tradition and the ceremonies and scheduling don’t change much from year to year.