Discovering the Military Sites of Northern Virginia — Exploring a Path Where Few Tread

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At the root of all military tourism, it is arguable, is the desire to understand better the life and times of those who serve.

History is recorded in facts and figures, but it is the individual stories of valor, loss and camaraderie that allow us to truly walk a mile in the boots of those who came before us. By inserting ourselves into the stories of those who were there, we can better understand defining moments of history.

Choosing to Serve —A Path Where Few Tread

Few in our nation choose to serve — half a percent of our country’s population at present. As the years go by, that number continues to decline. These days, it could be said, military service is a path “where few tread.”

Luckily, the understanding, passion, and desire to know the stories behind those who serve is not in decline; in fact, it is on the rise. And, for those willing to seek them out, never has there ever been such an abundance of information, resources and attractions to see and experience.

Experience a World Where Few Tread

Nearly 22 million visitors flocked to Washington, DC last year. Most came and saw the usual places — like the Capitol Building, the White House, and the Washington Monument. To be clear, these world-famous landmarks are spectacular and well worth a visit on their own.

But, there are other — lesser-known places beyond the District, that give us a brief window into the life and times of those who serve. Finding them requires you to explore beyond the traditional tourist sites and attractions.

One might say, to learn the stories of our military members — those who dare go where few tread — we, ourselves, must be willing to get off the beaten path and visit less-traveled places. Those of us willing to do so are rewarded with the opportunity to become better acquainted with the stories of our nation’s military.

Below is a practical guide, highlighting a few places for you to consider on your next trip to the Washington, DC area.

National Museum of the United States Army

The Museum of the Army is the newest attraction in Fairfax County. Set on 84 acres of the public grounds of Fort Belvoir, the museum traces the more than 240-year history of the Army using individual stories told through a series of chronological and thematic galleries that contain thousands of artifacts, documents and imagery — including photography, video and computer animation.

U.S. Air Force Memorial

Three metal spires of the U.S. Air Force Memorial rise more than 201 feet into the air, inspiring awe as they tower over visitors. The spires, meant to mimic ascending jet contrails, create the sleek and modern design of the memorial that has been called both a “masterpiece” and a “technical marvel.” As host to more than 350,000 visitors every year, the memorial is the site of more than 300 annual events including weddings, memorial services and other civilian and military ceremonies.

U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial

The U.S. Marine Corps War Memorial depicts, in sculpture form, the iconic 1945 photograph of six Marines raising the American flag at the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II. The six 32-foot high bronze figures work together to raise their 60-foot high flagpole. If you go, be sure to time your visit to coincide with the Marine Barracks weekly Sunset Parade, featuring the Drum and Bugle Corps and the Silent Drill Platoon at the memorial.

National Museum of the Marine Corps

With a solitary spire rising high into the air, the Museum of the Marine Corps is easy to spot from several miles away. The much talked about design pays tribute to the iconic raising of the flag at Iwo Jima — similar to the Marine Corps War Memorial. The Museum itself is home to a number of permanent galleries, examining life as a Marine.

Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center

Some have called it “the finest aeronautical collection in the world.” Tracing more than 100 years of American aviation history, the Udvar-Hazy Center features two sprawling hangars that each contain thousands of aviation and space artifacts. Highlights of the massive collection include the Enola Gay, the Gemini VII Space Capsule and the Space Shuttle Discovery.

The Winery at Bull Run

Adjacent to Manassas National Battlefield Park — the site of the first (1861) and second (1863) Civil War Battles of Bull Run, the winery provides visitors with the unique opportunity to sample world-class Virginia wines, while taking in the area’s pastoral surroundings and rich history. Hillwood Mansion, on the grounds of the winery, is where fighting first began in the first battle of Manassas.

Arlington National Cemetery

The one-time home of Confederate General Robert E. Lee had been converted to a national cemetery by the end of the Civil War. Today, Arlington National Cemetery is the final resting place of more than 400,000 individuals — including astronauts, presidents, and 396 Medal of Honor recipients. While there, be sure to see the changing of the guard at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

United States Navy Memorial

The memorial features towering masts, fountains, and a visitor center with interactive exhibits. Memorial Plaza — the site of ceremonies, memorials, and concerts — comprises the largest map in the world, known as the “Granite Sea.” On the map stands the Lone Sailor, an iconic statue, cast from the bronze remains of eight naval ships, that represents the Navy Memorial’s mission to “Honor, Recognize, and Celebrate the men and women of the Sea.”

George Washington’s Mount Vernon

Open year-round, tour the grounds of Washington’s historic home — nestled along the banks of the Potomac River. Guests learn all about the life of the country’s first president and his military career starting with the French and Indian War and through his service as commander of the Continental Army. Tip: Purple Heart recipients receive free daytime admission.

Pay tribute to the sacrifices of those who fought for the United States and continue to protect its way of life at some of Northern Virginia’s most prolific museums, historical sites, and memorials. No matter what branch of the armed forces, the soldiers, sailors, marines, and airmen of past and present continue to remind us through their service that the freedom we enjoy today is not free. It is paid for by those who dare to walk a path where few tread.

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