National Park Service Chief Historian Turkiya L. Lowe On Why It’s Important To Remember And Memorialize Veterans' Sacrifices
(Left) Turkiya L. Lowe, Ph.D, Chief Historian of the National Park Service
One is the Korean War Veterans Memorial, a unit in the National Mall and Memorial Parks. The memorial fights against the lack of public knowledge about a conflict that’s often called “America’s Forgotten War” and honors the nearly 2 million men and women who answered the call to defend a faraway country they never knew and a people they never met.
Every national park, and every memorial, is part of the collective identity that defines who we are and where we came from as a nation. They are tactile reminders of the values, the ideals, the freedoms that our veterans protect – even as we sometimes struggle as a nation to live up to them.
The Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Memorial is a poignant site that reminds us of both their dedication and our struggle. On the evening of July 17, 1944, San Francisco east bay residents were jolted awake by a massive explosion that cracked windows and lit up the night sky. At the site, 320 men were instantly killed when two ships being loaded with ammunition for the Pacific Theater troops blew up – our worst home-front disaster of World War II. Of those killed, 202 were African-American. The explosion and its aftermath became major catalysts for the United States Navy to desegregate following the war.
Our veterans have sacrificed time with their families, their bodies and their lives to courageously defend liberties we hold dear. Though the draft has been a part of our past, our servicemen and women overwhelmingly volunteer to serve their country – knowing they have committed to do so at, potentially, a great cost to themselves and their loved ones.
The Park Service preserves and protects many places that acknowledge and pay tribute to these sacrifices. The American Veterans Disabled for Life Memorial is one such place. Dedicated on Oct. 5, 2014, the memorial honors heroes who were disabled as a result of their service and is the first national memorial dedicated solely to disabled veterans.
National parks also promote remembrance and reflection for veterans, their families and the nation to grapple with what it means to live both during times of peace and conflict. They provide opportunities and resources for new generations to learn about and from the stories of veterans.
The National Prisoner of War Museum within Andersonville National Historic Site tells the story of POWs throughout U.S. history. The museum begins with an exhibit answering the question “what is a POW?” followed by exhibits exploring capture, living conditions, news and communications, escape and freedom. The Andersonville site also contains a national cemetery, one of the 14 currently under NPS stewardship.
Places such as these, and programs such as the Veterans History Project, help future generations understand the realities of war. Most importantly, they help us commemorate the service of our veterans, remind us of the values our veterans protect and honor their sacrifices.
Turkiya L. Lowe, Ph.D, is the chief historian of the National Park Service. Visit the Park Service’s Honoring America’s Veterans website at nps.gov/planyourvisit/militaryhonor.htm to learn more about specific parks and programs commemorating their courageous service and sacrifice.