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9 Top Military Museums and Memorials

Explore fascinating sites across the nation, from Pearl Harbor to Gettysburg

map of the united states showing locations of military museums

Getty Images

There’s no better place to study American history and honor the service of soldiers to their nation than at one of the many memorials and military museums that can be found in cities and states across the U.S. There are scores to be found — from Pearl Harbor to Boston — but these nine guides to key sites offer visitors thoughtful, moving portrayals of what are arguably some of America’s most wrenching, politically complex moments in our relatively short history.

The National World War II Museum - Higgins Landing

Rubens Alarcon/Alamy Stock Photo

1. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans

Relive the triumph and tragedies of the war — from the “date which will live in infamy” to victories in Europe and over Japan — at this expansive (and expanding) Big Easy museum.

U.S.S. Arizona Memorial in Pearl Harbor

RALF BROSKVAR / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

2. Hawaii’s Pearl Harbor National Memorial

Make the most of your visit to the site of the history-changing Dec. 7, 1941, attack that killed 1,177 sailors and Marines and spurred the U.S. to enter the Second World War.  

Members of the US Army's D Battery, First of the 129th Field Artillery unit, the same unit that President Harry S. Truman Commanded, fire a salute from their 75mm Howitzer during the centennial of the US entry into World War I at the National World War I

DAVE KAUP/GETTY IMAGES

3. The National WWI Museum and Memorial in Kansas City

Reflect on the triumphs and many tragedies of the Great War at this moving, must-visit Midwest museum.  

The U S S Yorktown aircraft carrier

EHRLIF/ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

4. Patriots Point Naval & Maritime Museum in Charleston

Climb aboard the enormous aircraft carrier USS Yorktown, a participant in more than 40 World War II battles, in Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, across the harbor from Charleston.

Robert Gould Shaw monument

RADHARC IMAGES / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

5. Civil War Heroes on Boston’s Black Heritage Trail

The bronze Robert Gould Shaw and Massachusetts 54th Regiment Civil War Memorial honoring African American soldiers is a stirring stop in a history-packed city.

USS Cairo at Vicksburg National Military Park

JOHN ELK III / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

USS Cairo

6. Vicksburg National Military Park

Take a long, deep dive into the Civil War at this massive Mississippi site where key battles helped change the course of America’s deadliest fight.

Gettysburg National Military Park

DENNIS COX / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

7. Gettysburg National Military Park

Follow AARP’s guide to Pennsylvania’s famous battlefields, where a major Union triumph changed the course of the Civil War.

Outside of the Museum of the American Revolution

ALEXANDRE TZIRIPOULOFF / ALAMY STOCK PHOTO

8. Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution

Learn how the colonists reached a breaking point, fought for independence and won the battle at one of Philly’s top destinations.

San Diego Air & Space Museum

Richard Cummins / Alamy Stock Photo

9. The San Diego Air & Space Museum Is a Bucket-List Stop for Aviation Buffs

See how American warplanes progressed from motorized kites to supercharged bombers with Rolls Royce engines at this Smithsonian-affiliated gem in beautiful Balboa Park in California.  


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Christina Ianzito is the travel and books editor for aarp.org and AARP The Magazine, and also edits and writes health, entertainment and other stories for aarp.org. She received a 2020 Lowell Thomas Award for travel writing. 

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