Opportunities to honor the service and sacrifice of the nation’s armed forces are plentiful. Illinois and Indiana offer timeless places to pay tribute all year, and especially during the season of Thanksgiving.
One of the most unique veterans’ exhibits anywhere is the National Veterans Art Museum
in Chicago with its collection and exhibitions of art “inspired by combat and created by veterans.” When the museum opened in 1996, its mission was to present the work of Vietnam veterans; since 2003, the mission has expanded to encompass work by veterans of all wars. The collection comprises more than 2,000 works by 255 artists and includes paintings, photography and sculpture. The striking “Above and Beyond” memorial displays more than 58,000 dog tags engraved with the names of those killed in Vietnam, all hanging 24 feet overhead in a 10-foot by 40-foot moving sculpture that sounds like wind chimes. This is the first permanent memorial, outside of The Wall in Washington, DC to bear the names of all the war’s casualties. Get directions, hours and additional information at www.nvvam.org.
In the Illinois state capitol of Springfield, in the shadow of Lincoln’s Tomb, three war memorials pay tribute to the men and women who served during World War II, Korea and Vietnam. The WWII Illinois Veterans Memorial honors 987,000 from Illinois who served, 22,000 of whom died. Dedicated in 2004, the monument’s centerpiece is a 12-foot globe, representing the world in conflict, surrounded by an engraved granite wall, on which you’ll find the names and dates of important WWII battles. Throughout the plaza, personalized bricks commemorate individuals who served. Nearby, a “cenotaph” granite marker is dedicated to the 22,000 who died. Learn more about the memorial at www.ww2il.com.
Close by, in Oak Ridge Cemetery, the Korean War Memorial features a 12-foot bronze bell and statues of four warriors atop a granite base that bears the names of 1,748 Illinois veterans killed during the 1950’s conflict. The memorial was dedicated in 1996. Also at the cemetery, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial, dedicated in 1988, recognizes nearly 3,000 Illinois men and women who were killed or listed MIA during that war. Granite walls representing each branch of the military surround an eternal flame. Visit during the “Christmas Remembrance” observation the first Saturday in December. For information about these and also the Middle East Conflicts Memorial Wall, go to www2.illinois.gov/veterans/memorials/Pages/default.aspx.
In the heart of Indianapolis, Indiana, you’ll find one of the most magnificent memorials anywhere – the Indiana War Memorial Plaza Historic District. Encompassing a five-block area, the plaza includes two museums and numerous statues, sculptures and fountains on 24 acres. The centerpiece is a neoclassical building housing the Indiana War Memorial Museum – which boasts a collection of firearms, photos and artifacts and even a Korean War helicopter – and the Pershing Auditorium. Adjacent to the War Memorial building, the 284-foot limestone Soldiers and Sailors Monument has become an Indianapolis icon and is considered one of the foremost monuments in the world. On the north end of the plaza, a 100-foot obelisk fountain provides a stunning backdrop to outdoor community events of every sort. It all combines as a life-filled tribute to Indiana natives who have sacrificed greatly for their nation. Learn more about the memorial and plan your visit at www.in.gov/iwm.
As the year winds down, make time to reflect on the contributions of the men and women in the military. Illinois and Indiana boast proud military heritages that show at these very special locations.