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5 Memorials in the U.S. That Will Move You to Tears
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June 5, 2019
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John Ferri
John is a writer and editor based in Tacoma, Washington. In addition to travel, he covers food, beer, wine, the arts and adventure sports, among other leisure lifestyle topics.
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These memorials and monuments work precisely because they capture moments of traumatic loss in ways that let us absorb and process them while honoring those lost. Most importantly, they cause us to remember these events and the individual lives a meaningful way. Here are five monuments you'll find the U.S. that will move you to tears.

Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum

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Illuminated glass blocks make up the bases of the weathered bronze and stone chairs. Glowing in the darkness of late evening and into the night, the 168 small structures are most arresting after sunset, each one standing in for a life lost on April 19, 1995. It was on that day that a truck-turned-fertilizer-bomb exploded directly next to the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building, in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. The blast tore through the building, killing and injuring workers, jurors and the public at the building.

The complex at the Oklahoma City National Memorial and Museum opened in phases, with the dedication of the memorial site itself coming in 1997, just two years following the tragedy. It wasn’t until April 19, 2000 — the fifth anniversary of the bombing — that the Outdoor Symbolic Memorial portion of the site was dedicated. The centerpiece of the 3.3-acre site is the collection of 168 bronze and stone chairs, each of which is etched with the name of one of the victims to honor them individually. In 2001, the museum element of the monument site was formally dedicated, offering visitors a deeper interpretive experience.

National Memorial for Peace and Justice, Montgomery, Alabama

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Deeply moving and challenging on a human and political level, this monument incites emotion, be it tears of sadness, rage, indignity — or all of the above. Completed just last year, the National Memorial for Peace and Justice offers a sobering reminder of America’s racial inequality. The interpretive museum and gallery complex’s focal feature is a collection of 800 weathered steel pillars, each of which dangles from a thick connecting cable to the gallery ceiling high above. The pillars symbolize lynchings that took place. Outside, another 800 of the same pillars await. They are meant to be transported to each of the counties where the lynchings occurred, an effort to broaden and deepen the impact of the memorial and its message across the country.

The memorial was founded by the Equal Justice Initiative, which collaborated on the project with artists including Kwame Akoto-Bamfo, Dana King and Hank Willis Thomas.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C.

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There is no large-scale statue of soldiers in action, no huge pedestal supporting a towering monument. Instead, the sheer, sublime subtlety of the long, low walls made of black granite make the Vietnam Veterans Memorial such a moving display.

Often referred to as a memorial “wall,” the monument is actually two, 246-foot-long structures. Designed as if they were deep, crooked scars or wounds gouged into the manicured lawn of the National Mall, the memorial was completed in 1982, and draws visitors in as they approach the angled walls full of names. Gleaming, polished granite glints brightly in the sunlight, revealing the names of the fallen etched into every square inch of the wall.

Pentagon Memorial, Arlington, Virginia

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Even as benches, mere places to sit and rest, the streamlined symbolism of the design and sheer number of them is arresting, directing attention immediately to the depth of loss. Located just southwest of the massive Pentagon complex in Arlington County, Virginia, the Pentagon Memorial is a sweeping, striking outdoor installation of art in memoriam.

The site is a tribute to the 184 people who lost their lives in the building and on American Airlines Flight 77, which struck the Pentagon under the direction of terrorists during the September 11, 2001, attacks. Set in a two-acre park near the point of impact, each of the 184 cantilevered “benches” balances placidly above a small pool of water. Each bench is inscribed with the name of a victim.

9/11 Memorial and Museum, New York

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Turning the hole in the ground left from the destruction of the buildings into a series of ponds and an inverted fountain that flows into the void, designers of New York’s 9/11 Memorial and Museum have provided maximum emotional impact. Dedicated on the tenth anniversary of the September 11 attacks that took down the buildings of the World Trade Center, the memorial includes twin reflecting pools that sit in the foundation footprints of the toppled towers. Surrounded by panels inscribed with victims’ names, the pools were the joint design of architect Michael Arad and landscape architect Peter Walker. In fitting tribute to lives lost, the memorial features the largest man-made waterfalls in North America. Meanwhile, the museum, too, hits an emotional chord, with artifacts, archives and personal narratives related to the tragedy.