The Best Museums to Learn About Veterans

veterans museums

America is celebrated in the National Anthem as “the land of the free and the home of the brave.” That’s made possible by the service members who take the Oath of Enlistment in the United States military to defend our Constitution “from all enemies foreign and domestic[1].” Those brave souls who ensure our freedoms deserve to be recognized, and over 100 years ago, that recognition was made official with the establishment of a remembrance day.

Veterans Day is observed on November 11 every year. It actually began in 1918 as Armistice Day, a way to celebrate the veterans of World War I. In 1938, it was made a legal holiday. In 1954, President Eisenhower signed the declaration that changed Armistice Day to Veterans Day, to recognize all who served in the military of the United States[2]. Today there are 19 million veterans in our country, representing all branches of the military[3].

One of the best ways to celebrate this day is to learn more about the military and those brave individuals who answered the call of duty. To that end, we’ve got a list of fantastic military museums that you can enjoy – and even if you can’t get out to the museum, many of these can be enjoyed virtually, from the comfort of your laptop.

Before You Go

As you plan your trip to a museum, consider how easy it will be to get around. Many museums offer fantastic accessibility to the public and many go well beyond the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Some might have scooters and wheelchairs on site, as well as Braille and hard-of-hearing options. You can usually find this information on their website on the FAQ section, the About Us section, or through a website search.

Keep in mind that while pandemic restrictions have eased – for instance, a mask might no longer be required – it’s still a very good idea to protect yourself when you are in a public place. That might mean wearing a mask and maintaining social distancing whenever possible. As Covid continues to ravage the country, many museums might change their policies on Covid protections. Be sure to check on the requirements the day of your visit.

Museums often involve a lot of walking. While most of this is indoors in a comfortable, climate-controlled room, some museums might offer the opportunity to explore outdoor exhibits and battlefields. A medical alert device can help you stay safe during your excursions. Though museum staff will often be there to assist you, there might be times when you are exploring an exhibit a bit off the beaten path or enjoying a room in the museum all by yourself. Having an on-the-go emergency response solution with a panic button you can press at any moment can give you the peace of mind you need to enjoy all the exhibits without worry.

Which museum will you visit? Let’s look at the list of potentials, starting with the one that many believe sets the standard for all others: The Smithsonian.

The Smithsonian – the National Museum of American History
Washington, DC

Known as the world’s largest museum, research, and education complex, The Smithsonian in Washington, DC offers numerous museums, including the National Museum of American History. Here you will find a wealth of information and artifacts, new and old, including firearms, uniforms, insignia, military vehicles, planes, and anything else you might imagine could be connected to military service. The Smithsonian has strong accessibility options in place for those who have mobility issues or problems with vision and hearing. Admission to the Smithsonian museums, online or in person, is always free.

Gettysburg National Military Park
Gettysburg, PA

This sprawling national park and museum honors the men who perished on the site in 1863, during one of the most desperate, bloody battles of the US Civil War. This is the place where the tide turned for the Union soldiers, but at a heavy price. A visit to Gettysburg can include a tour through the enormous museum as well as educational events. You can pay your respects at the battlefield or visit Gettysburg National Cemetery. Admission is free to those who are veterans, current service members, Reserve and National Guard members, and Gold Star Families. Great pains have been taken to allow for excellent accessibility here, as well as many virtual options for those who can’t get to Pennsylvania.

The National WWII Museum
New Orleans, LA

Known as the National D-Day Museum when it was founded in 2000, this museum focuses on what US service members experienced during the Second World War. This large museum features tanks, trucks, airplanes, and other vehicles used during the fight, as well as immersive exhibits that take you right into the middle of the action. This is a very active museum, offering book signings, lectures, pop up exhibits, and so much more. There are a variety of ticket options, including those to see the renowned film “Beyond All Boundaries,” which is narrated by Tom Hanks. If you’re a WWII veteran, you get in free.

National WWI Museum and Memorial
Kansas City, MO

The official museum dedicated to the First World War examines the war’s enduring impact around the globe. From showcasing the equipment and vehicles used during that time to immersing visitors in what it was like to live in the trenches for weeks on end, this museum offers many ways to learn. It also offers some welcome surprises, such as focusing on the roles of women of the time and a captivating Liberty Tower. Members get in free, and some days are free admission for veterans and active service members.

National Museum of the United States Army
Fort Belvoir, VA

Just outside of Washington DC, Fort Belvoir is home to this museum that opened in 2020. This museum honors all that served in the Army, past and present, and also takes a look into what the future of the Army might look like. Exhibits focus on those in the Army, Reserve, and National Guard. Learn about everything from the origins of the Army to overseas challenges to the change in technology from hand-to-hand combat to the use of drones and smart bombs. Admission to the museum is always free.

National Museum of the United States Air Force
Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, OH

Located near Dayton, Ohio, this is the oldest and largest military aviation museum in the world. Experience more than 360 aircraft and missiles as you walk through the exhibits, ranging from the earliest years of the Air Force to the newly created Space Force, which takes us into the future of military flight. Though there is a cost for the flight simulators and some other immersive exhibits, visiting the museum itself is always free. Those who can’t get to the museum can take a virtual tour of the entire space.

National Museum of the Marine Corps
Triangle, VA

Honoring over 240 years of Marine Corp service, this architectural marvel is free to visit. Designed to evoke the famous image of the flag being raised at Iwo Jima, this immersive museum aims to bring visitors into what it’s like to live as a Marine. The museum is an ongoing project, expected to be completed in 2025, but there are plenty of exhibits you can see right now. The virtual museum visits are a standout, providing those a world away the enjoyment of learning and exploring the museum.

The National Naval Aviation Museum
Pensacola, FL

Visiting this museum is currently restricted to only active military service members, veterans, and their families. Here you will find a record of the entire history of Naval aviation, including documents, artifacts, historic aircraft, flight simulators, and an immersive virtual flight deck, as well as the 4D experience of the Blue Angels. There are also many educational opportunities away from the museum that enhance the experience of learning about Naval flight. Admission is always free.

Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum
New York, NY

Known for the museum with the enormous ship, this educational complex begins on the USS Intrepid. Other features include the USS Growler submarine, and the Enterprise Space Shuttle.  There is an extensive collection of aircraft, a museum hall to explore, flight simulations, and many exhibits that change often. Take a virtual spin around the museum with the digital resources or listen to current lectures about various points of service on the sea, in the air, and in the great beyond of space.

USS Midway Museum
San Diego, CA

Honoring those who served on the USS Midway as well as Naval aviators and other military service members, this museum is home to more than 60 exhibits, many of which are explained by retired military personnel. Flight simulators and other immersive exhibits make this a must-see place, but a variety of virtual experiences bring the museum to those who can’t visit in person. Active duty military, law enforcement, and fire fighters get in free.

National Infantry Museum
Columbus, GA

This museum focuses on those who had boots on the ground – the brave individuals of the United States Infantry. Explore the armory, cavalry gallery, Ranger Hall of Honor, and the Last 100 Yards exhibit, which focuses on significant battles in the history of the military. There is also a moving memorial dedicated to the more than 7,000 service members who have lost their lives in the Global War on Terrorism. Admission is free though donations are always welcome.

Honoring Our Veterans

Simply learning about what our veterans did for America is a great way to honor them. Walking through a museum, either in person or virtually, can put you in touch with both the difficult and triumphant moments experienced by those who fought for our country.

If you have a veteran in your life, honor them as often as you can. This might be something quite simple, such as a “thank you” or a kind note on Veterans Day. It might be more elaborate, such as taking them to a museum exhibit with you and listening to their stories.

Consider their day-to-day experience as well. Many veterans of foreign wars are now elderly and often need assistance. Help them out where you can by making their home more accessible, putting fall prevention measures in place, and encouraging them to wear a medical alert pendant. You can also help them by providing warm meals and simple companionship. If there is a veteran you haven’t visited in a while, why not give them a call today?

Alert1 Medical Alert Systems thanks our Veterans for their courageous service and sacrifices!