Monuments help preserve our history and remind us of the sacrifices made by those who came before us. War memorials commemorate the men, women, and even animals who have seen the darkest parts of history, many of whom lost their lives. Here are six war memorials where there is unlikely to be a dry eye.
Hiroshima Peace Memorial, Hiroshima, Japan
Also known as the Genbaku Dome, this structure was one of the only ones left standing after an atomic bomb exploded in the city on August 6, 1945. Officials preserved the skeletal structure so it remains as it was immediately after the bombing. Now designated a UNESCO World Heritage site, the United Nations keeps the site as a symbol of "the tremendous destructive power which humankind can invent on the one hand; on the other hand, it also reminds us of the hope for world permanent peace." An inscription on the memorial reads:
Let all souls here rest in peace, for we shall not repeat the evil.
It's a powerful and heavy reminder of the terrible, deadly force created and unleashed upon our fellow humans. It's hard not to feel the enormity of the tragedy and hope that the destructive force is never used again.
Choeung Ek, Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Many visitors will know the area by its deadly nickname: The Killing Fields. Choeung Ek marks the location where the Khmer Rouge regime, led by Pol Pot, executed more than 17,000 men, women, and children. Tourism Cambodia notes that the killings took place between 1975 and 1978. Officials uncovered the mass graves in 1980.
Part of the memorial here includes 8,000 human skulls uncovered on site. Arranged by gender and age, the skulls sit on display in an area that opened in 1988. It's a painful visual reminder of the number of people brutally tortured and executed by the murderous regime.
Animals in War Memorial, London, England
It's not just men and women who lose their lives in war. Animals have a long history of serving in the military, and this memorial in London commemorates their sacrifices. The memorial's official website states it is "a moving tribute to all the animals that served, suffered, and died alongside the British, Commonwealth, and Allied forces in the wars and conflicts of the 20th Century." The animals honored by the memorial include horses, dogs, pigeons, cats, elephants, and many others.
Visitors have a tough time keeping tears from their eyes at this moving memorial. The monument includes two donkeys struggling with their packs up steps to a stone wall with carved depictions of animals in war. The innocent animals who gave their lives on behalf of the human race are tough to look at, but harder to ignore.
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, Arlington, Virginia, U.S.A.
No one knows who lies in the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. That's why this monument bears the inscription:
Here rests in honored glory an American soldier known but to God.
Interred on March 4, 1921, officials laid the soldier to rest in the tomb at Arlington National Cemetery. The memorial originally stood as a tribute to the unidentified soldiers who died in WWI. The unknown soldier represented all the men who lost their lives in the conflict but remained unidentified. Later, unknown soldiers from WWII and Korea were also selected for internment within the tomb.
It's difficult to imagine the thousands of men who remain "missing in action" and the bodies that are forever unidentified. Imagining the grief thousands of families felt when their loved ones never came home is enough to move any observer to tears.
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany
Set in the heart of Berlin, the memorial to the Jews murdered in Europe during WWII opened in 2005. Designed by American architect Peter Eisenman, his plans for the 19,000 square meter memorial resemble headstones in a cemetery. The 2711 blocks of concrete are set at varying heights and at different distances from each other. This gives the observer walking among them an uneasy feeling. Placing the slabs close together forces visitors to go through the memorial in a single file line. That leaves them on their own to observe the structures and take in their grim and solemn symbolism. Visit Berlin says that the memorial's "openness and abstractness give you space to confront the topic in your own personal way."
And confronting the topic is exactly what visitors will end up doing. It would be hard to walk among the tombstone-like structures and not consider the 6,000,000 Jewish deaths during the Holocaust. Visitors here will carry the weight of one of the worst atrocities in human history with them long after they leave.
Vietnam Veterans Memorial, Washington, D.C., U.S.A.
Conflicts in Vietnam started in 1955 and continued into the mid-1970s. During the war with the United States, more than 58,000 Americans died or went missing in action. And while it wasn't the nation's deadliest war, it's one that's still very much in the forefront of the minds of the men and women who lived through it. That's why the Vietnam Veterans Memorial tops this list of war monuments that will move you to tears.
In an article published by U.S. News, memorial designer Maya Lin said, "I did not anticipate ... how many people would come over the years and how often they would visit and return to this place." More than 3,000,000 people visit the war memorial each year. Some come to remember their lost loved ones while others are there to pay their respects to those who paid the ultimate price. Every day, you'll find people stretched along the memorial's wall making an etching of their loved one's name sandblasted into the stone.
People around the world know the sight of the wall of reflective black stone. It became a touching tribute and place of remembrance for both those who fought and came home and those family members left behind. The two-acre war memorial also includes two bronze statues. One is dedicated to the women who served in the war. The other depicts three soldiers turned to face the wall and gaze on the names of their fallen comrades.
While all the war memorials on this list leave a lasting mark, there is something especially touching about the 360-foot wall. Maybe it's the individual names written there, the reflection of visitors in the stone, or that the events are still within living memory for many who gather there. Whatever it is, this is one memorial that's sure to bring tears to your eyes.