Tag Archives: World War II

Top 10 World War II Sites in the 62 National Parks

The official end of World War II occurred on September 2, 1945 on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri (now docked at Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawai‘i).  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this event we previously assembled our Top 10 National Park Service (NPS) units dedicated to the war.  This list ranks the best sites within our 62 National Parks.  Click here to see all our Top 10 lists, including our favorite WWII books and films.

For more information on visiting all 62 National Parks, check out our travel guidebook, A Park to Yourself: Finding Adventure in America’s National Parks (available on Amazon).

10. Yosemite National Park (California)

The “U.S. Naval Convalescent Hospital Yosemite National Park, California” opened in 1943.

9. Carlsbad Caverns National Park (New Mexico)

Soldiers were sent to recreate at the caverns from Hobbs Air Field, located 100 miles away.

8. Olympic National Park (Washington)

Two of the park’s coast guard and aircraft warning stations still exist.

7. White Sands National Park (New Mexico)

In 1942, the U.S. military established a weapons testing range in the Tularosa Basin that still functions today.

6. Denali National Park and Preserve (Alaska)

Denali’s rugged terrain was a great place to test soldiers and equipment.

5. Redwood National Park (California)

The Klamath River Radar Station B-71 is a rare early-warning radar station.

4. Haleakalā National Park (Hawai‘i)

The numerous antennas atop Red Hill led locals to dub this WWII radar station “Haleakalā National Forest.”

3. Acadia National Park (Maine)

The park’s Big Moose Island was home to a U.S. Navy radio station during WWII.

2. National Park of American Samoa (American Samoa)

These islands hosted soldiers and provided essential communications operations in the Pacific.

…and finally, our #1 National Park dedicated to World War II:

1. Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

The 10th Mountain Division tested their mountaineering skills and equipment at Mt. Rainier.

Honorable Mention

Hawai‘i Volcanoes National Park (Hawai‘i)

After Pearl Harbor, this federal land on the largest of the Hawaiian Islands held several military installations.

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Top 10 World War II National Park Sites

The official end of World War II occurred on September 2, 1945 on the deck of the battleship USS Missouri (now docked at Pearl Harbor National Memorial in Hawai‘i).  To celebrate the 75th anniversary of this event we have assembled our Top 10 National Park Service (NPS) units dedicated to the war.  There are more than you might think for a war fought predominantly overseas (including sites in our 62 National Parks, which we will rank in a separate list).  Click here to see all our Top 10 lists, including our favorite WWII books and films.

10. World War II Memorial (District of Columbia)

This large memorial on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. opened in 2004.

9. Gateway National Recreation Area (New York-New Jersey)

Fort Hancock and Floyd Bennett Air Field were busy places during WWII.

8. American Memorial Park (Northern Marianas Islands)

This 133-acre park honors the 5,204 soldiers and civilians who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign.

7. Fort Sumter National Monument (South Carolina)

Coastal fortifications from the 1940s are well-maintained on the Charleston Harbor islands.

6. Manhattan Project National Historical Park (New Mexico-Tennessee-Washington)

The Manhattan Project raced humanity into the atomic age and helped end the war.

5. War in the Pacific National Historical Park (Guam)

The battlefields on Guam represent the many sacrifices made while “island hopping” across the Pacific Theater.

4. Manzanar National Historic Site (California)

The shameful internment of thousands of Japanese Americans is remembered here and also at Idaho’s Minidoka National Historic Site (under development).

3. Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site (Alabama)

Racism in the military and American society is directly addressed at this excellent interpretive site.

2. Pearl Harbor National Memorial (Hawai‘i)

Take the ferry to the emotional USS Arizona Memorial and step aboard the battleship USS Missouri.

…and finally our #1 NPS site dedicated to World War II:

1. Rosie the Riveter/WWII Homefront National Historical Park (California)

An excellent museum interprets the work done by women and minorities to supply the war effort.

Honorable Mentions

Lewis and Clark National Historical Park (Oregon-Washington)

Multiple WWII coastal fortifications are preserved in this park, as well as at Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve in Washington.

Aleutian WWII National Historic Site (Alaska)

An affiliated site on the remote island of Unalaska interprets the fighting that took place in Alaska.

Port Chicago Naval Magazine National Monument (California)

Prior security clearance is required before visiting this site where 320 men died in a 1944 accident; for more local WWII history visit San Francisco Maritime National Historical Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area.

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Top 10 World War II Films

The end of World War II occurred with the unofficial surrender of Japan 75 years ago on August 14, 1945.  To celebrate this anniversary we are listing the best movies set during World War II.  More than any other conflict in history, this war inspired the creation of countless films, many based on books we listed in our previous Top 10 lists.  The overwhelming numbers made it very difficult to narrow down our list, which could have easily included 30+ entries (including Academy Award-winning Life Is Beautiful-1997, The English Patient-1996, and Schindler’s List-1993.  These choices are simply our preferences and we would be interested to read your comments on your favorite films.

10. Red Tails (2012)

This was not the best written script, but it does show great dogfights and honors the Tuskegee Airmen.

9. Dunkirk (2017)

Three storylines of different duration are blended in this visually stunning tale of the evacuation of British soldiers from France in 1940.

8. The Imitation Game (2014)

The secret work of Alan Turing in decoding German messages was essential to the outcome of the war.

7. Pearl Harbor (2001)

This very long movie was uneven, but had impressive visuals of the December 7, 1941 surprise attack and subsequent Doolittle Raid.

6. Flags of Our Fathers ()

This gripping story of the attack on Iwo Jima was directed by Clint Eastwood in conjunction with Letters from Iwo Jima.

5. Saving Private Ryan (1998)

This film is worth including simply for its excellent depiction of the D-Day landings.

4. Enemy at the Gates (2001)

Set during the Siege of Stalingrad, it tells the story of an interesting cat and mouse game between opposing snipers.

3. The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957)

A long, slow, and brilliant film about POWs constructing a bridge for their Japanese captors.

2. Hacksaw Ridge (2016)

Not all heroes carried guns, as this real-life medic on Okinawa proved.

1. Unbroken (2014)

This biopic recounts the unbelievable struggles of Olympian and soldier Louie Zamperini.

Honorable Mentions

Band of Brothers (2001)

This HBO mini-series was based on the true stories of the men of Easy Company, 101st Airborne.

Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

Entirely fictional and extremely entertaining, this is a modern reimagining of a 1940s comic book hero.

Snow Falling on Cedars (1999)

The internment of Japanese-Americans was a dark spot in American history (and is remembered at two National Park Service sites).

Fort Sumter National Monument

Overview

Located at the entrance to the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina, a group of defensive forts have gone through many permutations since the 1770s.  The most famous, the five-sided Fort Sumter was still unfinished (after 30 years of construction) when South Carolina became the first state to secede from the United States on December 20, 1860.  This led Major Robert Anderson to flee Fort Moultrie with 85 Union troops for Fort Sumter, which Confederates fired at on April 12, 1861, marking the first shot of the Civil War.  Fort Sumter is only accessible by ferry, but you can drive a car to the National Park Service (NPS) museum at Fort Moultrie, commemorated on the U.S. quarter-dollar coin minted in 2016.

Highlights

Museum, Fort Moultrie, Fort Sumter, wildlife

Must-Do Activity

Fort Sumter was built upon a sandbar in Charleston Harbor, raised and leveled with 70,000 tons of granite brought down from New England.  A toll ferry takes visitors to the island from downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.   Dolphins, pelicans, and shore birds are commonly spotted on the 40-minute ferry ride to Fort Sumter.  Destroyed by the end of the Civil War, the fort today looks nothing like it did back then, having gone through multiple upgrades before it was deactivated in 1947.  At the site, the NPS displays cannons representing each era alongside interpretive signs.

Best Trail

A walk through Fort Moultrie explains its 170 years of military use before it became part of Fort Sumter National Monument in 1948.  Constructed on Sullivan’s Island in South Carolina, Fort Moultrie was not yet finished when a British attack was repelled on June 28, 1776 at the beginning of the Revolutionary War.  After being destroyed during the Civil War, it saw new life during World War I with the placement of disappearing rifles and World War II with anti-aircraft guns. 

Instagram-worthy Photo

Major Robert Anderson surrendered and lowered the U.S. flag on April 14, 1861, though there were no casualties during the bombardment.  After rifled cannons had reduced the fort’s walls to rubble, Major Anderson raised the exact same flag above Fort Sumter four years later to-the-date near the end of the Civil War. 

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fosu/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person to visit Fort Moultrie (or America the Beautiful pass); charge for passenger ferry to Fort Sumter but no NPS fee

Road Conditions

Free parking at Fort Moultrie, but pay parking for the ferry from Liberty Square in downtown Charleston or Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum.

Camping

None

Related Sites

Fort Pulaski National Monument (Georgia)

Charles Pinckney National Historic Site (South Carolina)

Congaree National Park (South Carolina)

Explore More – Who was the famous Native American chief who died of scarlet fever as a prisoner at Fort Moutlrie in 1838?

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Fort Vancouver National Historic Site

Overview

Across the Columbia River from Portland, Oregon stands the palisade of Fort Vancouver National Historical Park.  From 1825 to 1860 it served as the Hudson’s Bay Company’s western headquarters, even after the U.S. took control of the territory from Great Britain in 1846.  Within walking distance, the National Park Service (NPS) also manages the free Pearson Air Museum at an active airport surrounded by the Vancouver National Historic Reserve.  A separate unit of the park, the McLoughlin House (free) is found in downtown Oregon City and focuses on the area’s significance as the terminus for the Oregon Trail.

Highlights

Reconstructed fort, period garden, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House

Must-Do Activity

Today’s fort buildings are reconstructions, including the bakehouse, blacksmith shop, chief factor’s house, fur store, and bastion which are open to visitors with costumed reenactors inside happy to answer questions.

Best Trail

True to its past, Vancouver, Washington (not to be confused with the large city across the Canadian border) remains a major shipping center to this day.  Its waterfront is home to a sculpture honoring “Wendy the Welder” and the women who worked here during World War II.  Many structures are preserved in the surrounding Vancouver National Historic Reserve, including the Marshall House (tours for a fee). 

Instagram-worthy Photo

A garden designed to mimic one from 1845 is maintained just outside the fort’s palisade.

Peak Season

Summer

Hours

https://www.nps.gov/fova/planyourvisit/hours.htm

Fees

$10 per person (only to enter the fort itself) or America the Beautiful pass

Road Conditions

Access roads paved, but parking is a short walk from the fort.

Camping

Battleground Lake State Park has a campground 20 miles northwest of Vancouver, Washington.  There are many camping options across the Columbia River in Mount Hood National Forest.

Related Sites

Grand Portage National Monument (Minnesota)

Whitman Mission National Historic Site (Washington)

Mount Rainier National Park (Washington)

Explore More – Before it became a unit of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site in 2003, when was McLoughlin House named a National Historic Site in the “father of Oregon’s” honor (even though he was Canadian)?