With the recent commemorations for Memorial Day and D-Day, how we honor the men and women who gave their lives for freedom and liberty is a timely and important subject. One of the best places to honor these heroes in Virginia is the Virginia War Memorial in Richmond.
The Virginia War Memorial grew out of the desire to honor the nearly 10,000 men and women from Virginia who gave their lives during World War II. By the time the memorial was dedicated in 1956, Virginians who died in the Korean War were also added to the memorial. Today, the memorial honors over 12,000 Virginians killed in World War II, Korea, Vietnam, the Gulf Wars, and the war on terrorism.
The Virginia War Memorial is located in downtown Richmond, overlooking the James River. A recent renovation and expansion added more museum and meeting space to the memorial. It has reopened for guests and has many indoor and outdoor exhibits and memorials to see.
Begin your visit at the main entrance in the Robins Lobby, making sure to pick up a map and scavenger hunt for your children.
I recommend walking through the back doors to the walkway of honor. This path will lead you to the main part of the memorial, the Shrine of Memory, 20th Century.
Even young children will understand the reverence and solemnity of this memorial to Virginia’s service members killed in action. Memory is a 22-foot statue of a woman in grief with an eternal flame flickering below.
This pavilion overlooks a dramatic view of the James River.
My son was interested in finding our county on the wall and reading the names of the fallen. It made a huge impression on him. The amount of World War II casualties will take your breath away.
Walk back in through the closest doors (they were locked on our visit so you may have to go back to the Robins lobby). Walk through the museum galleries to see military uniforms from the Revolutionary War to Vietnam. My son loved looking at the changes in the uniforms and weapons over the years. It’s a great visual history lesson!
Enter the grand lobby and look at its many displays. My son loved the dioramas with toy soldiers!
We also were interested in the Pearl Harbor display, which contains a piece of the USS Arizona.
Don’t miss the portrait of the Galantis. He was a POW from Richmond during the Vietnam War and his wife was one of the “League of Wives” who lobbied the government to bring their husbands home (read one of my favorite books about her listed below!).
Go downstairs to the lower level exhibits where you can see a piece of the Pentagon from 9/11.
A movie runs continuously in the theater. During our visit, it was about Virginia’s Pearl Harbor veterans.
Make your way back upstairs and check out the changing exhibition gallery. During our visit, it contained images from war, dating back to the Civil War, all enhanced to be 3D. My son thought it was such a neat exhibit!
Don’t miss the upcoming Hill of Heroes where 12,000 American flags will be placed on the hill of the memorial in memory of the 12,000 Virginians who gave their lives in service. This event will run June 25 – July 9.
If you’re homeschooling or looking for children’s activities, check out the memorial’s extensive children’s programming page. With older children, you don’t want to miss the memorial’s upcoming event with my friend, author Karen A. Chase, about the Declaration of Independence.
The Virginia War Memorial is a great place to take your children to learn more about the wars in which America has participated and to honor the many men and women who gave their lives for our freedom. It really brings home the saying – freedom isn’t free.
- Cost: Free
- Recommended: all ages
- Tour time: 45 minutes – 1 hour
- Gift shop located onsite
- Transportation: Easily accessible from downtown Richmond, there is plenty of parking onsite.
- Dining options: Many food trucks tend to park near the American Civil War Museum, especially on the weekends. There are not many restaurants within walking distance so bring a picnic and eat by the James!
- Nearby hotels: See my Richmond guide for suggestions!
- Nearby attractions: American Civil War Museum, Richmond National Battlefield Park – Tredegar station, Brown’s Island, Belle Isle, and Hollywood Cemetery
Books to Recommend:
See my Bookshop.org shop for my recommendations for books about Virginia.
Two additional books I recommend specifically for the Virginia War Memorial are: