Before You Go
Contact the Indiana War Memorials Commission at (317) 232-7615 or visit online at
For information on the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial, call White River State Park, (317) 233-2434. A link to the memorial is on the park’s Web site ( under "park attractions."
The Indianapolis Convention and Visitors Association can provide information about all the city’s attractions. Call 1-800-958-INDY (800-958-4639) or click on

The Indiana War Memorial, created after World War I, towers more than 200 feet above War Memorial Plaza. /© John Boyer photo (above)

A visitor looks at names of Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. /Tom Reed photo (below)

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Patriotic pride in mid-america
Indianapolis remembers vets with a wealth of war memorials

Published: May/June 2003
By Tom Reed

The war on terrorism has rekindled patriotic fervor across the nation. In Indianapolis, with its extraordinary collection of memorials to the men and women who fought and died in America’s wars, patriotism is a visual component to downtown.

The city claims to be second only to Washington, D.C., in its number of war memorials. All are within walking distance of downtown hotels and attractions, and motorists have metered parking near most of the sites.

Start with the Civil War

Monument Circle, in the heart of the downtown business district, is a good place to start. The Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument has been an Indianapolis landmark since 1902, when it was dedicated as a memorial to the Civil War and Spanish-American War.

The Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum opened in October 1999 on the ground level of the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument. Nine video screens add a contemporary touch to the exhibits of Indiana’s role in the war. A glass-enclosed observation tower atop the monument offers a great view of downtown Indianapolis.

A memorial service on Monument Circle is a part of the “500 Festival” events, leading up to the Indianapolis 500 auto race. This year’s service will be held at 11 a.m. on May 23.
he $1 fee for the tower is the only charge you’ll encounter for any of the memorials in this article. The museum is open Wednesday–Sunday from 10 a.m.–6 p.m.

World War I inspires plaza

From Monument Circle, walk two blocks north on Meridian Street to the five-block Indiana War Memorial Plaza. The plaza, dominated by the 210-foot-high neoclassical Indiana World War Memorial Building, was created after World War I.

On the upper level is the Shrine Room, a dark and solemn place surrounded by huge blood-red columns. In the center, a 17-by-30-foot American flag hangs over the Altar of Consecration. High above, light filters in through dark blue stained glass windows.

Bill Sweeney, executive director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission, noted an upsurge of visitors in the immediate aftermath of 9/11.

“They would go to the Shrine Room and just sit and think. It became more of a place of meditation than a tourist attraction,” he said.

The museum on the lower level covers Hoosiers’ roles in all of America’s wars, up to and including the war on terror. Two exhibits–a renovated Vietnam War section and a new Cold War exhibit–are opening in May.

The building is open Wednesday–Sunday from 9 a.m.–6 p.m.

In the next block north are separate memorials to World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. Nearby are the American Legion Mall and the headquarters of the veterans’ organization with 2.8 million members. Visitors are welcome. Staff members will give tours of the building, which includes a museum. It’s open Monday–Friday from 8 a.m.–4 p.m.

World War II naval disaster

Five blocks away, on the Canal Walk at Walnut Street, is a memorial to the USS Indianapolis, the last large American combat ship lost in World War II.

The cruiser earned 10 battle stars in the Pacific, survived a kamikaze attack and delivered the atomic bomb that was later dropped on Hiroshima. That may have hastened the end of the war, but not soon enough for the Indianapolis.

Japanese torpedoes hit the ship on July 30, 1945. Of the 1,196 men aboard, about 900 were thrown into the water, but of those, only 316 survived after five days of shark attacks, starvation, thirst, exposure and wounds.

The granite monument has an image of the ship on one side and the names of the crew members on the other.

“Freedom is not free”

Continue walking south and then west on the Canal Walk and you’ll come to the Congressional Medal of Honor Memorial. The 27 curved blue-green glass walls are inscribed with the names of recipients of the 3,456 medals awarded since the Civil War.

“When you go to a national memorial and see your name on it, it makes you feel humble,” said Sammy Davis, whose bravery is also recognized in an exhibit in the World War Memorial Museum. Davis suffered extensive wounds in a 1967 battle, but continued firing artillery shells at the enemy and risked his own life to rescue three wounded comrades. The Hoosier native, who now lives in Flat Rock, Ill., is Indiana’s only surviving Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam War.

Stories recorded by recipients are played 24 hours a day on a sound system. Timothy Bates, who oversaw construction of the memorial and who serves on its board of directors, says the recipients didn’t want to talk about their own exploits, but gladly agreed to tell the stories of other heroes.

The memorial is located within the city’s new downtown showplace, White River State Park, which also includes the Indiana State Museum, the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art, the NCAA Hall of Champions, and the Indianapolis Zoo.

There’s no shortage of things to do in Indianapolis, but in this post 9/11 era, take time to visit the city’s rich store of war memorials. As Bates said, they serve as reminders that “freedom is not free.”

Other Midwestern cities honor war dead

Throughout the Midwest, many cities have erected great monuments and memorials to honor their native sons and daughters who served their country in the cause of freedom.

In downtown St. Louis, Soldiers’ Memorial Military Museum was built as a World War I memorial, but now honors the dead from all wars. The museum, which opened on Memorial Day in 1938, contains an assortment of military items including weapons, uniforms, souvenirs, photographs, and letters. The bulk of the exhibits are from World War I and II.

The cenotaph has the names of 1,075 St. Louisans who died in World War I. Across the street is the Court of Honor, dedicated to the 2,753 St. Louis residents killed in World War II. Monuments to veterans of the Korean and Vietnam Wars are on the ends of the landscaped area.

The Soldiers’ Memorial is the site of ceremonies on holidays, including Memorial Day and the 4th of July. The city-owned museum at 1315 Chestnut is open daily from 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, call (314) 622-4550.

The Liberty Memorial in downtown Kansas City opened on Nov. 11 (Armistice Day) 1926. Last year, the memorial was rededicated following a $90 million renovation. A monument to World War I veterans, the museum has one of the largest collections of artifacts, relics and archived materials pertaining to that war.

A 217-foot tower offers spectacular views of Kansas City.

Hours are from 10 a.m.–5 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday (closed on Monday). Admission is $4 for the museum, $2 for the tower, or $5 for a combination museum/tower ticket. Adults 65 and older receive $1 off admission. For more information call (816) 460-6802.

Illinois honors its Korean and Vietnam War veterans with memorials near Abraham Lincoln’s tomb in Springfield’s Oak Ridge Cemetery.

The centerpiece of the Korean War Memorial is a giant bronze bell featuring sculptures of men representing the four branches of the military. The names of the 1,748 Illinois residents killed in that conflict are inscribed in the monument’s granite base.

The Vietnam War left nearly 3,000 Illinoisans dead or missing. Their names are engraved in five black granite walls of the Illinois Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

Oak Ridge Cemetery is located at 1441 Monument Ave. in Springfield. Visiting hours are 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. from the first Sunday in April through the last Sunday in October, 7 a.m.–5 p.m. for the rest of the year. For more information, call (217) 782-2717.
Some information provided by AAA Midwest Traveler staff.

Tom Reed is a new contributor from North Olmsted, Ohio.

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