Memorial Day in Philadelphia: 8 city landmarks that commemorate fallen heroes

From the Civil War to Beirut, where to remember those who’ve served.

Anna Orso / for billy penn

Ed note: This article was originally published in 2015 and has been updated. Reporter Anna Orso left Billy Penn in 2017.

When Memorial Day was first celebrated in Philadelphia, at the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fairmount Park, it was called “Decoration Day.” Designed to honor the fallen from the Civil War, the day evolved into a commemoration of all who lost their lives in service to this country.

Over the years, the holiday has become informally known as the kick-off to summer, but there’s always a somber undertone.

Philadelphia has several structures you can tour to honor and remember those who defended our freedom and cleared the way for our burger-grilling fun. Here’s eight of the city’s most impressive memorials.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Front and Spruce streets

Flickr Creative Commons / Richard Pasquale Ricciardi

After the national Vietnam War Veterans memorial was built in Washington D.C., a group of Philadelphian Vietnam Veterans launched a campaign in the spring of 1984 to honor the more than 600 local men killed in the war.

Over the next couple of years, nearly $1.2 million was raised toward construction, and it was dedicated in October 1987. Since then, other names have been added, for a total of 646.

Korean War Memorial

109 Spruce St.

Philadelphia Korean War Memorial

Philadelphia Korean War Memorial

Flickr Creative Commons / amdougherty

The Korean War Memorial in Philadelphia was dedicated in 2002 and remembers 610 soldiers hailing from Southeastern Pennsylvania who were killed in combat during the Korean War.

Each of the four granite-clad monoliths represent one year of the war.

Beirut Memorial

Near Front and Spruce streets

Philly Memorials

Dedicated in 1985, this memorial sculpture by artist Douglas Corsini comprises an Eagle atop a globe weighed down by an anchor.

It pays homage to the nine Philadelphia-area marines who lost their lives during the 1983 terrorist bombing in Beirut, Lebanon.

Doughboys World War I Memorial

2nd and Spring Garden streets


This structure remembers soldiers who served in WWI hailing from the Philly neighborhood once known as the Tenderloin, a notorious red-light district.

The plaza surrounding the statue was given a major upgrade in 2012, but over the years, maintenance has been spotty.

World War I Aero Memorial

20th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway

Flickr Creative Commons / rev_bri

Erected opposite the Franklin Institute in 1950, this bronze globe by artist Paul Manship pays tribute to the aviators who died in World War I.

The Aero Club of Pa. started fundraising in 1917, and it took until 1939 for construction on the six-foot “celestial sphere” to begin.

African American War Memorial

Logan Square

Wikimedia Commons

This tribute, dedicated in 1934, is officially called the All Wars Memorial to Colored Soldiers and Sailors.

It commemorates the African American soldiers killed in combat in various wars, from the American Revolution to World War I. In 1994 it was relocated to its prominent position from an obscure spot in West Fairmount Park.

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

20th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway

Google Street view / Mark Henninger

These two massive marble pylons, completed in 1927, remember the union soldiers from Pennsylvania who were killed in the Civil War.

The monument was intended to be a gate to what was once called the “Parkway Gardens.” It was relocated in the 1950s for the Vine Street Expressway construction.

Smith Memorial Arch

West Fairmount Park

Flickr Creative Commons / Jasen Miller

Wealthy Philadelphia Richard Smith donated half a million dollars for this monument to Pennsylvania’s Civil War heroes.

The vaulting colulmns designed by architect James Windrim were completed in 1912, and serve as a gateway to West Fairmount Park.

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History, Landmarks