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

From the Civil War to Beirut, a virtual tribute to those who’ve served.

Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Philadelphia Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

When Memorial Day was first celebrated in Philadelphia, at the Laurel Hill Cemetery in Fairmount Park, it was called “Decoration Day.” Originally created to honor the fallen from the U.S. Civil War, the day evolved into a tribute to all who lost their lives in service to the United States.

This year, many organizations are celebrating virtually because of the pandemic.

You can join in the online commemoration. Philadelphia has several structures honoring fallen soldiers who defended our freedom — here’s a look at eight of the city’s memorials dedicated to those who served.

Vietnam Veterans Memorial

Front and Spruce streets

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

After the national Vietnam War Veterans memorial was built in Washington D.C., a group of Philadelphia 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.

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

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

Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

The “Tenderloin Doughboy” statue in Madison Memorial Park remembers soldiers from the River Wards who served as WWI infantry troops  sent overseas to fight.

The plaza surrounding the statue was given a major upgrade in 2012, and then rededicated with a whole new look in 2018.

World War I Aero Memorial

20th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway

Flickr Creative Commons / rev_bri
Google Street View

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 Pennsylvania 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 from an obscure spot in West Fairmount Park to its prominent position in the middle of the Ben Franklin Parkway.

Civil War Soldiers and Sailors Memorial

20th Street and Ben Franklin Parkway

Wikimedia Commons
Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital

You’ve probably passed by these two massive marble pylons without even realizing what they were. Completed in 1927, they remember 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

Unfinished Smith Memorial Arch circa 1905

Unfinished Smith Memorial Arch circa 1905

Wikimedia Commons
Google Street View

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