By Quinn Myers
Published May 22, 2013
As the idea of a modern-day battlefield becomes more open to interpretation amid the use of drones and surgical strikes, this Memorial Day its important to appreciate the fact that the locations of battles past are still even recognizable. Preservation of these historic places varies from erecting thousands of monuments, to mere descriptive posts in a field. Here are five of the world’s most impressively preserved military sites.
1Monmouth Battlefield State Park – Monmouth, NJThe Patriot/AP Photo
Spanning 2,928 acres in the Freehold Township of New Jersey, Monmouth Battlefield State Park is one of the few remaining Revolutionary War battlefields in such good condition. The entire park preserves the eighteenth century landscape as it originally stood, with its orchards, fields, woods, and wetlands. Visitors can climb on a horse, carry an American flag, and talk about how great a leader George Washington is as they ride through the miles of preserved trails through the park, or watch the annual reenactment of the battle itself. Charge Combs Hill or hide away in the restored Revolutionary War farmhouse (the Craig House), while denouncing the redcoats and staring in awe at your fellow countryman’s “iPhone.” The park has been enduring some renovations since December 2011, but is due to reopen this spring, hopefully full of wax recreations of Mel Gibson in The Patriot.
2Pointe du Hoc – Normandy, FranceThe Allied invasion of Normandy/U.S. Coast Guard
Standing on 100ft tall cliffs and overlooking the sea, Pointe du Hoc was the point of attack by the United States Army Ranger Assault Group during Operation Overlord in WWII. The Allied victory saw American Rangers land on the beach in amphibious DUKW trucks fitted with rocket launchers, evade the unceasing rounds of German soldiers firing upon them, and scale the massive cliffs using rope ladders. Today, the battlefield has a memorial and museum dedicated entirely to the battle itself. The original German fortifications have been left in place, and the entire site leaves a number of bomb craters still intact. While many could claim to virtually visit this site (as the battle is portrayed in the video game Call of Duty 2), it’s much better to experience it in real life – you just can’t breath in the salty ocean air and gape in wonder at how our ancestors actually scaled the walls when you’re sitting alone in your basement, controller in hand, with the warming glow of the television on your face.
3Rabaul – East New Britain Province, Papua New GuineaAustralian War Memorial
During the Battle of Rabaul, the Japanese seized this crucial territory in the South Pacific in the middle of a massive aerial onslaught. Located on the island of New Britain in Papua New Guinea, it became the biggest, and most essential Japanese base in the South Pacific, as it was headquarters for both the Japanese Army and Navy – along with 100,000 Japanese troops. Then in 1944, as part of Operation Cartwheel, Allied troops strategically surrounded Rabaul and cut off all lines of communication, rendering the base powerless. This WWII site proves most impressive, not just for the reminder of the complete success of Allied tactics that led the Japanese to surrender the base in August 1945, but also for the impressively fortified base itself. Visitors can tour the tunnels, bunkers, and gun positions, and enjoy the fact that they’re in a historic army base in a tropical paradise of their own accord, rather than against their will and under heavy artillery fire.
4Antietam National Battlefield – Washington County, MDLibrary of Congress
The Battle of Antietam marked the end of Robert E. Lee’s first invasion of the North in 1862. 30 years later, the government had the foresight to preserve it as a national landmark. Located among the Appalachian foothills near the Potomac River, the area features a visitor center, national military cemetery, a field hospital museum, and the wonderfully preserved, legendary Burnsides’s Bridge, which played a key role in the Civil War battle. Purchase an audio tour at the visitor center and drive the 8.5 mile tour that features eleven stops along the way (more, if you have a weak bladder).
5Fort Douaumont – Verdun, FranceOffice de Tourisme de Verdun
Fort Douaumont, the largest and highest in a ring of 19 defensive forts protecting the city of Verdun since the 1890s, fell easily into German hands during WWI after the French deemed it ineffective against new German weaponry and left it undefended. However, that takeover (which only took three days) sent a shock through the French Army’s command structure, and led to a nine-month battle between 1,140,000 French soldiers and 1,250,000 German soldiers, leaving 698,000 killed in action. On October 24, 1916, the fort fell back into French control, and visitors can see it as it stood that very day. Although, to the naked eye, it sort of looks like somewhere Bilbo Baggins might live, tours lead through the three different levels of the fort and all the intricate tunneling, as well as the preserved guns, turrets, and other weaponry that prove it’s definitely not a hobbit hole.