Thousands of Washingtonians walk along Pennsylvania Avenue halfway between the White House and Capitol every day and probably only rarely give a second thought to their freedom in a troubled world. But there, at the United States Navy Memorial, stands the Lone Sailor, a symbol of our naval protectors through wars and peacetime. He’s a bit bigger than life-sized, the collar of his heavy pea coat turned up against the wind as he peers out to his future, his rucksack of personal belongings sitting at his left next to a rope mooring on the dock, waiting to board a warship for patrols and battles to come.
The Lone Sailor peers out over a concrete plaza with a map of the world’s countries and the oceans patrolled by members of the U.S. Sea Service, past, present and future.
Among Washington, DC, monuments, the war memorials and those saluting the armed forces are ones for quiet contemplation, and so it is at the Navy Memorial. Walk along the fountains just off Pennsylvania Avenue and stop and think about the American naval forces and their numerous roles, many of them captured in 26 bas relief panels that form a semi-circle around the front of the plaza.
There are Navy astronauts recovering their colleagues as they landed in the ocean after successfully completing space missions. There are oceanographers exploring the mysteries of the seas, the Coast Guard rescuing the stranded, the Marines winning prominent battles in far-flung fronts, the Navy opening Japan for commerce in 1854, Navy medical personnel caring for the battle wounded, the chaplains offering the quiet of a spiritual moment and many more chapters of naval history.
There’s more inside the Naval Heritage Center at the rear of the plaza, a museum of naval activity through the years, with interactive exhibits, a theater that screens Navy-related and nautical films each day, a library with printed, audio and video historical documents of the Navy and a Navy log room where visitors can search online for the whereabouts of current and veteran members of the Sea Service. A small naval-themed store offers souvenirs and mementoes a cut above some such Washington area tourist stops.
In short, the Navy Memorial stop in visiting Washington DC offers a moment to reflect on what it means to be a sailor and to contemplate how the Navy and its many units have protected Americans for more than two centuries. It is a time to read and think about the first verse of the Navy Hymn of 1860 etched in the steps at the rear of the plaza. One can imagine the Lone Sailor doing just that as he heads off to oceans and battles unknown.
“Eternal Father, strong to save,
Whose arm hath bound the restless wave,
Who bid’st the mighty Ocean deep
Its own appointed limits keep;
O hear us when we cry to thee,
for those in peril on the sea.”
Stand next to the Lone Sailor and gaze out over the world map embedded in the plaza and imagine yourself as a young sailor on her first mission. Visit the adjacent Naval Heritage Center and capture the essence of U.S. naval history through the ages.
U.S. Navy Memorial
Hours: Memorial open all day daily. The Naval Heritage Center is open throughout the week from 9:30 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Closed Thanksgiving, Christmas Day, and New Year’s Day.
Parking: Although the Navy Memorial doesn’t have its own parking garage, there are some parking garages within a few blocks of the memorial. Prices vary by lot.
Metrorail: Green and Yellow Line stop for Archives-Navy Memorial-Penn Quarter.
Old Town Trolley Tours