Based in D.C.
Home ] Travel Channel ] Washington Sidewalk ] USLaw ] DC Bar ] Books ] Stories ] Resume ]


Travel Channel
Washington Sidewalk
DC Bar

USS Barry        

Military maneuvers
Armed services make D.C. their base of operations


By Theodore Fischer, Sidewalk

Spend Armed Forces Day (it's May 15 but you knew that) in the District, where all four branches of the military and the Coast Guard report daily for active duty.


The Washington Navy Yard (top picture) is the Navy's oldest shore establishment and, in this its bicentennial year, a most hospitable spot. Located on the north bank of the Anacostia River just south of the Capitol Hill neighborhood, the Navy Yard invites the public to inspect its vintage buildings including the Commandant's Office where President Lincoln plotted Civil War maneuvers and tour several attractions.

Occupying a converted gun factory, the Navy Museum  displays wartime and peacetime items from the Revolutionary War through the Space Age. The craft in the Submarine Museum go as far back as 1870, and the Navy Art Gallery has everything from comic strips to patriotic oils. Landlubbers are also piped on board the USS Barry, a retired destroyer that served in the Korean and Vietnam wars.


The Marines are a branch of the Navy; consequently, the Marine Corps Historical Center is located in the Washington Navy Yard. The center displays the actual flag raised at Iwo Jima and other leatherneck treasures.

Head up Eighth Street to the Marine Barracks, where "March King" John Philip Sousa conducted the Marine Corps Band and its current counterparts perform regularly and for free. The barracks is also the site of the Friday Night Parade, a free concert and full-dress silent drill that's so popular, you have to make reservations three weeks in advance unless you show up at 8:15 p.m. (half an hour before the parade) and snag an unclaimed seat.


Fort Lesley J. McNair, site of a penitentiary where the Lincoln assassination conspirators were executed, occupies a gorgeous site at the convergence of the Potomac and Anacostia rivers. The brick buildings clustered around a central quadrangle (which doubles as a golf course) make the fort look like a college campus which it also is. The National War College headquarters (pictured) is in the imposing 1903 building designed by McKim, Mead and White, and the Inter-American Defense College occupies a newer edifice.

Visitors are welcome to dine at the genteel Fort McNair Officers Club assuming they can get past the sentries at the gate. Security procedures change with the times, and during the current Threatcom Alpha conditions ("general threat of possible terrorist activity against personnel"), unexpected visitors might be denied admittance. Recommended tactic: Call ahead to reconnoiter the situation.


Bolling Air Force Base, headquarters of the 11th Wing and Air Force operations in the capital region, occupies most of the east side of the Potomac (opposite Reagan National Airport) from the mouth of the Anacostia to D.C.'s southern boundary. An Air Force base without a runway it does have a landing pad for presidential and other helicopters Bolling is named after Col. Raynal C. Bolling, a pioneer flier and the first high-ranking U.S. casualty of World War I. While the base offers few attractions for visitors, it is headquarters for the U.S. Air Force Band ("America's Band") and adjuncts such as the Airmen of Note jazz band, Singing Sergeants and Strolling Singers, which are among the groups that perform free concerts at Anderson House, at DAR Constitution Hall and, during the summer, on the Mall.


Coast Guard Headquarters, including the offices of the commandant, vice commandant and chief, are located at Buzzard Point on the north bank of the Anacostia beside Fort McNair. There's not much to see at Coast Guard headquarters, but cross the river to see the Coast Guard Memorial atop a hill at the southern edge of Arlington National Cemetery. A pyramid bearing the names of crewmen lost when the cutters Seneca and Tampa were torpedoed during World War I is crowned with a bronze seagull that is landing under the Coast Guard motto Semper Paratus (Always Prepared).


Washington Navy Yard, 901 M St. S.E., (202) 433-2218
Marine Barracks, Eighth and I streets S.E., (202) 433-6060; parade reservations, (202) 433-6060
Fort Lesley J. McNair, Fourth and P streets S.W., (202) 545-6700
Bolling Air Force Base, South Capitol Street and MacDill Boulevard, (202) 545-6700; Air Force Band, (202) 767-4310; recorded concert line, (202) 767-5658
U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters, 2100 Second St. S.W., (202) 366-4400

Theodore Fischer, 1801 August Drive, Silver Spring, MD 20902, Tel: 301-593-9797, Fax: 301-593-9798, email: