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.
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
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.
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
• 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)
• 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)