I saw a headline the other day about top Memorial Day destinations. I clicked on it because I thought it would be a thoughtful list of patriotic type destinations that provided an opportunity to reflect on the importance of defending freedom and battles that shaped our nation. I was wrong.

It was a list of the top destinations based on where travelers were actively making plans to travel. That list is at the end of this article.

I decided to make my own list; a list that underscores the conflicts that shape our nation. This is a list of domestic destinations that are a part of the fabric of our history — a list of 10 destinations that were important in the history of our country and our battles to expand, preserve the country and defend ourselves in the world.

1. Boston — Freedom Trail, Bunker Hill, Constitution
For the struggle to create the United States, no destination has a better collection of sites than Boston. From Bunker Hill to Paul Revere’s House and from the Old North Church to the Constitution, this city provides an unparalleled panorama of the early days of America’s struggle to emerge and survive as a nation.

2. Washington, D.C. — The Nation’s Capital is packed with Memorial Day destinations. There are memorials for WWII, for the Vietnam War, for the Korean War and memorials for all of the services, including the Iwo Jima Memorial across the river in Arlington. This was the site chosen as the capital city by George Washington. He lived only a short way from the center of town at Mt. Vernon. The National Archives documents the most important papers that shaped our country and our form of government. The Museum of American History has a fascinating display of the wars that shaped our country. And, Arlington National Cemetery spreads as a silent reminder of the human costs of war and defending our way of life.

3. Gettysburg — One of the deadliest battles of the Civil War, this battlefield evokes the ferocity of battle and the balance between victory and defeat. The battlefield is the mark of the Confederacy’s northernmost incursion into Union territory and the bloodletting that took place here. Over 50,000 men were either killed, wounded or captured in exchange for their bravery in 3 days of fighting. Gettysburg can become a wonder of military maneuvers or a somber reminder of the massive loss of life.

4. Any of the service academies and VMI — West Point, The Naval Academy at Annapolis, The Air Force Academy in Colorado and Virginia Military Institute all have storied histories connected to the preservation of the nation and the sinews of the military officer corps. Each provides a lesson in the rigors of training required of those who choose the military as a lifestyle and the pageantry that accompanies that life.

5. Pearl Harbor — A solemn reminder of the surprise attack that brought the United States into World War II.

6. Yorktown/Williamsburg — Another Revolutionary War and early American destination that captures the life of colonial days and the final scene of the war of independence where British forces finally surrendered to the Continental Army.

7. Vicksburg — The site of the battle that ultimately broke the back of the Confederacy, destroying its ability to move supplies along the Mississippi River and across the southern rail networks.

8. The Alamo — We have all seen the movie or heard the stories of the band of Texans that stood firm against the might of Mexico’s army as the United States expanded westward. Though this was a battle that was lost, the battle cry that emerged by the heroism reported from this siege sparked the nation’s psyche.

9. Appomattox Courthouse — When wars end, they seem to peter out with a whimper. When General Robert E. Lee met Ulysses Grant to sign documents of surrender it was not because of some catastrophic battle, but because of lack of supplies and arms to carry on the battle. The remarkable peace signed by these two generals managed to weld the two warring factions of the country together and preserve the United States.

10. 9/11 Memorial Museum — just opened, this museum commemorates the greatest collection of civilian casualties ever suffered in an attack from a foreign power. In this case, a band of terrorists managed to bring down two giant monuments to America’s economic might and kill almost 3,000 people.

I can go on: Fort Sumter, Charleston, SC; scores of Civil War battlegrounds; Fort Ticonderoga, NY; Ft. Stanton, NM; New Orleans; Ft. McHenry, MD; Valley Forge, PA; all figured dramatically in our history and all were marked by citizen soldiers giving their life for their country.

I am sure that there are some destinations within driving distance of most Americans that can serve as a reminder of the struggles that formed our country and that have preserved our way of life. The destination doesn’t have to be a battlefield or a fort. It can be a cemetery or a monument to the fallen in the middle of a small town. Take a moment to visit those places, breathe in the air of freedom and thank those whose sacrifice made it possible.

Oh. Here is that list, from Travelocity, of the top Memorial Day destinations.

Based on the online travel website’s booking data, here’s the full list of 2014 destinations:

1. New York City
2. South Florida, meaning Miami and Fort Lauderdale
3. Washington, D.C.
4. Los Angeles
5. Orlando
6. Chicago
7. Boston
8. San Francisco Bay Area
9. Seattle
10. Las Vegas

Photo by Howard Smith