The Marine Corps Sunset Parades at the Iwo Jima Memorial are one of Washington’s many wonderful free events during the summer and well worth doing. It’s a great opportunity to see a world-class military ceremony and to show support for men and women in uniform.
Since September 1956, the Marine Corps Sunset Parade has been held every Tuesday during the summer against what is claimed to be the world’s largest bronze statue, the Iwo Jima Memorial (formally known as the Marine Corps War Memorial) next to Arlington National Cemetery. The statue itself is a photo cast in bronze, being based on the famous and controversial photo Raising the Flag on Iwo Jima by AP photographer Joe Rosenthal of the flag raising on Mount Suribachi, and its six figures each stand 32 feet high. As its name implies, the ceremony starts in daylight and ends in twilight or, later in the season, in dark. If the clouds are aligned in the right way, part way through the ceremony the setting sun basks the statue in golden light just before disappearing below the horizon.
More traditional than the high school and college drumline marching bands that have come into vogue in recent decades, and resplendent in bright red dress uniforms, the Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps leads off with a medley of various military standards and crowd-pleasing, family-friendly popular songs. The Corps has been historically known as the “Commandant’s Own” to distinguish it from the separate “President’s Own.”
The musical portion is followed by the stark and impressive silence of the Silent Drill Platoon, a 24-man precision exhibition drill team working with 10-pound M1 rifles tipped with fixed bayonets. Working without any audible cues, the Platoon strikes works through a routine of formations and maneuvers that often involve bayonets flying through the air. It’s impressive stuff–all the more so since they’re doing it as the light’s fading.
2014 Marine Corps Sunset Parade Schedule
The sunset parade takes place on Tuesday evenings through the late-spring and summer, typically starting just after Memorial Day and running through mid-August. The 2014 has not yet been announced but I’ll post here when it is.
Most of the Sunset Parades start at 7pm, with the ones in August starting at 6pm to factor in the earlier sunset as the summer winds up.
If Tuesday evenings don’t work for you, there’s also a Friday night parade at the Marine Corps Barracks Washington at 8th and I . You can find more information here.
Getting Here & Logistics
The parking spots within the grounds of the memorial itself are off-limits to the public on ceremony evenings, although there is some parking on the street in the neighborhood around the Iwo Jima Memorial, but you’d best get there well before the parade to get a parking spot. A better bet is to park at the Arlington National Cemetery (for a small fee) and ride the free shuttle bus from the Visitors’ Center to the Iwo Jima Memorial. The nearest Metro stations are either the Rosslyn stop on the Blue/Orange line or Arlington National Cemetery stop on the Blue line. It’s about 10 minute walk from both–the walk from and through Arlington National Cemetery is more scenic (or you can ride the shuttle bus). (Tip: The Washington Metro Trip Planner is very handy if you’re not familiar with the area’s metro lines.)
There are some seats, but they are set aside for invited guests of the parade reviewing officials. A much better bet–and more fun–is to take a picnic blanket (and picnic) or lawn chairs and choose a spot on the grass–there’s plenty of room. (If you do picnic, be prepared to take your trash out with you. The NPS has removed the trash cans from the park around the Iwo Jima Memorial.)
There’s little nearby cover for rain, although a grove of trees offers a little protection against light rain showers. But evening thunderstorms can be common, particularly in July and August, and there’s no safe cover if a storm rolls through.
The performance lasts about an hour.
No tickets or reservations are required. It’s free!
Information for Photographers
I have a page specifically on taking photos at the USMC Silent Drill Team and Sunset Parade.