The Marine Corps Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial is 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.
The Marine Corps Sunset Parade has been a summer tradition since 1956. (Friday evening parades at the Marine Corps Barracks have been going on even longer). Its backdrop is a photo cast in 100 tons of bronze, 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 sculpted by Felix DeWeldon. Six men–5 Marines and 1 Navy corpsman–each standing 32 feet high, are raising the flag that flies on a 78-foot bronze flagpole. At the Memorial’s base are etched the tribute Fleet Admiral Chester W. Nimitz paid to the Marines at Iwo Jima: “Uncommon valor was a common virtue.”
The Iwo Jima Memorial was dedicated on November 10, 1954–the Marine Corps’ 179th birthday–with President Dwight Eisenhower and Vice President Richard Nixon in attendance. Three of the men depicted in the statue were also there; seated beside them in the front row were the mothers of the three other men who had died in the battle. 7,000 people turned out for the ceremony.1
Marine Corps Drum and Bugle Corps
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.”
Silent Drill Platoon
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 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 is fading.
2016 Marine Corps Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial Schedule
The parade takes place on Tuesday evenings through the late-spring and summer.
As its name suggests, the Sunset Parade 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.
The schedule for the 2016 sunset parades has now been finalized. It is:
May 31: 7pm
June 7: 7pm
June 14: 7pm
June 21: 7pm
June 28: 7pm
July 5: 7pm
July 12: 7pm
July 19: 7pm
July 26: 7pm
Aug 2: 6:30pm
Aug 9: 6:30pm
Aug 16: 6:30pm
Aug 23: 6:30pm
Please note that the schedule can change. While I confirm it directly with the Marine Barracks at the beginning of the season, sometimes the schedule can change along the way. If you’re planning travel around the event I recommend checking with the Barracks directly. Please also note that the event is highly contingent on the weather. Evening thunderstorms are common in DC in the summer, and there aren’t any makeup parades for ones that are canceled.
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. Please note that the Friday night parades require tickets (the Tuesday night parades do not require tickets).
How to Get to the Iwo Jima Memorial
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 most of 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 in the Washington area in the summer, particularly in July and August, and there’s no safe cover if a storm rolls through. (Here are some tips from the National Weather Service if you do get caught outdoors during a lightning storm.)
The performance lasts about an hour and a quarter.
Tickets to the Sunset Parade
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.
More Photos of the Sunset Parade at the Iwo Jima Memorial
- Richard L. Lyons, “Marines Dedicate Iwo Jima Memorial,” Washington Post, 11 November 1954. ↩