Design a Battle Monument

Guiding Question:

How and why do we use art and architecture to commemorate wars, battles, and fallen heroes?


Students will learn about Gordon Chamberlain’s career as a glider pilot and Operation Varsity, the military action in which he perished. Students will then examine Chamberlain’s grave marker and several other art works at the Netherlands American Cemetery through visual images and text. After evaluating the style, purpose, and meaning of these art works, they will design their own memorial to commemorate Chamberlain and the soldiers who perished in the crossing of the Rhine. Art History students will have the ability to compare and contrast World War II war memorials with other historical war memorials.


Historical Context

Gordon Chamberlain, a San Diego State College student, joined the U.S. Army in 1943 and trained as a glider pilot. He participated in airborne operations in Normandy, southern France, Operation Market Garden, and the Battle of the Bulge. Chamberlain was killed during the largest airborne landings of the war, Operation Varsity. He and other soldiers who perished in the liberation of Holland and the crossing of the Rhine were buried in temporary locations in western Germany and the Netherlands.

After the war, the American Battle Monuments Commission built eight cemeteries in Europe to honor and inter the remains of their fallen soldiers. Chamberlain’s remains, along with those of over 8,000 other soldiers, were moved from their temporary resting places to the Netherlands American Cemetery. Like other AMBC cemeteries, the Netherlands American cemetery contains war memorials such as a wall of the missing, a reflection pool, sculptures, inscriptions, gravestones, maps, and buildings. The artwork at the cemeteries was meant to record the heroic actions of American servicemen as well as to commemorate the sacrifice of the service members and their families with beauty and dignity. Netherlands American Cemetery commemorates Gordon Chamberlain and others killed in Operation Varsity and other military actions to liberate the Netherlands from Nazi control.


At the conclusion of this lesson, students will be able to

  • Design a war memorial to commemorate the sacrifice of fallen soldiers in Operation Varsity;
  • Explain the rationale behind their design;
  • Explain the reasons humans use monuments to commemorate their war dead; and
  • Analyze the artwork at one cemetery that commemorates the sacrifice of one fallen hero.

Standards Connections

Connections to Common Core
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.1.A Come to discussions prepared, having read and researched material under study; explicitly draw on that preparation by referring to evidence from texts and other research on the topic or issue to stimulate a thoughtful, well-reasoned exchange of ideas.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.4 Present information, findings, and supporting evidence clearly, concisely, and logically such that listeners can follow the line of reasoning and the organization, development, substance, and style are appropriate to purpose, audience, and task.
CCSS.ELA-Literacy.SL.9-10.5 Make strategic use of digital media (e.g., textual, graphical, audio, visual, and interactive elements) in presentations to enhance understanding of findings, reasoning, and evidence and to add interest.

Connections to C3 Framework
D2.His.3.9-12 Use questions generated about individuals and groups to assess how the significance of their actions changes over time and is shaped by the historical context.
D2.His.7.9-12 Explain how the perspectives of people in the present shape interpretations of the past.
D2.Soc.9.9-12 Explain the role of social institutions in society.


Activity One: Art Historical Monuments (30 minutes)

  • Introduce the lesson using the guiding question, How and why do we use art and architecture to commemorate wars, battles, and fallen heroes?
    • Generate a brief discussion about why humans use art to commemorate war.
    • Encourage students to identify war memorials or battle monuments they have seen in their community, at battlefields, or in museums.
  • Distribute a copy of the Design a War Memorial Organizer to each student.
  • Have students analyze famous war memorials and battle monuments from several cultures and time periods. Using PowerPoint presentation slides, show students historical war memorials from different locations and time periods in history.
    • Students will answer questions about art historical monuments, and then decide on the “message” of the memorial.
    • Extension: If students have access to the Internet, they can research an art historical monument in greater depth.

Activity Two: Historical Context (30 minutes)

  • In groups of three, students will explore the military career of one fallen soldier, the function of military gliders during World War II, and the battle in which the soldier perished.
  • Using the Activity Two PowerPoint slides in conjunction with the A Glider Pilot in World War II handout, students will explore one aspect of World War II historical context:
    • Student one: Gordon C. Chamberlain: Glider Pilot
    • Student two: Gliders in World War II
    • Student three: Operation Varsity
  • Each student will read the handout and view the PowerPoint, then complete one aspect of the historical context on the Designing a War Memorial Organizer, sharing the information with other members of the group.
  • If time permits, students can conduct more in-depth research on gliders, pilots, and Operation Varsity.

Activity Three: War Memorials and Battle Monuments (30 minutes)

  • In groups, students will examine and discuss the war memorials in Netherlands American Cemetery by using the Netherlands American Cemetery Visitor’s Brochure or by viewing the PowerPoint slides. This can be a teacher-led or student-led activity, based on the needs of the students.
    • Students will identify and describe five war memorials at Netherlands American Cemetery.
  • Students will discuss each war memorial using the following questions:
    • Which population would especially relate to this particular war memorial?
    • Which war memorial would be especially meaningful to Gordon Chamberlain’s wife? His parents? His fellow soldiers? A student on a school trip?
    • What does each war memorial tell us about the people who created it?
    • What is meaningful about the materials or style?
    • What would this memorial mean to later generations of Americans, or later generations of Dutch citizens?
    • In one sentence, what does this war memorial say to you?
  • Teachers can assess each student’s contributions to the discussion section of the Design a War Memorial Rubric.

Assessment Materials

Design a War Memorial or Battle Monument

  • This activity can be done in class or as a homework assignment. Ideally, the activity would be done after students have had a chance to discuss and reflect on the guiding question and subsidiary questions and plan their design.
  • Students will use colored pencils and paper to design a war memorial to be installed at Netherlands American Cemetery in commemoration of the anniversary of Operation Varsity.
  • Students will write a rationale supporting their design to the American Battle Monuments Commission. This rationale should integrate information from Activity Two.
  • Students will present their drawings and rationale to their group.
    • The presentation should include analysis of monuments already present at Netherlands American Cemetery, integrating information from Activity Three.
  • Finally, students should revisit the guiding question, How and why do we use art and architecture to commemorate wars, battles, and fallen heroes?
    • Responses during discussion should include information presented during the earlier activities.
  • Teachers can assess the student’s design for a war memorial using the Visual Image Rubric and the student’s rationale for a war memorial using the Written Rationale Rubric.

Methods for Extension

  • Students can research another fallen service member buried in an ABMC cemetery.
    • Students can create a war memorial for the service member of his or her choice rather than for the soldier covered in the lesson.
    • Other ABMC cemeteries offer a brochure like the one about Netherlands American Cemetery, explaining monuments and memorials.
  • For Art History students can research a war memorial from another culture or time period.
    • Students can compare and contrast the artistic styles of other war memorials with the ABMC World War II war memorials from Netherlands American Cemetery.
    • Students can research the purpose of the other war memorials.
  • Famous battle monuments and war memorials for exploration could include:
    • the stele of Naram-Sin;
    • the plaque at Thermopylae commemorating the Spartan sacrifice;
    • the Arch of Titus;
    • India Gate (or All India) war memorial;
    • Battle of Iwo Jima sculpture;
    • Vietnam War Memorial;
    • Yakasuni Shrine; and
    • “Gattamelata” equestrian statue.
  • Students can read about the controversy surrounding the construction of the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • The American Battle Monuments Commission maintains U.S. military cemeteries overseas. These cemeteries are permanent memorials to the fallen, but it is important that students know the stories of those who rest here. To learn more about the stories of some of the men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice, visit the Understanding Sacrifice Interactive Map.


  • For younger learners, teachers or support staff can read the handouts aloud or can use only the PowerPoint slides and the design activity.
  • In Activity Three, teachers can divide the class into five groups and ask each group to describe one of the memorials in the Netherlands American Cemetery.


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Primary Sources

Secondary Sources