In northern Virginia, only a stone’s throw from our Nation’s Capitol stands a two-story white granite building with a 240-foot tilted stainless steel-clad steel pipe truss, soaring through a 160-foot glass skylight, rising to a single point in the sky, symbolic to the flag raising on Iwo Jima. This building is unique, just like the museum inside is unlike any other museum you’ve probably been to. It is more of a monument; a Monument to HONOR, COURAGE & COMMITMENT.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps celebrates its eleventh anniversary this month, opening its doors to the public in November of 2006. Since then it has seen over 500,000 visitors annually, although it is not scheduled to be fully completed until 2021. Already covering over 100,000 square feet of museum space, visitors can enter free of charge (donations are accepted to help fund the museum and expansions) and self-tour over 200 years of Marine history.
Recently we made our trek to the area in Virginia known as, Triangle, to spend time with our (Jason’s) sister Rachael and her husband, USMC Staff Sergeant Brad Houser. This area of Virginia is rich with American History and several National Park Units. Civil War enthusiasts would be in their “candy store” in this area of the state, as it is full of battleground sites such as The Battle of the Wilderness, Battle of Fredericksburg, The Battle of Sportsylvania Courthouse, and Battle of Chancellorsville. Each of these locations share stories of grief, bravery and freedom just like the story we bring you this week. Some call them “Jarhead”, some call them “Leathernecks”. Others have called them “Devil Dogs”, but most know them as, “The Few. The Proud. The Marines.”.
We recommend when visiting the museum that you either visit with a Marine (if you are one of those Americans blessed to have one in your family), or ask one of the volunteers to help you with your way around. There were so many exhibits and artifacts we would have been lost without our own Marine to guide us (thanks again Brad & Rachael!). When first entering the imposing facility, you will see the three-sided, 160 glass and steel atrium that houses planes, helicopters, tanks and other large exhibits of the air as well as ground and sea capabilities of the Marine Corps. From this main entrance, the first thing you want to visit is the Legacy Walk. This interactive walk serves as the main pathway through the museum and connects the various era galleries. Here one starts their journey to becoming a Marine.
“From this day on, they will be known as Marines,” every young man who enters the 12 weeks of boot camp wait for graduation day to hear this line. The first gallery you will visit is called “Making Marines”. Here you will find out what it is like to hear a drill instructor, up close and loud. See and hear what it takes to leave life behind for 12 weeks as you go through what is known as the transformation. This transformation or change, Marines often Now that you know what it takes to become a Marine, you need to know how and where the Marines started. The American Revolution gallery will take you through the first century of the Marine Corps. You’ll start out at a tavern in Philadelphia on the night of November 10th 1775, where the members of the Continental Congress created the Marine Corps, forward through history to the War of 1812, the American Civil War, and the Mexican War. You’ll also learn how the Marines combated pirates and slave traders on the high seas.
Next, you’ll find yourself in the Global Expeditionary Force gallery where “First to Fight” follows the Marines across the Pacific and into the far east following American interest. Weapons from this period are well represented to include knives and swords, rifles, machine guns, and hand guns. Here you will also see and hear what is referred to as “The Presidents Own” or the USMC Band.
The next two galleries cover World War I and World War II. From the start of WWI in 1917 to end of WWII in 1945 these galleries will have you speechless. The tales of horror and loss were around every corner, as were those of victory and celebration. In these galleries, you will find artifacts ranging from tanks and artillery pieces to aircraft, small arms, and the everyday items that Marines used. Exhibits highlight war time innovation in tactics, equipment, special units, Women Marines, racial integration, the Code Talkers, and Navy corpsmen. Here in the WWII gallery, we found the one artifact, the one item that made us stand still. This item we have heard about and seen in pictures in book, magazines and movies all through school and growing up, but never did we think we would see the real thing, in real life. In one immersive display, you are briefed on the assault landing on the island of Iwo Jima and the perilous trip to the beach. As you hear the waves and gunfire, spread proudly before you rest the American flag, the same one which was raised on Iwo Jima and photographed by Associated Press photographer Joe Rosenthal. If you don’t stop to read, listen and respect anything else in the museum, this flag will stop you and make you understand the sacrifices of the men and women of the USMC.
After leaving the World War galleries, you will find yourself in the Korean War and Vietnam galleries. Both wars introduced new ways of fighting as well as new equipment, firearms, and sophisticated aircraft. The Marines in these displays showcase the newest technology used in war and what helped America stop WWIII from happening. This gallery brings to life horrific scenes of close combat and small moments of compassion on the field of battle at such places as Howard’s Hill, Marble Mountain, Quang Nam, Khe Sanh, and Dong Ha. Wall murals and dioramas deliver stories about combat operations, significant contributions to the war, individual Marines, special units, morale, and air support.
The final phase of the museum is scheduled to open in 2018 and is called, “Historical Galleries”. So, if you visit soon, you will need to go back to view the new additions. We hope you see why we say this building is more than just a museum. The beautiful structure serves as a lasting tribute to the proud Marines who’ve served in the past, those currently putting their lives on the line for our great country, and all those who will be called to join the Marine Corps in the future. Semper Fidelis….