National Museum of the Marine Corps

Traveling north on Interstate 95, around mile-marker 149, in Triangle, VA, an odd-looking structure looms above the trees. It resembles the steeple of a church, but the 210-foot-high spire actually evokes the image of the flag-raisers of Iwo Jima.

The different-looking structure houses the National Museum of the Marine Corps, opened to the public in November 2006, and boasting more than 1.5 million visitors as of October 2009.

The museum is on a 135-acre site off of US Highway 1 South, adjacent to Marine Corps Base Quantico. The structure, which will cover 200,000 square feet when completed, was paid for mainly by private donations and some help from public funds.

Legislation to authorize its construction was passed in September 2001. In September 2003 ground was broken, and construction started in April 2004. It was officially dedicated on November 10, 2006, the 231st birthday of the Marine Corps, and was open to the public on Nov. 13th.

The U.S. Marine Corps funded the design, exhibitions and start-up, and now provides overall management, operations and staffing. The Marine Corps Heritage Foundation funded the construction, and now manages revenue-generating activities and is an active partner and supporter of the museum.

The museum, a lasting tribute to all Marines, contributes to the recruitment, training, education and retention of Marines through its exhibitions and other public programs; preserves and exhibits the Marine Corps’ material history; and honors the commitment, accomplishments, and sacrifices of Marines past, present, and future. It also provides an understanding of what it takes to “make a Marine.”

When visitors walk into the museum, they are greeted by Marines at the front desk and a spacious central gallery which includes WWII and Korean War exhibits and several vintage aircraft hanging from the ceiling. From there, they can go to other period galleries or to the second floor where a cafeteria and Tun Tavern Restaurant are located.

The best way to start a visit is by going to the theater where a 14-minute film on what it means to be a Marine is shown every 24 minutes; this pretty much sets the stage for what you’re going to see throughout the museum.

The galleries include “Making of a Marine,” featuring boot camp; “Uncommon Valor,” the WWII gallery; “Send In the Marines,” which covers from 1946 to 1953 including the Korean War; and “In the Air, on Land and Sea,” an exhibit depicting from 1954 to 1975 and the Vietnam War.

“An interesting display is the Iwo Jima ‘immersion’,” said Jim Kyser, a retired Marine master gunnery sergeant and docent at the museum. In this exhibit, visitors listen to a briefing that was given to Marines the night before the landing, followed by actual film footage shot the day of the landing. “If you were getting wet by sea spray,” Jim continues, “you would think you were actually making the landing.” The movie is shown on a surround screen above a mock-up of a Higgins boat, the landing craft used during the invasion.

Throughout the museum there are aircraft, uniforms, weapons and land equipment displayed dating back to the beginning of the Corps. There is also the “Legacy Wall,” which displays artifacts, information and lists events that occurred in the world and in the Marine Corps from 1775 to 2006.

The next construction phase is now underway and will include galleries highlighting the 20th and 21st centuries; an art gallery, studios, storage and a large format theater; and “From the Halls of Montezuma” (1775-1865); “First to Fight” (1866-1914); “Every Marine a Rifleman” (1915-18), and “The Marines Have Landed” (1919-40).

Supporting exhibits in the planning stage include the contributions and sacrifices of the Navy-Marine Corps team in the late 20th and early 21st centuries; significant post-Viet-Nam events including Beirut (1982-84), Grenada (1983), Panama (1989), Desert Shield/Storm (early 1990s), and Operations Enduring Freedom (Afghanistan) and Iraqi Freedom. Completion of these galleries is scheduled for summer 2010.

“We try to accommodate everyone,” said Patrick Mooney, Manager of Docent and Visitor Services, and a Marine veteran. “We have plenty of free parking, wheelchairs, audio tours and a museum store where visitors can get patches, pins, stickers and other mementos.”
The museum is open daily, except Christmas, from 9 to 5; admission is free. For more info, visit www.usmcmuseum.com.