The United States Marine Corps National Museum
By Frank Iannamico

There were originally two separate Marine Corps museums. One was located in Washington, D.C., the other at Quantico, Virginia. The Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum that was located on the Quantico Marine Base featured displays documenting the Marine's achievements on the ground and in the air during World War I, World War II and many other campaigns. The museum itself was housed inside one of the early World War I aircraft hangers. The Marine Corps Historical Center and Museum was located forty-miles north of Quantico at the U.S. Navy Yard, Washington, D.C. At this facility there was a standing exhibit that chronicled Marine Corps history from 1775 to modern day with uniforms, weapons, photographs and documents.

On 13 November 2006, after many years of careful planning and hard work, the new National Museum of the Marine Corps opened its doors to the public. This new ultra modern facility is situated on over 135 acres adjacent to the Marine Base at Quantico, Virginia. Currently, the display area inside of the museum building covers approximately 118,000 square feet, with a planned future expansion of over 181,000 square feet. A 210-foot iconic spiral protrudes from the roof of the facility and is clearly visible for miles on Interstate 95, especially when lit-up at night.

The word to describe the new museum is "impressive." The facility and displays are all first-class, using state of the art multimedia technology to replicate the sights, sounds and even the temperature of being there. When you first enter through the museum doors you will encounter the Leatherneck Gallery. The stainless steel base of the 210-foot spire rises from the center of the gallery and its design was inspired by the famous raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima during World War II. On the walls surrounding the display area are the portraits of eight Marines and overhead are four Marine aircraft representing different eras: from the 1920 Banana Wars, a Curtiss JN-4 Jenny armed with a Lewis Gun, two Corsair fighters from World War II and an AV-8B Harrier VSTOL (Vertical Short Take Off and Landing) jump jet that saw action during Operation Desert Storm in 1991. On the ground, an LVT-1 (Landing Vehicle, Tracked) armed with a .50 caliber Browning machine gun breaches defenses on a Pacific Beach. Across the room a Marine machine gun crew with a M1919A4 Browning, disembark from a Korean War era Sikorsky HRS-2 helicopter to take up positions.

The visitor with a critical eye will notice that careful attention has been given to all of the weapons and equipment in the displays to insure the correct configurations for the time period depicted.

The next gallery on the tour is Making Marines, which conveys the anxiety experienced by recruits during basic training. The display features a Marine Corps bus, from which voices of nervous recruits can be heard, and on the ground are the famous yellow footprints. There is even a military barbershop to bring back memories for visiting veterans. One of the more pleasant displays in the gallery is an M16 laser rifle range where visitors can test their marksmanship skills. In the Marine Corp despite your job description, "Every Marine is a Rifleman."

The Legacy Walk captures the more than 230 years of Marine Corps history featuring displays of the earliest Colonial Marines atop sailing ships. On a wall above, two-time Medal of Honor recipient Marine Dan Daly struggles with an opponent during 1900 in Peking, China. From World War I, a Marine engages a German soldier in hand to hand combat. During World War II, a Navy Corpsman attends to a wounded Marine. Displayed overhead is the actual UH1E Iroquois "Huey" helicopter that Medal of Honor recipient Marine Major Stephen Pless flew during the Vietnam War. Life-like figures, aircraft, photographs and artifacts create a Marine history timeline from 1775 to the modern day.

World War II Gallery

The story of the U.S. Marines in their Pacific island-hopping campaigns is told with displays of tanks, artillery pieces, aircraft, small arms and personal items that belonged to individual Marines. Highlighted are Marine innovations in tactics, equipment and special units. An excellent display is a Marine aiming his water-cooled .30 caliber M1917A1 Browning machine gun at enemy aircraft. Weapons fielded by the Japanese Imperial Army are also displayed.

One exhibit briefs visitors for an assault landing on Iwo Jima before boarding a Higgins Boat for the hazardous trip to the beach. Sound and video combine to provide a realistic experience. One of the most historically important artifacts in the museum is the actual flag that was raised by Marines atop Mount Suribachi on the island of Iwo Jima and photographed by Joe Rosenthal. The resulting image is the most famous and inspiring photograph of World War II, with the image almost immediately becoming a Marine icon. The World War II Gallery honors the sacrifices and accomplishments of America's Greatest Generation.

Korean War Gallery

This gallery documents the Marine's involvement in the Korean War that took place from 1950 to 1953. After World War II ended both the Marine Corps and U.S. Army had been drastically reduced in size. On 25 June, 1950, at approximately 4 a.m., a rainy Sunday morning, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea Army (North Korea) invaded the Republic of Korea (South Korea). At 11 a.m., North Korea announced a formal declaration of war. An unprepared United States military scrambled to train and deploy troops to Korea. Korea was the first combat action of the cold war era.

Included in the Korean Gallery is a display of Marine positions near the infamous Chosin Reservoir. The temperature in the display area is twenty degrees lower than the rest of the museum, the sky is dark, and voices of approaching Chinese troops can be heard; all contributing to an eerie feeling felt by the visitor. Other displays include a machine gun position in a sandbagged bunker, and a LCVP landing craft representing General MacArthur's bold plan for an amphibious landing at Inchon to get behind the enemy and cut off his supply lines.

Another display depicts a U.S. Pershing tank moving through the streets of the war-torn capital city of Seoul, about to run over an abandoned Communist 12.7mm DShK machine gun position.

Vietnam Gallery

Marine units were first deployed to Vietnam in 1965, unaware that this would be the longest engagement in their history. Visitors are taken into the fight through a series of displays featuring both enemy and Marine uniforms, weapons and equipment. In one display, a Marine armed with an M79 grenade launcher peers around a wall. Behind him is a rare Marine Ontos tracked anti-tank vehicle armed with six 106mm recoilless rifles. During its service in Vietnam, the Ontos often fired fleshette filled "beehive" rounds to clear paths through the dense jungles. Another display depicts a Marine armed with an M14 rifle patrolling past a series of hooches lead by a German Shepard. Next, one enters a hot landing zone on Hill 881 through the fuselage of a CH-46 helicopter. The floor of the aircraft vibrates and sounds of rotor blades and weapons engulf the visitor's senses. Scanning the landscape reveals Marines assisting wounded buddies and attending to a dead comrade. One of the many weapons on display in this gallery is the actual 7.62mm M40A1 Remington sniper rifle used by Marine Lance Corporal Benjamin "Chuck" Mawhinney. Corporal Mawhinney scored 103 confirmed enemy kills and 216 probables during his 16 months in country.

Global War on Terrorism

By using combat photographs, art, maps, and text, this gallery features images from Marines serving in ongoing conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. Most of the photographs in this exhibit were taken by any one of the 400 personnel serving in the Marine Combat Camera Units today. This gallery was designed to help the families of deployed servicemen and women understand why their loved ones have been called to serve.

When the National Museum of the Marine Corps opens its second expansion phase, it will feature a permanent gallery that highlights Marine contributions during the Persian Gulf wars, and the continuing Global War on Terrorism.

USMC Combat Art Gallery

The Corps' early association with combat art began during World War I when Colonel John W. Thomason, Jr. drew a series of battlefield sketches. Since that time, art has been used to help convey Marine Corps history. Works in the museum's display are those of both Marine and civilian artists and illustrators and represents a small sample of the nearly 8,000 pieces in the Marine Corps art collection.

Semper Fidelis Park

Overlooking the Marine Corps National Museum is a three-acre park dedicated to honoring all Marines who have served their country. Throughout the park are many monuments honoring the accomplishments of various Marine organizations. The walkways through the park are lined with special commemorative bricks that have been purchased and donated by family members and friends of Marines.

This article has described but a few of the displays of weapons, vehicles, aircraft and artifacts fielded by both the Marines and their adversaries featured in the museum. This is a tremendous museum with much more to see and experience in a first-class facility and is definitely worth a trip to see.

A special thank you is in order to Al Houde, Ordnance Curator of the National Museum of the Marine Corps, for his valuable time and assistance.

Directions to the Museum

The National Museum of the Marine Corps is located near the town of Triangle, Virginia just off I-95, 36 miles south of Washington, D.C., and 76 miles north of Richmond, Virginia. From I-95, take the VA-619 exit 150 toward Triangle/Quantico. Merge onto VA-619 East. Turn right onto the Jefferson Davis Highway/US-1. Travel approximately 1/4 mile and turn right into the National Museum of the Marine Corps parking lot. Parking is free and there is no admission charge to visit the Museum. The National Museum of the Marine Corps is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. every day except Christmas.

National Museum of the Marine Corps
18900 Jefferson Davis Hwy.
Triangle, VA 22172
(877) 653-1775

This article first appeared in Small Arms Review V11N1 (October 2007)
and was posted online on November 9, 2012


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