Saturday, November 26, 2016

National Museum of the Marine Corps

The 36th District has many unique places including two federal parks, three state parks, three national wildlife refuges, and two military bases.  While I have been familiar with Fort Belvoir my entire life, I had only been inside Marine Corps Base Quantico 86 square miles a few times. 

A few months ago, I decided to visit and get a feel for its mission, facilities and get a taste of its history.  Colonel Joseph Murray gave me an excellent guided tour, lunch in a brand new chow hall (that's what they call dining facilities) and his staff encouraged me to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps. The day after Thanksgiving I headed 40 minutes south with the kids to check it out.  It was a fascinating trip.

The museum opened ten years ago in November, 2006 and you have probably seen it rising over the trees as you drive up and down I-95. 

Entrance to National Museum of the Marine Corps
The Museum has a tour of the history of the Corps from its founding at a Tun Tavern in 1775 though Vietnam (more exhibits coming in 2018).  You learn about the origin of the terms "leathernecks," "Devil Dogs," and the Marine Corps Anthem. 

It features exhibits about the invasions I had not thought about since AP History in high school such as our invasion of Lybia (1801) (then-called the Barbary States), the defense of Bladensburg (1814), American's repeated invasions of Mexico (1848), and the Marine Corps role at Harper's Ferry (Led by J.E.B. Stuart) (1859).  After walking the exhibits, you start to realize how long America has been invading other countries. 

When I was in college, a high school friend who had enlisted in R.O.T.C. told me that war is just an extension of politics.  The displays really brought that home for me.  Whenever the United States is flexing its muscles abroad, the Marines are often front and center carrying out the directives.

Atrium at National Museum of Marine Corps
If you like guns and military technology, this is the place for you.  The Museum has an incredible collection of rifles, machine guns, sniper rifles, pistols, airplanes, tanks, cars, and helicopters.  The band geek in me even got satisfaction with an entire display featuring the history of "The Presidents Own" Marine Corps Band once led by the legendary John Phillips Sousa. 

M50 Ontos Anti-Tank Vehicle
There are several exhibits that attempt to put you into the action - a charge across a wheat field at Belleau Wood in WWI in France, a WWII amphibious assault at Iwo Jima, marching out of the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea, and a helicopter landing in Vietnam.  It reinforces the realities of modern combat.

Each significant incursion has its own display and a board summarizing the casualty count at the conclusion to honor those who sacrificed. 

Exhibit Panel on Iwo Jima
Several exhibits really got my attention.  First, one plaque noted that on Iwo Jima 800 men died for every square mile of territory gained.  That basically equals 80 men for every square tenth of a mile which is a square box the length of two football fields.  That is a lot of death.

Another display focused on the struggles of African Americans to join the Marine Corps and then participate.  The exhibit led with the quote by the Commandant of the Marine Corps in 1941 when he said "If it were a question of having a Marine Corps of 5,000 whites or 250,000 Negroes, I would rather have the whites."  Remember, this was not some Lieutenant - this was the Commandant of the Marine Corps.  The exhibit goes on to talk about the contributions of African Americans within the corps which ultimate led to several Medal of Honor recipients.  There is a similar exhibit depicting the contributions of women starting in World War II. 

McDonnell-Douglas A-4 Skyhawk
If my kids had not been pushing me to hurry up, I would have spent another three hours looking around.  You can really spend an entire day there and with the addition doubling the size of the museum along with new exhibits featuring an FA18 fighter and an M60A1 tank along with exhibits for the Persian Gulf, Iraq and Afghanistan opening 2018 along with a massive theatre, it is really going to be an amazing museum. 

The Museum is as much a history of United States Military foreign policy as it is about the U.S. Marine Corps, and it really helps to reinforce the blood, sweat, tears bravery and professionalism that lies at the heart of the Corps. 

It is a hidden gem in Northern Virginia and if you have a free day, you should take the time to learn about the history of the Corps and our country.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks Senator for visiting MCB Quantico and the National Museum of the Marine Corps. We are pretty proud of our museum! We hope you get to come back and spend some more time with us. Thanks for sharing your story with others. -John D., Command Visit Coordinator