The National Marine Corp Museum
Honor, Courage, Commitment Through the Eyes of Marines
If you’re driving north on I-95 in Virginia around Exit 150 near the Quantico Marine Base , you can’t miss seeing the top of it. It soars over the trees on the east side of the highway. It catches your eye then it beckons to you. Whether you see it in bright sunlight or beautifully lighted at night, you can’t stop looking at it and you wonder what in the world is it?
IT is the 210 foot tilted mast atop the 160 foot glass atrium of the National Museum of the Marine Corps.
On a return trip from North Carolina to my home in Maryland, I fell under the magical lure of the soaring mast and stopped to visit the museum. The first hint of what was to come was the sight of the white granite Flag Raising Monument standing on a shady corner next to the Quantico U.S. Marine Corps Base entrance.
After a short drive to the top of the museum’s entrance road, I stopped to take in the view of the 135-acre site that comprise the museum and surrounding grounds. On this clear, beautiful day, I knew instantly I had made a good decision to visit.
According the museum’s website, the purpose of the museum is to provide a venue for visitors “to view the history of America through the eyes of the Marine Corps and to discover what it’s like to be a Marine; understand our contributions to the nation, learn the meaning of our core values (honor, courage, and commitment) and explore how the Marine Corps has evolved over the past 200 years.” After visiting the museum, I’d say “Mission Accomplished.”
The primary inspiration for the museum’s design came from the famous image of Marines raising the American flag over Iwo Jima in February 1945 during World War II. However, according to Curstis Worth Fentress, the museum’s architect, the significance of the building’s design goes beyond simply mirroring that iconic image. He says that “This Museum is a new icon. Whether it is Iwo Jima, rifles held at the ready or independent iconography, the clean lines and modest materials are suggestive and reflective . . . engaging every visitor on a very personal and individual level.”
The 100,000 square foot (9,300 m) museum is devoted to exhibits and multi-media displays that tell the story of contribution and sacrifice, valor and victory and the men and women of the U. S. Marines who have served our country since 1775. The museum makes excellent use of its several galleries to tell this amazing story.
Immediately upon passing through the building’s security, I entered the Leatherneck Gallery, the central gallery of the museum. Every display in this gallery is emblematic of the Corps. The terrazzo floor depicts the transition from ocean to shore and represents the Marine’s mission of amphibious assault. The three level observation deck and elevator tower in the rear of the gallery resembles a ship’s superstructure and reminds visitors of the strong Navy-Marine Corps partnership. Hanging on the walls of the gallery are eight massive portraits of Marines looking out over the area. Engraved on the travertine walls are memorable quotes by famous military, political and journalist figures. Suspended high above the floor are four aircraft that are key to Marine history.
If you only have an hour or so to visit the museum, then take the Legacy Walk for a quick initiation into the history of the Corps. This interior broad isle connects the museum’s four primary exhibit galleries and is lined with more than 200 years of Corps history. Life-like cast figures, photographs, maps, and artifacts evoke the courage and pride of the Marine Corps as it evolved since 1775. Special exhibits along the Walk explore the meaning of the Marine creed Semper Fidelis, the history behind the Marines’ Hymn, and other facets of the Corps culture.
If you have at least half a day, then by all means learn more about the Corps’ history by visiting galleries dedicated to each of the major wars in which US Marines fought. These include the Vietnam Gallery with its wall murals and dioramas telling stories about combat operations, the aircraft, armor and weapons used in battles, stories about individual Marines and the care provided to civilians, and the support provided by special units of the Corps. Audio visuals bring to life the horrific scenes of close combat and give visitors the feeling of being in the battle.
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