Recently I had the honor and privilege of visiting the National Marine Corps Museum with one of my Marine sons and it was amazing! As another Marine who was visiting said excitingly “This place is like Mecca to a Marine” and I would have to agree. It puts the Smithsonian museums to shame. The museum is located in Quantico Virginia and opened in 2005, so the exhibits are very modern, interactive and engaging.
Location and Cost
The Marine Corps museum is located 30 miles south of Washington DC and the silhouette of the building is easily seen from I-95 which invokes images of the flag raising over Iwo Jima.
Admission cost is free. Yes, free, free parking and free admission. There are a few donation boxes and I would bet just about everyone puts a few dollars in the box. The official National Marine Corps Museum website is just as engaging as the museum and as it guides you to each area with the same narration. But nothing will prepare you for the full immersion.
I’m only going to give a brief over view here and will go into more depth in future articles. We spent two days at the museum and they had to push us out at the end. If you plan on visiting and you have a Marine or two with you, wear good shoes, plan on standing a lot and plan on reading and learning more than you every expected about United States history, military history and world history.
Marine Exhibits and History
As you enter the museum you are all at once overwhelmed by the feeling of space, air, and majesty of the Corps. Planes hang over head, helicopters with Marines piling out are beside you on one side and a tank on the other.
As you look up you read the inspiring quotes of leaders, presidents and generals:
“I have just returned from visiting the Marines at the front and there is not a finer fighting organization in the world”
General Douglas McArthur, Army
From the terrazzo gallery you enter into the rest of the Museum in a logical order starting with Making Marines where you can get up close and personal with your own “Drill Instructor” experience. (more on this later)
The rest of the museum starts at Tun Tavern, the birthplace of the Marines and their involvement in the Revolutionary War. Throughout the six historical galleries I learned where famous phrases such as “the shores of Tripoli” originated.
My son soaked all of this history in, he read every placard, and for me it made me slow down (I can be slightly ADD, those who know me will smile at that statement) and absorb what I was reading. I learned history repeats itself, throughout the history of the world there have been terrorists (pirates) who attack without rationale and kill innocent people without reason.
I learned we have had embassies in Libya as early as 1805 and Marines joined a coalition to rescue American and Europeans during the Christian persecution during the Boxer Rebellion in China.In many ways we have the same political issues, just in different areas of the world.
There will always be pirates, rebels and terrorists who want to terrorize, oppress and kill people just because they they do not agree with their religion. There will be dictators and governments who want to dominate and control their citizens. But there are countries around the world who believe in freedom, who will fight to keep their citizens free and protect those who are being oppressed.
The Marines have played a critical role in keeping “bullies” from taking over and as you walk through the galleries you take pride in not only the United States military, but the resolve of the citizens supporting them at home. I learned very little about World War I in school, or maybe I just forgot most of it, but as you walk into the sights and sounds of Belleau Wood you can’t help but start to realize the enormity of battle, the loss of life, and the true horror of war.
As you walk through each historical exhibit they get more and more engaging from the cold of Chosin Pass to the heat and chopper sounds of Vietnam. It is a truly an experience. Throughout our visit we encountered Marines of every age, and veterans of many wars. I witnessed exchanges between my son and these veterans which warmed my heart and made this Mom smile with pride. The respect and honor is very apparent and I feel privileged I got to experience this with my son.
Past and Present
The last gallery ends with Vietnam in 1972, but 2015 begins the start of another 110,000 sq feet of exhibit space which will finish out the museum in 2020. It will start in the 1970s and expand to Operation Desert Storm, Desert Shield, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
After experiencing the intensity of conflict and war you can walk on the paths that take you through a 135 acre Marine Corps Heritage Center campus, through Memorial Park, beside the chapel, and which will eventually include parade grounds a conference center and a hotel.
The Story of the United States Marine Heritage Center Is…
- To record our contributions to the nation
- To tell our story
- To preserve our artifacts and icons
- To give back to the Corps
If you are ever in the Washington DC area, take a day and head south on I-95, even if you don’t have any connection to the Marine Corps. It is an experience for anybody and we saw veterans, school groups, women, children (there is a childrens section), and people from various countries.
I would love to hear from anyone who has visited the National Marine Corps Museum and learning about your favorite section and why. Please leave a comment below and until “Part Two”, Semper Fi!