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A Place of Honor
When the Marines do something, they do it right. Spend a day at the Museum of the Marine Corps and you’ll see proof of that. The concrete, glass and steel building itself is inspiring. A 210-foot stainless steel column angles upward from the center of the main hall through the glass and steel-beam roof and high above the museum. The imposing tower is clearly visible from Interstate 95 near the Quantico Marine Corps Base, and it invokes a sense of awe to passing drivers. To some, the gleaming tower represents the famous flag-raising on Iwo Jima; to others, a Howitzer barrel pointing toward a distant enemy.
So far, there are 118,000 square feet of exhibits, but plans are in the works to expand the museum. Walking through the current displays in a single day is a daunting task. When the museum is expanded, it just might take two days to see everything. The walls are covered with photographs, artifacts, memorabilia and written details of many of the items on display. Airplanes and helicopters hang from the high ceilings in most of the museum’s seven main galleries. Two Corsairs — airplanes that helped win air superiority in the Pacific theater during World War II — a Sikorsky helicopter, a Harrier jet and a Curtis biplane greet you as you walk in the museum’s towering front hall.
Among the most popular exhibits are the two flags flown on Iwo Jima’s Mt. Suribachi after American forces overwhelmed the Japanese army. One flag, the first flown immediately after Suribachi was captured, is smaller and in much better shape than the second one, which was immortalized in Joseph Rosenthal’s Pulitzer Prize-winning photograph. The photo inspired the book and movie Flags of our Fathers. The tattered and dirt-stained flag is among the museum’s most prized possessions. The flags are rotated to reduce their exposure to light, which can damage the material. In fact, the area of the museum that houses the flags is dimly lit, and no flash photography is allowed.
The museum is a painstaking effort in detail, right down to the grimacing face of a wounded Marine about to receive an IV from a determined Corpsman on a World War II battlefield. The IV hangs from the butt of a rifle with its bayonet stuck in the ground; a blood-soaked bandage lies across the man’s chest. Each display is the result of thorough research by museum curators, who visited the various sites duplicated throughout the museum to gather artifacts and other factual details.
“The architects, historians and curators who worked on the boot camp experience, for example, visited boot camps, and those who worked on the World War II displays went to the actual battlefields,” Director Lin Ezell says. “Samples of dirt from Vietnam were used to get the immersion gallery in the Vietnam gallery just right.”
Another display, in the museum’s vast main hall, known as the Leatherneck Gallery, shows an armored vehicle crawling up a South Pacific beach. One Marine scales a log wall as another jumps from the amphibious tractor. A third Marine lays on the white sand behind the wall, clutching his bloody thigh with one hand and his M-1 rifle in the other. The sand is littered with the empty casings of rifle and handgun cartridges and boot prints in the wet sand add even more realism to the scene. The only things missing are the smell of diesel smoke and gun powder and the shouts of men in battle.
Every aspect of the Corps is represented, from the recruits who have lived through the hell of boot camp to the generals immortalized through their heroism, leadership and dedication to the Marines. Combat Marines, drill sergeants, fixed-wing and helicopter pilots, snipers and even the various enemies that have fought against the United States are given their due respect. No aspect of the Corps is left out. But then, Marines always honor their own, and they certainly did that here.
If You Go
The Museum of the Marine Corps is located off Interstate 95 near Quantico Marine Corps Base in northern Virginia. Admission is free, and the museum’s hours are 9 a.m. to
5 p.m. every day but Christmas. There is ample parking for big rigs, and access from I-95 is easy. For more information, visit www.usmcmuseum.org.