At first glance, the National Museum of the Marine Corps looks like a giant launching pad because of the 210-foot steel mast rising at an angle high above the main structure. But it’s only a fleeting image, one that vanishes immediately with the realization that the angle is exactly that of the flagpole being raised on Iwo Jima in the classic photo taken by Joe Rosenthal during World War II.
The mast also symbolizes several other things – swords at salute, howitzer cannons ready to fire, images of aircraft taking off, and the thrust of bayoneted rifles, all elements of the pride that the museum exudes once the visitor steps inside. Sharply-dressed young Marines welcome each guest with smiles and firm handshakes, and they address them as “sir” or “ma’am,” something people of our generation don’t hear much anymore. In the various galleries, old Marines tell stories of their time in combat with clarity and that distinct sense of honor so common to those who have served, and still serve, in the branch.
The facility was dedicated in 2006 and is dedicated to all Marines, past and present, while examining and explaining the role they have played in keeping the United States safe ever since they were formed in a Philadelphia tavern in 1775. A replica of the pub, known as Tun Tavern, has been incorporated into the museum and offers a lunch menu with a colonial flair on the second floor. The museum currently contains 200,000 square feet of exhibit space and includes displays documenting the Marine role in World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the fight against terrorism. Three additional galleries, scheduled to open in 2010, will interpret their actions from 1775 through World War I.
The tableaus depicting Marines in combat are hauntingly realistic and particularly attention-getting. They’re exceptional, almost like they’re ready to spring into action because young recruits were cast in body forms that were then used to create the lifelike figures. But the aircraft hanging from the ceilings are the real thing. So are the tributes to the Marines that have been etched into the walls.
The museum is located at 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway in Triangle, Va., adjacent to the Marine Corps Base in Quantico, about 20 miles south of Washington, D.C. It’s open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except Christmas. There is no admission charge. For more information, log onto www.usmcmuseum.org or call 877-653-1775.