Monday, January 28, 2008

The Few. The Proud. The Marines.

On Saturday, we went to the new National Museum of the Marine Corps, next to the Marine Corps base in Quantico. The museum is beautifully done, from the striking architecture, designed to evoke the flag raisers of Iwo Jima, to the sophisticated museum displays and interactive exhibits. We spent over two hours there, and didn’t come close to seeing everything. At the museum’s center under the soaring glass roof is the Leatherneck Gallery, highlighting Marine technological innovations. Smaller galleries around the perimeter are devoted to the making of a Marine, combat art, and the contribution of the Marines throughout history, focusing on World War II, Korea, Vietnam, and the war on terrorism.

Unlike many museums that depend on lengthy panels of text to tell the story, this museum is largely visual. In addition to the usual museum displays of artifacts, there are lifesize tableaus with very realistic cast figures depicting critical moments in Marine history. Multimedia displays combine sight and sound to create “you are there” experiences. See and hear young men and women on the bus to boot camp describe their feelings, and then step into a booth and hear the voice of your drill sergeant screaming at you. In unique “immersion” exhibits, you are put right into the scene of Marine missions. You’re aboard ship as your commander briefs you before the invasion of Iwo Jima, and then prepare to storm the beach from the landing craft. You feel the cold as you walk through a battle scene from the Korean War. You debark a helicopter into the site of a military maneuver in Vietnam. It’s powerful and at times frightening.

The focus of the whole museum is on one thing: the selfless devotion of the Marines to their mission. Honor, courage, commitment. There are no politics here, no selling the public on whether a particular military stance is/was right or wrong. Regardless of how you feel about the foreign policy of the current administration, or about the war in Iraq, you can’t leave this museum without a new respect for the men and women who are carrying out the mission. Semper Fi.

Above the ground level displays, the 160-ft high glass atrium is filled with military planes.

Close-up of one of the realistic figures, cast from real Marines.

I know a Marine combat artist who lives in Fredericksburg, and who has done tours of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq, so I was anxious to see the gallery of combat art. I was thrilled when at the very end of the exhibit, I saw this piece: “Moving into Position by Moonlight,” by Warrant Officer 1 Michael D. Fay, USMCR. Way to go, Mike!! For an eye-opening look into the world of this talented Marine, check out his blog here.

We didn't get to see all of the exhibits in depth, and there is a park that surrounds the museum that we didn't explore yet, so a return trip is in order.

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