When you think of how the Marine Corps is memorialized, the iconic Iwo Jima statue in Arlington, Va., comes to mind. But the National Museum of the Marine Corps, just 36 miles outside of Washington DC, has a lot more to teach us about this military branch.
The 120,000-square foot building design was inspired by the five flag raisers at Iwo Jima in 1945. Inside the museum you will find interactive exhibits from every major conflict involving the Marines from the American Revolutionary War to the Afghan War. Semper Fidelis Memorial Park is located on 3 acres of high ground and overlooks the museum. You can walk paths inside the park where you will find monuments dedicated to Marine Corps engagements. The paved path circles to the Marine Corps Chapel and back to the museum.
WHAT YOU SEE: In the World War I gallery, you can hear the sounds of the Battle of Belleau Wood, the ongoing battle between the 3rd battalion 5th Marines and German forces near Paris France in 1918. As you walk through the exhibit you are surrounded by life like trees and wheat fields. There’s a large screen representing the 400 yards of open wheat fields where the battle took place. Hear Marine officers giving instructions to their platoon to “lock and load” and the sound of gunfire and bullets whizzing by your head.
In the Vietnam gallery, you enter to a sign that reads, “Attention Marines, rough terrain ahead”. You can walk through a vibrating plane and off a ramp and into a bunker area with realistic life size soldiers protecting the high ground to a bunker. Pick up a mounted phone and listen to retired Lieutenant General Frank Peterson’s recount of his most harrowing missions over North Vietnam. General Peterson was the first African American Marine Corp aviator and general. He describes how he was shot down by NVA gunners over North Vietnam and how he survived.
In the Cold War/Korean War gallery, you walk through a glass door and feel the temperature get colder as you enter the Chosin Reservoir. Tracers light up the screen in this dark enclosure. You can hear the wind blowing and watch a video monitor describe the fierce fighting the Marines faced from the Chinese.
As you walk through the World War II gallery, you’ll find life-size planes hanging from the ceiling. You can also see what was happening on the home front during the war. Walk into a replica of a movie theatre during the early 1940’s with the “Latest films and newsreels from the Pacific War.” You’ll learn about what Marines faced during their fight with the Japanese in the Pacific as they faced Bushido, code for “No Surrender.” Look for one of the numerous volunteers or docents wearing blue shirts to answer any questions about the exhibits. Some of the docents can give first-hand accounts of what they experienced while serving in conflicts such as Iwo Jima.
You can also try your hand at the laser simulated firing range or attempt to lift a 120-pound backpack that Marines are required to carry. Step into a phone booth and take a verbal beating from a drill sergeant. Find out if you have what it takes to be accepted to Officer Candidate school? Put on a headset and test your problem solving skills.
GOOD FOR KIDS: Good for kids age 7 and older. (You must be 7 years old to test your skills at the laser simulated firing range.) Kids will like the interactive aspect of the museum. The museum has Family Day on Saturday with different events scheduled. The visual stimulation of the museum also allows visitors to use their imagination. There’s also a playground outside, adjacent to the parking lot.
GIFT SHOP: The gift shop is fairly large. You can find everything from a small plastic rubber duck for $1.50 to a leather flight jacket for $600. They have posters, model planes, mugs, books, prints, postcards, clothes, and toys. You can even find a collectible bottle of Jar Head red wine.
WHERE: 18900 Jefferson Davis Highway, Triangle, VA
HOURS OF OPERATION: Open daily except for Christmas 9 AM to 5 PM.
COST: Entry to the Museum is free.
TOURS: You can pay $3 at the gift shop for a headset for a self-guided tour that needs 3-4 hours to complete. Call ahead for a free docent-guided tour, which are given at 10 AM, 12 PM and 2 PM. The tours are 2 to 3 hours.
PARKING: Plentiful and free
WEBSITE/TELEPHONE NUMBER: http://www.usmcmuseum.com; 877-635-1775
SPECIAL EVENTS: Family Days on Saturdays with organized activities.
WHERE TO EAT: Tun Tavern, a sit-down restaurant in the museum with a colonial-era theme, offers a full menu and alcoholic beverages. It’s open 11 AM to 4 PM. The Mess Hall is a cafeteria style restaurant, also in the museum, where you can get hot dogs, hamburgers, pizza, and sandwiches.
WHAT’S CLOSE BY: Potomac Mills Outlet Mall