Museum of Marines
The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Virginia presents the history of the corps and honors the experiences and accomplishments of U.S. Marines.
When officials decided to build a museum dedicated to the U.S. Marine Corps, they pondered what the building should look like. They ultimately chose a design that evokes an iconic World War II photo, taken by Joe Rosenthal, of six U.S. soldiers raising the American flag atop Mount Suribachi during the Battle of Iowa Jima.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps, which opened in 2006, presents the more than 200-year history of the U.S. Marine Corps to the public. It does this through its architecture, its artifacts, immersive exhibits and public outreach efforts.
The museum is located on a 55-hectare site in Quantico, Virginia, next to an active Marine base, about an hour’s drive from Washington, D.C. It was created as a public-private partnership between the U.S. Marine Corps and the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, and is under the command of Marine Corps University.
The Marine Corps was created in 1775. In their first role, Marines were stationed on American ships to prevent enemy forces from boarding and taking them over, as well as preventing mutinies.
The corps quickly established itself as the country’s main amphibious and expeditionary force. Expert in seaborne landings onto enemy territory, the Marines are often the first units sent to engage in battles outside the United States.
The museum, which has no entry fee, received 500,000 visitors in 2018. Its extensive collection includes more than 60,000 uniforms, weapons, vehicles, medals, flags, aircraft and works of art. Visitors can view cannons, a World War II tank, and combat helicopters and jet fighters from the wars in Korea and Vietnam.
Immersive exhibits provide a rich experience. In the area depicting the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in Korea, for instance, visitors feel the frigid temperatures and hear the Chinese soldiers advancing on outnumbered Marines. In the section on the Vietnam War, visitors are airlifted onto Hill 881 South, where they hear the sounds of battle, see videos of fighting on large surround screens and feel the tropical heat.
Exhibits also examine how the Marines have been affected by changing American social policies like the end of racial segregation in the U.S. armed forces toward the end of World War II, and the integration of women volunteers into combat roles in recent years.
“We present the history,” says Gwenn Adams, the museum’s Public Affairs Chief. The exhibits focus on giving visitors a feel for what the Marines experienced. “I can’t tell you how many times people say, ‘Thanks to the museum, I can finally make a connection to a family member who served,’ ” Adams adds.
The museum also has other ways to reach out to the wider community. Each summer, for instance, it stages a Dog Days event, where visitors can meet and learn about dogs that have served with the Marines as well as with other branches of the armed services, the police and even the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
The museum has a teacher in residence, who gives presentations in schools in the area. Last year, 65,000 schoolchildren visited in groups. The museum will soon start a new program, in which home-schooled children will visit the institution.
There is also a free annual Heroes Among Us event, in which veterans and active duty service members, and their family members, are invited to learn about numerous programs and services available to them. A few years ago, the museum staged a naturalization ceremony, in which about 100 people, including several who had served in the Marines, officially acquired U.S. citizenship.
“Our goal,” says Adams, “has always been to be part of the fabric of the community.”
Burton Bollag is a freelance journalist living in Washington, D.C.