The National Museum of the Marine Corps is one of those places that gives you chills.
Located in Quantico near a major Marine base, this museum opened in 2006 and has become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Northern Virginia, drawing some 500,000 visitors annually. Walking through the place today, I understood why -- this museum goes to extraoridanry lenghts to help people understand the training, commitment and creed that make the Marines our country's most lauded fighting force.
A visit to the museum is moving from the very beginning. From the outside, the large atrium of the museum is capped with a steeple-like extension, set at an angle to recall the famous photo of Marines raising the flag at Iwo Jima. In the orientation theater, active and retired Marines (including two U.S. senators) talk about the uncommon valor shown by the men in the corps, and the special pride that comes with serving the most difficult places among bretheren who are semper fidelis -- always faithful.
From there, the museum's galleries describe the recruitment and training process of young marines, then go on to detail the Corps' history, from its creation in 1775 to its current role in Afghanistan and Iraq. Along the way, extensive dioramas feature life-sized manequins that were cast from the faces and bodies of actual men serving in the Marine Corps today. Visitors walk through some of the dioramas for an immerseve experience, and many of the displays use extensive lighting, sound and environmental effects to give guests the feeling of walking through the battleground.
The museum also features an impressive collection of artifacts, from World War I training aircraft to a rare Vietnamese artillery guns. All together, there are dozens of full-sized aircraft, tanks and armored vehicles on display, along with hundreds of guns from the many different military periods.
Military history buffs and collectors will be tempted to spend hours in this museum. For me, though, the most poignant part of the places was the human stories that it tells. There were many men in uniform, as well as retired Marine veterans, visiting the museum alongside me today, and they all share in the amazing heritage of bravery and fidelity that have made the Marines famous around the world. Even after decades out of uniform, these men remain deeply connected to the Corps, and this museum is a faithful retelling of their collective experiences.