Marine Corps Museum Moves Forward on Its Mission

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By Wendy Migdal

Prince William County is proud to be the home of the United States Marine Corps, and just as proud to be home to the world-class museum that honors the Corps’ efforts and sacrifices. If you haven’t paid a visit to the museum lately, read on and get up to speed.

New Exhibits

The first thing you’ll notice is that the museum has greatly increased in size. Construction has concluded on a new wing, part of the Final Phase of the museum’s long-term plan to cover its entire history. This third major addition will be home to galleries chronicling the Marine Corps from 1976 to the present, including such operations as Beirut, Somalia, humanitarian efforts, 9/11, Iraq and Afghanistan, and more. Planning has been underway for this addition ever since the second phase, which told the story of the birth of the Marine Corps in 1776 up to World War II, was completed in 2010. (The museum originally opened with just the World War II, Korea, and Vietnam exhibits.)

Though galleries for Final Phase aren’t open yet, visitors can peek in and see exhibits in progress. There are currently four active-duty Marines assigned to the museum, and they sometimes work on this project as well as interact with visitors.

Occasionally federal funding gets diverted to other areas that have an immediate need, which explains the long time span from initiation to completion. However, “We drew a line in the sand and said 2025 would be the opening date, because it’s the 250th anniversary of the Marine Corps,” said Gwenn Adams, Public
Affairs Chief, who is herself a retired Marine.

In the meantime, visitors who want to see something new can view a temporary exhibit on Marines in space. The first American astronauts were recruited from the military, and Marine Lieutenant Colonel John Glenn was among the Mercury Seven. The exhibit features Glenn’s uniform, artifacts such as the hook used to pull the Apollo 11 capsule out of the ocean, photos, and personal stories. You can see “Spaceflight: The
Marine Astronauts” through January 2024.

NMMC Leatherneck Gallery Planes Overlook

A gallery you may have overlooked on the second deck is the one devoted to combat art. It’s been open since 2017, but a current special exhibit was created to honor the 80th anniversary of combat art. It began during World War II and includes everything from formal portraits to candid sketches from the field. “Art can convey so much more than a photograph,” says Adams. “An artist can put emotion into the stroke of a pen.” (Look for more on this topic in a future issue of Prince William Living.)

Telling the Whole Story

A relatively recent update to an older gallery is the exhibit on the Code Talkers in World War II. This group of Navajo Marines .was recruited to create a code using their native language, a code that the Japanese were never able to crack. “When we find that there’s a story that hasn’t been told in an existing gallery and it needs to be told, we will add that,” says Adams.

Broadening the stories has become a major focus for the new galleries in Final Phase. “When the museum first opened, most of our advisors were senior officers and historians. We had great historical information but sometimes we had missed the opportunity to tell everyone’s story. So for Final Phase, we’ve had input from junior and senior enlisted, junior and senior officers, women, minorities, families,” says Adams. All these people, including civilians, help to make the Marine Corps what it is.

Education

Another aspect of the museum that not everyone may be aware of is its educational outreach. Distance learning programs are live and held on a Zoom-like platform, where participants can submit questions in the chat. A distance-learning program might include a museum guide giving a focused walk-and-talk in one
of the galleries. For example, one program covered the Montford Point Marines, the first African-American troops in the Marine Corps. Past programs have been geared for different age groups and tailored to many topics, because anyone can put in a request for a distance-learning program.

NMMC Family Day Robotics

The museum also offers Family Days every second Saturday, with hands-on activities for kids and STEM programs for homeschoolers. Summer camps are already full for this summer (in fact, they were filled by February), so if you know a student in grades 4–9 who would be interested in Marine tactics and history, keep it in mind for next year.

As a federal property, admission is always free, and so is parking. The museum is open every day of the year except Christmas Day. As Adams says, “We have something for every age, young or old. We’re here for everyone.”

Wendy Migdal is a freelance writer who has lived in the Northern/Central Virginia area since 2000. She enjoys history, reading, and all things dog.

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