This past Thursday, I took a trip with about 12 other seniors from our Senior Adult group at church to the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico. I’m at the lower end of the age spectrum for the group at 67, while we have some folks who are near 90. They enjoy these excursions which once a month to have meals together, gather for various purposes and take tours of local attractions like this one.
We first went to the Semper Fidelis Chapel, a lovely local field stone and wood structure with soaring windows in the front that gave out onto a beautiful forest. The pews were padded benches without backs, while a ship’s bell from Guam graced the entryway. We stayed there a while and then went over to the nearby museum.
Walking up to the entrance, I was impressed by the concrete and steel construction. A soaring spire atop the roof, easily visible from nearby I-95, sits at the same angle as the standard in the famous flag raising at Iwo Jima. I believe the concrete elements suggest the defensive capabilities of the Marines as they have helped guard our country for 240 years, while the spire stands for the ongoing spirit whereby they have carried the fight to our enemies. The spire could also stand for the high standards of the Marines and their absolute dedication to duty.
Becky and I had been at the museum several times with the Ensemble from the Manassas Chorale to sing, but we had never toured it. All of us were in for something special.
Aircraft from World Wars I and Ii and the modern era hung from the high vaulted ceiling while a Sikorsky helicopter sat in a display depicting Marines disembarking during the Korean War. Aircraft from all the wars after World War I also hung from the ceiling, while other aircraft sat in various galleries, making up an amazing collection of historic airplanes. Other exhibits included tanks, jeeps, ambulances, tracked amphibious vehicles and even the front half of a Marine bus used to transport inductees to their training!
We bore left into the first of the galleries, which showed the Marines’ involvement in the Revolution, the War of 1812 and the Civil and Spanish-America Wars. The next set of displays depicted Marines’ service during the First World War, including the uniforms, weapons and battles of that conflict, with a special station about the Battle of Belleau Wood, in which the Corps sustained more fatalities during the 21 day battle than in their history to that point.
World War II came next, with exhibits detailing the lives of draftees and those of people on the home front, including a huge tube-type radio newsreels and cartoons from the time. A Jeep sat in the middle of the gallery, and the last displays gave special place to the events and people of V-J Day.
Subsequent galleries depicted the Marines’ involvement in conflicts up to the present, including Korean, Viet Nam, the Gulf Wars, and Afghanistan. Pictures of troops returning to their families recently lined the long hallway to the cafeteria, with joy and pride of wives, children and relatives welcoming their Marines home highly evident. It was a touching and fitting recognition of both troops and their families.
The last exhibit detailed the role of music in the Marine Corps, including the famous Marine Band and their director John Phillips Sousa. I learned that the tune of “Hail to the Chief” came from a Puccini opera called The Lady of the Lake.
We had been there an hour and a half, looking at the exhibits (but not reading all the placards), and decided it was time for lunch. The museum offers two places to eat: the Devil Dog Diner, a cafeteria offering a variety of food, while Tun Tavern (named after the original Tun Tavern in Philadelphia where legend has it that the Marine Corps was founded in 1775), styled after a colonial era tavern, features a full lunch menu with table service.
We chose the diner in the interests of time and found the food to be quite good and varied. One bit of advice: check out all the offerings. Soup, for example, was located at the end of the line where most people would not expect it. I recommend the pizza, which Becky and I had, which featured a homemade crust. Others in the group enjoyed their choices as well.
Walking to the car, I looked back and reflected on the rich heritage of the Marines and the role they have played for over two hundred years to guarantee our freedoms and way of life through their skill, courage, commitment to duty and willingness to pay the ultimate price. Make it a priority to visit this place. It’s the least you can do for those who gave so much to all of us.