Sunday, November 6, 2011

Field Trip #3 - National Museum of the Marine Corps

There are things that I complain about when it comes to living in Northern Virginia.  The traffic.  Rude people.  The traffic.  But there are also many things that I love.  My favorite thing?  The history of this area, and the museum and opportunities that come with it.

Yesterday we took an unplanned field trip to the National Museum of the Marine Corps, located just outside of Marine Corps Base Quantico.

I have a huge soft spot in my heart for the Marine Corps.  My husband spent four years as an active duty Marine, stationed at Camp Pendleton.  The best two years of my time as a federal employee were spent at Quantico, working for the Assault Ampbibious Vehicle command as a lowly GS-4.  Working with, and just being around, Marines is an amazing experience.  No where else will you find a more dedicated (and fun) group of men and women.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps most definitely reflects that.  We live very close to the museum, and this was our third time visiting.  The first time Cody was less than a year old, and the museum had just opened.  The second time, Cody had just turned 4, and Luke was just over a year old. 

One of my favorite aspects of the museum is that they change the displays.  Obviously there was some time between our visits, so I can't say for sure how often it changes, but  I would say that going once a year would give you the chance to see different displays.

Walking into the museum, which is free (donations accepted), you are greeted by a large room with airplanes suspended from the ceiling, and various large fighting vehicles set up in a semi-circle around the room.  This week happens to be the 236th birthday of the Marine Corps, so the room was missing a couple of their normal displays.  They seemed to be setting up for the ceremony (the birthday is Thursday, November 10th, and the museum will be holding a traditional cake cutting ceremony to celebrate.  I'm taking the boys!), so I'm assuming the displays were gone because of that.

From there, you go into the Galley, which holds the bulk of the museum.  Each section is grouped by year, in chronological order from the beginning in 1775, to the current day's fight against terrorism.  You can choose to go into all sections, or bypass one if you like.  Another of the beauties of the museum - you're not trapped in a maze once you go in.  If for some reason you need to go back to the entrance (say, a child needs a bathroom break), it takes only a couple minutes to get back to your starting point.

What is so special about the displays is that they include life like human figures.  Actual Marines were used to create the figures.  So when you see a wax figure of a Marine, you know it was an actual Marine that was used as the mold.

Throughout the museum there are various film stations, one included actual footage of the landing on Iwo Jima, which was rather moving.

There was a room, cooled drastically from the rest of the museum, set up as the Frozen Chozin, during the Korean War.  Another room set up to depict what it was like walking off of a helicopter (you walk through an actual helicopter, down a ramp) into Vietnam.  Hot and humid is the way I'd describe that room.

There are lots of guns and other forms of weapons on display.  Tanks, AAVs (amphibious vehicle, my former employee!), cannons, Jeeps.  Pretty much anything and everything that you can think of. 

One warning, the scenes with the wax figures are accurate for the fighting that they did.  There are several showing a scene where someone has been shot or other injuries, another where two men are engaged in hand to hand combat using a pistol and knife.  However, they are not gory, and I think it would be easy to pass these or give a simple explanation to a child.  We had no issues going through those displays with our almost 6 year old.  He was way more interested in everything else.  Some parts of the museum, such as the helicopter landing scene, are fairly loud.  Not ear splitting by any means, but there are sounds of cannons and guns being fired, people talking.  Again, we had no issues with either the almost 6 or almost 3 year old being bothered by the noise level.

The museum also includes a gift shop, and a 2nd story with two restaurants (one a sit down, called Tun Tavern, another a cafeteria/mess hall).

While visiting the museum, you're sure to run into many Marines.  Past and present.  Some current Marines that were injured in Iraq or Afganistan.  Be sure to give them a smile, a thank you, even a hand shake.  They all deserve it.  There is a true brotherhood felt within the Marine Corps community, even to people like my husband and I that aren't currently directly involved.  There are no former or ex-Marines.  I can spot a Marine from a mile away, and it was obvious yesterday that the other Marines knew that my husband was one of them.

Finally, when you're done, there is an amazing playground for the kids just outside of the museum.  As you exit, walk along the far left hand side of the parking lot, and you'll come to it.  It's in the trees, so it's not completely visible unless you're looking for it.  They have a good size playground for both the little kids, and the bigger kids, plus picnic tables and a fitness trail.

As I said, the Marine Corps is a very dedicated bunch, and the Marine Corps Museum, as well as the playground and grounds that they stand on, truly reflect that.

Outside the Museum
They had several time period cutouts that the kids could pose with

One of several in the Museum

This display is a simulation of waiting to board a bus to be shipped off to boot camp

Climbing the rock wall at the playground outside of the Museum

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