[Vist] National Museum Of The United States Army: One Of The Best By: Enid Burns

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COMMEMORATING OVER TWO CENTURIES OF SERVICE

Various aspects of the history of the United States Army, the oldest branch of the U.S. military, are currently chronicled at multiple museums across the country.

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These include the United States Infantry Museum at Fort Benning, Georgia; the United States Frontier Army Museum at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and the United States Cavalry Museum at Fort Riley, Kansas — as well as multiple division museums. Then, of course, there’s the impressive West Point Museum at the United States Army’s Military Academy. 

On November 11, 2020, after a delay due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, another institution opened at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, outside of Washington, D.C., and just miles from President George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate. The National Museum of the United States Army is a modern facility meant to highlight the history of those who served in the Army since its founding in 1775.

A Civil War 12-pound “Napoleon” cannon, named after the French emperor Napoleon III who aided in its development i

The museum’s purpose is to put the spotlight squarely on the individual soldier. 

A 21st CENTURY MUSEUM

As a joint effort between the United States Army and the nonprofit Army Historical Foundation, the National Museum of the United States Army was built on a publicly accessible area of Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Constructed entirely with private funds, it was a massive undertaking that the organization believed was important to chronicle the story of the individual soldier. 

An assortment of World War II small arms, such as a Browning Automatic Rifle, M1A1 Thompson submachine gun, German G42 machine gun, and Kar-98-K

The 185,000-square foot facility brings to life history in times of war and peace, as told through the eyes of soldiers who served at the time. It also offers educational experiences meant to illustrate the Army’s role in building and defending our nation, as well as Army humanitarian missions and technological and medical breakthroughs built on Army ingenuity.

The National Museum of the United States Army is now the first comprehensive and truly national museum to capture, display, and interpret more than 246 years of Army history. 

Visitors enter the newly built and modern building, clad in stainless steel to highlight the service’s strength, into an 8,600-square-foot lobby. 

Illuminated with glass panels overhead representing the Army’s campaigns with corresponding streamers, visitors can take in the soldier’s creed wall and black granite campaign wall, engraved with all campaigns that the service has taken part in over the past 246 years since its founding on June 14, 1775.

A number of late 19th century and early 20th century small arms that highlight America’s entry onto the world stage, including a Colt Browning M1895 “Potato Digger” machine gun.

A 21-foot Army emblem is inlaid into the center of the lobby’s terrazzo flooring, while 41 pylons line the Soldiers’ Stories Gallery, though the soldier pylons begin outside the museum and lead visitors through the entry into the gallery. Each pylon serves to tell the personal accounts of soldiers from all historic periods and to further offer visitors a unique window into the soldier’s experience.

There are 11 galleries in total, of which seven make up the permanent collection. These are filled with a treasure trove of artifacts, yet the museum is very much a 21st century facility, offering an immersive and interactive experience that includes touchscreen displays along with numerous videos that were produced specifically for the Army Historical Foundation. 

An M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle that saw service in 2003’s Operational Iraqi Freedom.

This is most evident in the experimental learning center, designed for visitors of all ages to experience how soldiers in the 21st century must develop G-STEM skills — geography, science, technology, engineering, and math. 

In addition, the museum still maintains many “old school” features such as numerous artifacts laid out in the museum — and many that can be picked up or touched, such as cannon balls to a modern helmet. 

A specially constructed movie theater with a 360-degree screen regularly shows the short film “Of Noble Deeds,” which explores what it means to truly be an American soldier, along with past and current operations including some of the Army’s most significant battles. 

An M45 Quadmount, also known as a Quad 50, anti-aircraft gun. Introduced in 1943, it remained in service until the Vietnam War.

HONORING THE AMERICAN SOLDIER 

As the National Museum of the United States Army is meant to convey the history of the American soldier, it’s laid out very much in a linear fashion, beginning at the Founding the Nation Gallery, which covers the colonial period through the American Revolution and into the early 19th century. It’s largely focused on the origins and development of the Continental Army in 1775, including some notable artifacts from the period.

The history of the Army in the 19th to early 20th centuries is then displayed in the Preserving the Nation Gallery that mostly covers the American Civil War, while the Nation Overseas Gallery explores the Army’s first ventures onto the world stage, including the Spanish-American War, the Boxer Rebellion, and into the First World War. 

This gallery contains one of the museum’s largest displays, a multimedia representation of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive showing American “Doughboys” as they charge across no-man’s-land, complemented by special effects as well as a film depicting the nation’s involvement in the war. 

One of the larger permanent displays is this multimedia representation of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive showing American “Doughboys” as they charge across no-man’s-land, complemented by special effects as well as a film depicting the nation’s involvement in the war.

The Global War Gallery then serves to showcase the role of the “Greatest Generation” during the Second World War, highlighting the role of the Army in both the European and Pacific Theaters of the conflict. It also serves to explore the role that technology played in the war, including the development of the atomic bomb. 

The Cold War Gallery highlights the challenges the United States Army faced in the Korean and Vietnam Wars, while the Changing World Gallery depicts the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War, and the Global War on Terror. In addition, the Army and Society Gallery further offers five themed areas that illustrates the relationship between the Army, the civilian government, and the people.

NOTABLE OBJECTS IN THE COLLECTION 

Though not actually a museum of small arms, the weapons in the collection are still quite impressive, ranging from a .46-caliber Girardoni air rifle carried during the Lewis and Clark expedition to an M28 “Davy Crockett” recoilless rifle that could fire a tactical nuclear warhead. 

This is actually a tactical nuclear weapon — the smallest type of “nuke” produced. It’s a M28 “Davy Crockett” recoilless rifle that could fire a tactical nuclear warhead.

Other notable weapons in the collection include a Model 1851 Colt Navy revolver that was presented by members of the 7th Missouri Infantry to their former Civil War commander Brig. Gen. Morgan L. Smith, as well as a Colt Browning M1895 machine gun — the first automatic weapon developed by prolific firearms designer John Moses Browning. 

An Allen & Wheellock Percussion revolver that was carried by Captain Josiah A. Sawtell of Company A, 6th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry during the American Civil War.

A similar weapon was carried by members of the 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry, the “Rough Riders,” under the command of Lt. Col. Theodore Roosevelt during the Spanish-American War.

The collection includes several vehicles, including a World War I M1917 light tank, an M4 Sherman tank that saw service in the Second World War, and an M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was deployed in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

The National Museum of the United States Army’s collection of vehicles includes this World War II M4 Sherman tank.

Whereas other museums may highlight specific aspects of the U.S. Army, this one provides a compelling overview of the service and its history since its founding in 1775. 

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