There are few places around the Marine Corps which honor and preserve the Corps’ tradition, heritage and history like Marine Barracks Washington, D.C. However, one such place is just a short drive south of the Barracks and was the recent destination for Headquarters and Service Company’s noncommissioned officer training day.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps, located just outside the northern gate of Marine Corps Base Quantico, Va., is a part of the Smithsonian Museum network and has been open since 2006.
Headquarters and Service Company leadership chose the museum as the destination for multiple reasons. One is its close proximity to the Barracks. This allowed a morning group and an afternoon group attend the PME while keeping all the sections operational throughout the day. The second reason is that it’s so rich with history that no advanced reading or studying is required. Finally, the stories and anecdotes provided by the museum’s docents help bring the history alive.
All docents at the Museum have earned the title “Marine,” and most are retired from the Corps. They are all there on a volunteer basis and have a real passion for sharing not only their experiences but also the story of the Marine Corps.
Although I've been several times before, I'm always eager to return, because I learn and see new things with each visit.
As soon as I exited the bus, I was again filled with the same excitement I feel before a Barracks’ Friday Evening Parade and a feeling of pride in belonging to such a revered fighting force, beloved by the American people, respected by our allies and feared by our nation’s enemies.
Upon entering the Museum, my group was greeted by retired Capt. Rogers who was a prior Marine gunner. Due to the compressed time, I requested he take us through the WWII, Korean War and Vietnam War exhibits.
Before we began, Capt. Rogers spoke to us about the gallery in the middle of the museum. Its architecture and exhibits display subtle meanings that become obvious once highlighted. The angled pillar rising through the roof and into the sky represents the most famous image in Marine Corps history, the raising of the American flag on Iwo Jima during WWII. The blue floor represents the Marine Corps’ relationship with the US Navy, the circular design represents global service and all the aircrafts and vehicles represent the Corps’ ability to conduct air, land and sea based operations.
While moving through the exhibits, Capt. Rogers highlighted stories from notable Marines that were not necessarily displayed and would not have been know without his tutelage. The most memorable story was of the role Tootsie Rolls played in the Korean War. During that time, a common term for mortar increments was tootsie rolls. Due to a miscommunication during ordering, boxes of actual tootsie rolls were sent to the front lines as opposed to the needed mortar ammo. Even though the candy froze solid due to the extreme cold, Marines found it to be very versatile; like using the candies to plug bullet holes. If you look closely at the Marine mannequin in standard Korean War battle dress at the beginning of the exhibit, you will see a tootsie roll wrapper at his feet.
For me, the highlight of the trip was meeting and speaking with Pfc Frank Matthews. As a veteran of the Iwo Jima landing, he gave us a personal account of what the landing was like. The exhibit is extremely moving as it is, but having a veteran of such a historic day in Marine Corps history share his story is a fleeting treasure that is a true honor to experience.
I hope the other Marines who visited the Museum also felt the same pride I did. I also hope they returned to the Barracks having learned something and with a renewed motivation in being a United States Marine.