The National Museum of the United States Army

By Annie Tobey | November 9th, 2020

The first and only museum to tell the entire history of the U.S. Army


National Museum United States Army Meuse-Argonne Offensive scene Image

“The U.S. Army and the American Soldier forged the birth of our nation,” said Secretary of the Army Ryan D. McCarthy. So it’s only fitting that a museum near our nation’s capital should showcase the Army’s history. To that end, the National Museum of the United States Army opens to the public on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2020, in Fairfax County, Virginia.

The National Museum of the U.S. Army, located on a publicly accessible area of Fort Belvoir, Virginia, will be the first and only museum to tell the entire history of the U.S. Army.* The museum is a joint effort between the U.S. Army and the nonprofit Army Historical Foundation.

The museum is designed to tell the story of this branch of the United States Armed Forces through the eyes of the soldiers. It’s intended to engage with civilians as well as other military visitors.

Exhibits Spanning U.S. History

World War II Display with Higgins Boat
The Museum’s Higgins Boat is one of six remaining that are confirmed to have landed at Normandy on D-Day. The Higgins assault boat, known officially as a Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP), landed more Allied troops on beaches in Europe and the Pacific than all other types of landing craft combined. Designed by Louisiana boat builder Andrew Higgins, these small boats could carry 36 combat-loaded troops, or a jeep and 12 men. The boats were constructed with plywood hulls and could slide on to a landing beacher, lower the front ramp, discharge cargo and troops, and quickly turn around in the surf to pick up another load. (Courtesy/Credit: National Museum of the United States Army)

Permanent exhibits include hundreds of large and small artifacts, life-size scenes re-creating historic operations, and stories of individual soldiers.

The Founding of the Nation Gallery spans the colonial period through the War of 1812, including the Continental Army, the Revolutionary War, and the development of a professional army.

The Preserving the Nation Gallery examines the Army’s part in the Civil War and westward expansion, such as the Lewis and Clark Expedition, the Indian Wars, and the Mexican War.

The Nation Overseas Gallery, covering 1898-1918, goes into operations in China, the Spanish-American War, and the Mexican-American border as well as World War I. An immersive exhibit portrays the Army’s advance during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive and the FT-17 Renault “Five of Hearts” Tank.

The Global War Gallery portrays the Army’s role in the Allied victory during World War II. Artifacts include the M4 Sherman “Cobra King” Tank and a LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) that took part in the Normandy beach landings.

Other exhibits cover the Cold War (Out of the Ashes Gallery, 1945-1991), modern warfare (The Changing World Gallery, 1990-present), and the relationship between the Army and the American people (The Army and Society Gallery).

The Faces of the Army

Pfc. Milton Olive III, Soldier Pylon, Soldiers' Stories Gallery
Profile of PFC Milton Olive III, one of the freestanding pylons with personal accounts of ordinary men and women who did extraordinary things. (National Museum of the United States Army, Duane Lempke)

The museum also profiles many of the most honorable soldiers and civilians serving the Army over the years, including:

  • Stanley C. Goff, who served in Vietnam, intentionally exposed himself to enemy fire and charged the enemy position to allow the rest of his company to advance. He survived and received a Distinguished Service Cross.
  • 1st Lt. Sharon A. Lane, a nurse in the Vietnamese Ward of a U.S. Army hospital in Vietnam. The work was demanding, but she declined transfers. She was called when a rocket hit the ward.
  • Jason B. Cartwright, an Army canine handler, partnered with a black Labrador retriever, Isaac. The pair has served two tours of duty in Afghanistan locating explosive devices planted by terrorists near roads, hospitals, schools, and military facilities.
  • Enid Mack Pooley, one of the “Hello Girls” recruited to manage telephone switching stations during World War I. The women finally received veteran status in 1978.
  • Maj. Christian Fleetwood of the 4th U.S. Colored Infantry received the Medal of Honor for his actions at the Battle of Chaffin’s Farm and New Market Heights on Sept. 18, 1964. Sgt. Maj. Fleetwood picked up and carried the American flag during combat after two of the regiment’s color bearers went down.

Informative & Engaging, at the National Museum of the United States Army

To enhance the experience and improve learning, many features engage more directly with visitors.

The World War I immersive experience puts visitors into a trench-like environment with cast figures, lighting effects, imagery, and sounds of distant battle. The scene is based on a photograph of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.

The Army Theater presents a 300-degree screen and external sensory elements to envelop the viewer in sight, sound, and movement. The current film, “Of Noble Deeds,” includes footage of soldiers and current Army operations along with re-creations of some of the Army’s most significant battles. The film is shown multiple times per hour, including one showing per hour with limited sensory elements and closed captioning.

National Museum of the United States Army Learning Lab
Three young visitors work collaboratively in the Learning Lab on Operation Safe Passage. In this scenario, facilitated by a Museum educator, participants use their new skills in Geography, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (G-STEM) to work as a team to respond to a humanitarian crisis. (National Museum of the United States Army, Anne Trenolone)

The Experiential Learning Center offers hands-on educational and team-building activities in geography, science, technology, engineering, and math for visitors of all ages.

The Army Historical Foundation has also produced three digital registries, offering everyone who served honorably in or for the U.S. Army a way to have their names and service histories placed on record at the National Museum of the United States Army. The registry can be accessed at ArmyHistory.org, and registration is free.

“The Army is people. They are our greatest strength and our most important weapon system,” said the Chief of Staff of the Army, Gen. James C. McConville. “The National Museum of the United States Army is designed to tell the compelling and heroic stories of our people and take visitors on an exciting journey through the history of the U.S. Army as told through the American Soldiers’ point of view.”

The National Museum of the United States Army

1775 Liberty Drive, Fort Belvoir, Virginia


* Other army-related museums operated under the auspices of the U.S. Army cover a more narrow aspect of American military history, such as the U.S. Army Transportation Museum in Fort Eustis, Virginia; the Frontier Army Museum, in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas; and the U.S. Army Women’s Museum in Fort Lee, Virginia.

Read the Boomer overview of regional transportation museums, including military-focused museums.


Images of the National Museum of the United States Army

Civil War 12-Pounder Cannon
The robust bronze smoothbore, dubbed the “Napoleon” after the French emperor Napoleon III who guided its development in the early 1850s, fired a round, 4.62-inch, 12.30 lb. projectile to a range of about 1,700 yards. It was reasonably accurate and was particularly effective as a direct fire weapon against infantry. It threw shot, shell, case shot and a deadly canister containing 48 one-inch balls. The Napoleon’s devastating fire power and maneuverability made it a popular weapon for Union light artillery. (National Museum of the United States Army, Duane Lempke)

 

National Museum United States Army Meuse-Argonne Offensive scene
As visitors emerge from the trench-like entrance of the Nation Overseas Gallery, cast figures, lighting effects, imagery, and sounds of distant battle recreate a setting—based on a famous photograph of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive. Viewed atop a glass and steel bridge, splintered trees and advancing American Soldiers maneuver amidst the battle wreckage. The film shown here plunges visitors into scenes of trench warfare and relays the U.S. Army’s contributions to the war effort. Nearby a 1917 FT-17 tank, against a backdrop of recruiting posters, augments the experience. (National Museum of the United States Army Photo, Spc. Ian Miller)

 

Huey helicopter of the Vietnam War
The “Huey” was the iconic helicopter of the Vietnam War. HU-1 helicopters arrived in Vietnam in 1962 as aerial ambulances. The designation was later changed to UH-1, for utility helicopters, but the nickname remained. The Huey was upgraded to a larger version, the UH-1H, with a more powerful engine in 1963. It was a versatile aircraft flying a wide variety of missions including air assault, cargo transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare, and ground attack. (National Museum of the United States Army, Duane Lempke)

 

The M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle
Assigned to A Troop, 3rd Squadron, 7th Cavalry, the M3 Bradley Fighting Vehicle, now featured in the Changing World Gallery, was in the 2003 charge from Kuwait to Baghdad. The vehicle and its team were essential to gaining control of several key positions including Baghdad International Airport before the advance into the city. During 48 hours of constant and bitter fighting, the squadron stopped several Iraqi infantry and armor advances and pushed just beyond their objective to strike at an Iraqi Republican Guard tank battalion. By the end of their fight, the Soldiers had destroyed 20 tanks and thoroughly blunted all enemy counterattacks, thereby allowing the U.S. to secure the airport and open the door to Iraq’s capital city.(National Museum of the United States Army, Duane Lempke)

 

Fort Discover at the National Museum of the U.S. Army
Fort Discover is a space specifically designed for young visitors to use imaginative play to climb an Army tower, radio friends, drop cargo supplies, launch a space rocket, drive a Jeep, serve up chow on the mess line, and check out different Army uniforms with camo camera. The animated Army mules—Buckshot, Blackjack, Ranger, Trooper, Spartacus, and Traveler—will use age-appropriate interactive games to teach children about Army Innovations across history such as interstate roads, the Panama Canal, and satellite communications systems. (National Museum of the United States Army, Anne Trenolone)

 

Exterior of the National Museum of the United States Army (Courtesy/Credit National Museum of the United States Army)

 

 

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