A brief look into some of the most important collections east of the Mississippi River.
By Lori Cawley
The United States has a fantastic array of museums that chronicle the history, grim sacrifice, and heroic exploits of its military in armed conflicts. Some focus on a particular military branch; others on a major war, a memorable battle, a particular general, or the hard-fought victories of a specific service unit.
Here’s a sampling of military museums in the eastern part of the United States. This is not all of them, of course, but a taste of the varied military museums that pay homage to Americans at war. Unless otherwise noted, a photo ID is sufficient for entry.
New York City’s Intrepid Sea-Air-Space Museum is the world’s largest naval museum. It includes the 900-foot-long aircraft carrier USS Intrepid berthed on the Hudson River in Manhattan, and two additional ships: the destroyer USS Edson and the USS Growler, the only nuclear missile submarine open to the public. More than 30 aircraft are located on the Intrepid’s flight and hangar decks, including an A-12 Blackbird, a supersonic reconnaissance plane. The newest addition to the collection is a former part of British Airways’ fleet: a Concorde. This particular plane crossed the Atlantic in just less than three hours.
Other museum highlights include the original sculpture and prototype for the Iwo Jima Memorial and the Virtual Flight Zone simulator, where visitors can “fly” an F/A-18 Hornet off an aircraft carrier deck (an additional price is charged to ride the flight simulators). Plan on spending at least two hours at the museum. Special events are regularly held on Veteran’s Day, Memorial Day, and Pearl Harbor Day, as well as throughout the summer.
From October through March, the museum is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday. The remainder of the year it is open 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Friday and 10:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. on weekends. Admission is $14.50 for adults; $10.50 for veterans, reservists, college students, and seniors; $9.50 for children ages 6 to 17, and $2.50 for kids ages 2 to 5. Active duty military and children under age 2 are admitted free. Motorhome parking is not available.
The museum is located on Pier 86, at 12th Avenue and 46th Street in New York; phone (212) 245-0072; e-mail: [email protected]; www.intrepidmuseum.org.
The Marine Corps Historical Center is located at the Washington Navy Yard in Building 58, in Washington, D.C. The museum consists of two sections: the Marine Corps History Time Tunnel and the Special Exhibits Gallery. Both follow the history of the Marine Corps from its start in the Revolutionary War to the present. The gallery currently commemorates the Korean War, including Life magazine photographs and weapons used by the Marine Corps, the North Korean People’s Army, and the Communist Chinese forces.
The museum is open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Monday through Friday, and until 8:00 p.m. on Fridays in the summer (Memorial Day to Labor Day). Admission is free. Motorhome parking is available on the Navy Yard. To visit the museum, you must call (202) 433-3840 for reservations 24 hours in advance. Visit www.history.usmc.mi for more information.
While you’re there, you also may want to visit the Navy Museum, a branch of the Naval Historical Center, which also is located in the Navy Yard in the former gun factory (Building 76). It contains a gun deck section and a submarine room with operating periscopes, as well as exhibits and displays of weapons and technology.
Hours are Monday through Friday, 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free, but you must call 24 hours in advance for reservations. For weekend visits, phone by noon on Friday. Phone (202) 433-3882; www.history.navy.mil.
The National Civil War Museum in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, covers both the Union and Confederate sides of the Civil War and depicts the political, social, and economic ferment that fueled the war during which more Americans were killed than in any other conflict. The museum, which opened in 2001, includes uniforms, weaponry, artifacts, and life-size dioramas of a slave block and a surgeon amputating a leg. Artifacts belonging to famous generals include George E. Pickett’s sash and uniform; Robert E. Lee’s Bible and gauntlets; Ulysses S. Grant’s sword belt; J.E.B. Stuart’s saber; and George B. McClellan’s saddle. Among the many exhibits is a typical Civil War operating room complete with the medical instruments used to treat the wounded in action. The museum also offers Civil War weapons demonstrations, troop maneuvers, encampments, and other living history programs. Plan to spend at least 90 minutes touring the collection.
Museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and noon to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. The museum is closed on Mondays from January 1 through March 31. Admission is $7 for adults, $6 for seniors 55 and over, and $5 for students ages 8 and up. Children age 7 and under are admitted free. A family pass is $25. Motorhome parking is available on-site. The museum is located at One Lincoln Circle at Reservoir Park. Phone (717) 260-1861; www. nationalcivilwarmuseum.org. Harrisburg is approximately two hours east of Washington, D.C., three hours from New York City, and two hours from Philadelphia.
The United States Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, Ohio, is the largest and oldest military aviation museum in the world. More than 300 aircraft and missiles are on display, including a reproduction of the 1909 Wright Military Flyer; the Apollo 15 Command Module; and an F-117 Nighthawk. Visitors can take a shuttle bus to see a secure area of the base, which includes hangars where presidential, research and development, and flight test planes are located. Rides on the shuttle bus are on a first-come basis and can be arranged at the Pass Desk in the museum.
The museum recently opened several new buildings featuring a Cold War gallery and Hall of Missiles as part of a major expansion. Plan on spending several hours, if not a day or two, at this facility, which each year attracts more than 1.5 million visitors from around the world. It is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and admission is free. Admission is charged to the IMAX movies and Morphis simulator rides. Motorhome parking is available. The museum entrance is on Springfield Pike, approximately six miles northeast of Dayton. Phone (937) 255-3286; www.wpafb.af.mil/museum.
The National Museum of Naval Aviation is located on the Naval Air Station base in Pensacola, Florida. This aviation museum is second only to the United States Air Force Museum in size. The collection includes more than 140 restored aircraft used by the Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard. Some of these are outside and can be seen during a free 20-minute bus tour. Visitors stand on the reconstructed deck of the aircraft carrier USS Cabot; walk through a re-created Guadalcanal airfield; play with the switches in a cockpit trainer; and enter a below-deck hanger bay of a World War II Jeep carrier. Four of the Navy’s A-4 Skyhawks (the type of aircraft used by the Blue Angels flight demonstration squadron) are suspended in formation from the ceiling of a seven-story glass atrium. On Tuesday and Wednesday mornings at certain times of the year, the Blue Angels practice in an area adjacent to the museum. Phone (850) 452-3955 for more information about their schedule.
The museum is open daily from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Admission is free; however, IMAX films and the flight simulator ride cost extra. Motorhome parking is available on-site. The museum is at 1750 Radford Blvd. at the Naval Air Station; phone (800) 327-5002 or (850) 453-2389; e-mail: [email protected]; www.naval-air.org.
The U.S. Naval Academy Museum is located on the grounds of the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, approximately 35 miles east of Washington, D.C. The museum, established in 1845, is the oldest naval museum in the United States. It boasts a superb collection of warship models from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Other highlights include the table where the World War II surrender was signed on the deck of the battleship Missouri.
Plan on spending an hour viewing the collection, which also includes paintings, swords, uniforms, coins, and medals from 30 countries, some of which go back as far as 254 B.C. Parts of the collection also can be seen on the Naval Academy campus; be sure to visit the crypt of Commodore John Paul Jones (who died in 1792), which is across the street from the museum at the Academy Chapel.
The museum is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sunday. Admission is free. Motorhome parking is not available on the base, so take your towed car or other transportation. The museum is located in Preble Hall at 118 Maryland Ave. in Annapolis; phone (410) 293-2108; www.usna.edu/Museum.
The West Point Museum, just outside the gates of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in New York, is generally considered the best military history museum in the country. It was opened to the public in 1854, but its collections far predate the academy, which is more than 200 years old itself. Treasures include George Washington’s matched set of pistols; the first Medal of Honor ever awarded; the original casing of an atomic bomb; British mortars captured in 1777; and one of Hitler’s gold-plated pistols. The collection is housed in six permanent galleries and two rotating galleries. Plan to spend approximately two hours in the museum.
The museum is located in Olmstead Hall at the U.S. Military Academy; it is open Monday through Saturday from 10:30 a.m. to 4:15 p.m. Admission is free. Motorhome parking is not available. Phone (845) 938-3590; e-mail: [email protected]; www.usma.edu/museum.