Published Nov/Dec 2005

Above: The National Museum of Naval Aviation in Pensacola, Fla., features four Navy A-4 Skyhawks used by the Blue Angels flight squadron suspended in formation in a seven-story glass atrium. National Aviation Museum Foundation photo

Below: The National D-Day Museum sustained minor damage from Hurricane Katrina, but its artifacts were unharmed. When it reopens, visitors can see exhibits that include images of D-Day landings. National D-Day Museum photos

Before You Go
For more information, contact these museums:

•Museum and White House of the Confederacy, (804) 649-1861, www.moc.org;

• National D-Day Museum, (504) 527-6012, www.ddaymuseum.org;

• Airborne & Special Operations Museum, (910) 483-3003, www.asomf.org;

• Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, (502) 624-3812, www.generalpatton.org;

• U.S. Army Chaplain Museum, (803) 751-8079, www.usachcs.army.mil;

• National Museum of the Marine Corps, 1-800-397-7585, www.usmcmuseum.org;

• National Museum of Naval Aviation, 1-800-327-5002, www.naval-air.org.

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Museums throughout the South examine the history
of the nation’s military and pay homage to the sacrifices they’ve made in the name of freedom.
By Lori Cawley

The South is home to a fantastic array of museums that chronicle the history, grim sacrifice and heroic exploits of this nation’s military in armed conflict. Some focus on a military branch, others on a particular war, general or the hard-fought victories of a specific service unit.

As we honor veterans this month, a sample of some of the best military museums in the country follows. Most museums listed are free, but those that do charge offer AAA members discounted admission. Photo identification is required for visitors to the museums located on active military bases.

Museums that look at particular wars

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy in Richmond, Va., holds the world’s largest collection of Confederate items, including more than 500 wartime flags, the handwritten provisional constitution of the Confederate States Of America, and the uniform Gen. Robert E. Lee wore at the surrender in Appomattox that ended the Civil War. The White House of the Confederacy, where Confederate President Jefferson Davis resided, is next to the museum. Both buildings cover the period of the Confederacy’s history from 1861–1865.

The museum tour is self-guided. The White House tour is led by staff members and leaves every 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the volume of visitors. It’s a good idea to call the museum for directions because of the maze of one-way streets in the area. Difficult access to the museum and expansion construction of the neighboring Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical center have the museum wondering about its future location.

A Virginia General Assembly subcommittee studying the problems of the museum’s location is expected to make its recommendations by the end of the year to the museum, which will consider those recommendations when it makes its final decision on the museum’s location, according to Sarah Dowdey, director of communications for the museum. For visitors, it would be several years before “anything dramatic” happens, Dowdey said.

The Museum and White House of the Confederacy (1201 E. Clay St.) are open daily from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday–Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Admission to both sites is $10 for adults, $9 for seniors 62 and older and $5 for children 7–18 years. Discounts are available for pre-booked groups, active military and AAA members. Parking is free in the adjacent hospital parking deck, and tickets are validated at the front desk.
In New Orleans, La., the National D-Day Museum, just a mile from the French Quarter, looks at the June 6, 1944, invasion of Normandy, later D-Day events in the Pacific and the home front during World War II. While the museum sustained some wind damage from Hurricane Katrina, there was fortunately no water damage.

“None of the exhibits or artifacts were destroyed or damaged,” said Cindy McCurdy, director of public relations for the museum. “We are working to clean up and reopen as soon as possible. Hopefully, we will be open to the public by November or Dec. 1.”

When the museum reopens, visitors can see a variety of exhibits, including weapons, letters, models, recruitment posters and a replica of the famous Higgins Boat, the landing craft used at Normandy and other D-Day beaches. Of the approximately 20,000 used during the war, most Higgins Boats were built in New Orleans.

A $282 million expansion will quadruple the size of the museum over the next five years. The expanded museum will cover all of the theaters and services that played a role in the war and create a national center for research on the war.

The National D-Day Museum (945 Magazine St.) is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except on Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve, Christmas and Mardi Gras. Admission is $14 for adults, $8 for seniors, $6 for children 12 and younger. Show your AAA card for a $2 discount on adult admission, $1 off for accompanying children. Children younger than 5 are free, as are active military members in uniform. Groups of 15 or more receive a discounted admission. Visitors should call first or visit www.ddaymuseum.org online to check on the museum’s progress and reopening date.

Honoring branches of the military

The Airborne and Special Operations Museum in Fayetteville, N.C., is not far from Fort Bragg, the nation’s largest Army base. The museum is dedicated to the Army’s airborne and special operation units. A modern gracefully designed building houses exhibits and memorabilia that take the visitor from the creation of the first Army Parachute Test Platoon in 1940 to the innovations of modern air-to-ground stealth and combat. The collection includes the harnesses, chutes and other gear employed by the Army’s first paratroopers, a rare CG-4A glider–one of the few surviving specimens used in WWII–and an M551 Sheridan, a tank light enough to be dropped into combat by parachute.

The museum (100 Bragg Blvd.) is open Tuesday–Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Sunday from noon to 5 p.m. and all Mondays falling on federal holidays. Admission is free. Vistascope theater and motion simulator rides charge a fee.

The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor in Fort Knox, Ky., features more than 200 tanks and armored vehicles, about 40 of which are on display in and around the museum. In the collection are World War I French and British tanks, WWII Soviet and German tanks, the Patton tank used in Vietnam and armored vehicles used in Desert Storm. Galleries display a collection of Patton’s personal effects, including the famous ivory-handled pistols and his Cadillac.

The Patton Museum of Cavalry and Armor, located at the Fort Knox Military Reservation, is open 9 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Monday–Friday and 10 a.m.–4:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is free.

In Fort Jackson, S.C., the U.S. Army Chaplain Museum tells the little-known history of the U.S. Army Chaplaincy, which dates to 1775. The museum’s artifacts include kits and religious items used by field chaplains for more than 200 years to provide frontline spiritual and medical comfort.

There are portable field organs, altars and vestments used from WWI through the Vietnam War. A scorched piece of the Pentagon from 9/11 is on view. Inspirational stories–including that of Father Francis Duffy, senior chaplain of WWI’s 42nd Division–are a part of the museum. Perhaps one of the better-known stories came from WWII, when the transport ship Dorchester was sunk in 1943 by German torpedoes. Four chaplains sacrificed their own life vests–and themselves–to save other men on board. One of those vests is on exhibit.

The museum, located at the U.S. Army Chaplain Center and School (10100 Lee Road) is open from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday–Friday. Admission is free.

The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., is scheduled to open in November 2006. With an exterior design inspired by the flag raising at Iwo Jima, the Marines’ flagship museum is located on a 135-acre site next to the Marine Corps base. The museum will chronicle the history of the Marines from the Revolutionary War to the present.

Located on the Naval air base in Pensacola, Fla., the National Museum of Naval Aviation is one of the largest air and space museums in the world. Attractions include the collection of more than 140 restored aircraft used by the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard. Visitors can stand on the reconstructed deck of the aircraft carrier USS Cabot, walk through a Guadalcanal airfield, or enter a below-deck hangar bay of a WWII Jeep carrier. Four Navy A-4 Skyhawks used by the Blue Angels flight demo squadron are suspended in formation within a seven-story glass atrium. The Blue Angels practice in an area adjacent to the museum. For their schedule or more details, call (850) 452-2578 or (850) 453-2389.

Recently, ground was broken for an expansion that will add exhibit space, a 140-foot observation tower and a home for the National Flight Academy, an innovative week-long education program for students across the country in grades 7–12. The expansion should be done by summer 2007.

The museum (1750 Radford Blvd.) is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Admission is free. There is a charge for IMAX films and flight simulator rides.

The nation’s military has played a significant role in our history. These outstanding facilities tell a story every one of us should hear.

Lori Cawley is a new contributor from Long Valley, N.J.

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