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Old 05-24-2007, 12:37 PM
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Thumbs up National Museum of the Marine Corps


Grunts, just the way we are .... and with no apologies to anyone.

Subject: "Gallery of Grunts"

The new National Museum of the Marine Corps shows you the Marine Corps as it is, which is mostly enlisted men, anonymous grunts, and war as it is, which is dirty, crazy and endless.

No victory parades up the Champs-Elysees or down Fifth Avenue through the tickertape, no full-dress surrenders, no girls kissing Marines at war's end, no wreaths, triumphal arches, reflecting pools or any of the World War II Memorial stuff on the Mall, no generals holding binoculars with one hand and pointing over the battlefield with the other, not that many officers at all, really. And just about no ideology about freedom, America the beautiful or making the world safe for democracy.

A staff sergeant named Steven Sullivan, one of the builders of the exhibits, last week stood inside the big circular hall that holds fighter planes and displays, which include a helicopter disgorging troops in Korea and Marines hitting the beach at Tarawa. He summed up the ethos of the whole 118,000 square feet of the place: "No grandiosity, no heroic

One doesn't think of the Marine Corps shrinking from advertising its glamour: the Iwo Jima flag-raising monument, those grandiose TV ads with knights, dragons and swords, and the bumper sticker braggadocio: "Marines -- When It Absolutely, Positively Has to Be Destroyed Overnight." And there's the 210-foot spire that slants over the museum in unavoidable line-of-sight of travelers driving on Interstate 95 past the Marine base at Quantico.

The museum itself, however, is not about glamour; it's about the Marine mystique. And despite the glamour created by supremely adroit Marine public relations, the mystique is founded on -- of all things -- a willful and even perverse modesty.

Not the modesty of Spartans or kamikazes, or the French Foreign Legion parading at a half-time funeral step with leather aprons and axes, but a pristine and hard-eyed dirt-farm stinginess, a nearly lost American poor-but-proud aesthetic that makes Marines enjoy their belief that they're always fighting with hand-me-down equipment and not enough troops. There are also the casualties that provoke the perverse Marine boast that the corps is the finest machine ever developed for the killing of young American men. A friend of mine once heard a Marine colonel say to an Army colonel: "The Army uses tanks to protect men. The Marines use men to protect tanks."

Hence, at the end of the museum's three most powerful displays -- World War II, Korea and Vietnam -- you see not jubilation in triumph but merely a list of Marine casualties, dead, wounded and missing. And carved into the stone of the entrance hall are the words of Sgt. Maj. Dan Daly, twice a Medal of Honor winner: "Come on, you sons of bitches, do you want to live forever?"

If you cannot savor this sort of irony and understand that it is irony, the Marine mystique will elude you. But like a beautiful woman, the Marine Corps is secretly delighted to think that you don't and can't understand it. Beyond that, it doesn't really give a damn what you think.

A museum video screen shows a reporter in Vietnam talking to a Marine who just put himself under enemy fire, risked his life, to retrieve a dead man. "What possessed you to go out and get that body?" "He's a Marine." "What do you mean?" "I mean he's a Marine ... and I WILL take care of him."

Semper Fi, as we Marines say to each other for the rest of our lives. It's short for Semper Fidelis, the Marine motto: Always faithful. Fighting their way back from the Chosin Reservoir in Korea -- exhausted, under fire, sick, wounded and frostbitten -- Marines walked so that their trucks could carry the dead, as if they believed that men die but Marines live forever, a bleak immortality akin to the Greeks' underworld; self-sacrifice but with none of the transcendence of martyrdom.

The point here is the admirable or at least intractable modesty -- an arrogance of modesty -- that creates the Marine mystique as Marines know it and the museum shows it.

The mystique drives the Marine Corps and preserves its rituals, most important among them being boot camp, which has not changed much in living memory, an initiation rite that begins with chaos and terror fomented by the rabid indignation of drill instructors at your trespass. It ends, months later, with a graduating platoon gliding across the drill field with the oblivious elegance of a ship sailing along a horizon.

The museum conveys the terror of the first days in boot camp by understatement. It plays the drill instructors' shouts ( Louder! Louder! Look at the weapon! Shut your mouth!) at room-conversation volume and lets you amplify them in your mind.

You wander through the museum's dark and noisy labyrinths -- the popping of helicopter blades, the artillery and machine-gun fire, bomb bursts, MOVE OUT! MOVE OUT!, landing craft engines grinding toward the beach of Iwo
Jima, Bugs Bunny singing "Any bonds today?" in a WWII cartoon, and phrases floating through the air from a thousand recorded recollections: Now the Marines would get their chance . . . like cattle in a slaughterhouse . . .
we shall land . . . stench of rot . . .

You see medals and weapons collections and mannequins (molded and placed by Staff Sgt. Sullivan) of Marines killing and being killed, and all the idiosyncratic relics, the old dog tags, a letter opener made from shrapnel,
ammo boxes, a canteen with a bullet hole in it, a pinup girl, a straight razor, all with the banality of someone else's souvenirs.

There's no glory when you walk off a CH-46 helicopter to find yourself marooned on Hill 881 South, which was a very hot landing zone for months near Khe Sanh, Vietnam, live bodies flying in on helicopters and dead ones flying out while mortar shells exploded, rats prowled behind the sandbags, and the Marines fired back at the mortars with 105mm howitzers like the one you see here with tires flattened by incoming shrapnel.

The mystique goes deep. It provokes the fists thrown at or by sailors and soldiers in waterfront bars. It may instill the knack to be found in the lowest private for talking smack to the media, "telling sea stories," as Marines themselves say, and making civilians believe them. The Marine Corps is a cult, a tribe, a religious order.

The mystique even prompts the occasional American male to lie about having been in the Marine Corps (as in the new novel by Jim Lehrer, a former Marine lieutenant, called "The Phony Marine"). If you were a Marine, those men make your flesh crawl with pity. You say: My God, if I could be a Marine, they could have been Marines; don't they know that? Perhaps they couldn't have. But so what? You were a Marine and they weren't, and that is all the difference.

Listen up, people! That is all the difference. And that difference is what the museum is all about.
The National Museum of the Marine Corps, 18900 Jefferson Davis Hwy., Triangle, Va., is open daily except Christmas, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. For information, go to or call 800-397-7585.

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Old 05-26-2007, 10:08 AM
LarSim LarSim is offline
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Join Date: Aug 2006
Location: Boston Metro area
Posts: 104
Thumbs up The Marine Corps Museum...

is a MUST SEE for all you Marines!

I had the privilege of visiting the Museum on its opening weekend last year. Truly an awesome experience. They did it up right. I intend on going back this year, right about the time of the Marines Corps Birthday.

Last year I visited the Museum with a couple of brother Marines. A couple of them were Vietnam vets, so we immediately headed for the Vietnam displays. We got it back-azzwards. The displays start with Boot Camp and works it way to modern times. No problem, though. It was all good stuff.

After our tour we were sitting in the main gallery resting our feet. One of the Marines spotted a couple of Recruiters with a bevy of new recruits. We couldn't resist. The two of us went over, introduced ourselves to the Recruiters, and then we proceeded to give the newbies advice. Sound advice that they could use to make their tour at Parris Island more palatable. Such as "bring candy for your DI," "hard candies are o.k.," "ask for a 'time out' if you are feeling stressed," etc. The Recruiters, for some reason, were cracking up. The newbies just looked at us like sheep going to the slaughter.

Cool time.

Semper Fi.

- LarSim
USMC Combat Engineer
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