It wasn’t until fairly recently that I became aware of the fact that the U.S. Army is the only branch of our military not to have a national museum. This will all change when the National Museum of the Army opens on 80 acres at Fort Belvoir in a building projected to be 185,000 square feet. The official groundbreaking takes place today, and the museum is slated to open in 2018.
The galleries will display choice selections from the more than 15,000 pieces of art and 30,000 other objects in the collection. Until the opening in 2018, the collection sits at its temporary home at the Museum Support Center.
I’ve been to a lot of museums and I’ve seen many of their collection storage areas. Some can barely be called storage areas – such as the one that had objects stuffed into a small half-bath that was no longer in use. Others are truly state-of-the-art and do a wonderful job of safely and securely housing the countless priceless artifacts in the collection.
The Army’s Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia certainly falls in the latter of the two categories.
I recently had the opportunity to take a tour of the facility and couldn’t help but feel overwhelmed at the magnitude of history in the building.
The warehouse is nondescript enough from the outside, but the inside is straight out of the Indiana Jones scene when they store the Ark of the Covenant. (I can’t take credit for that analogy, but I can’t think of a better way to describe it.) Hidden inside a cavernous warehouse is a series of smaller rooms that lend themselves to every specialty you can think of from photography and conservation to long-term storage.
The bland white and gray colors on the walls and floors give way to a very colorful narrative of the Army from its inception to present day. They’ve got so much artwork that it hangs on floor-to-ceiling collapsible storage racks that can be rolled out to access the pieces you need. In addition to original paintings of notable historic figures, they’ve also got three original Norman Rockwell paintings from World War II.
General U. S. Grant’s kepi from the Civil War? Check.
Powder horns from the American Revolution? Check.
M1913 Cavalry Saber (designed by Patton), serial number 1? Check.
More firepower (handheld and otherwise) than you can shake a stick at? Check.
General John Pershing’s 1918 staff car? Check.
I think you get the idea. The collection is massive and the curators will have no difficulty in filling up the galleries with priceless objects.
When I left after my visit, I’ve never been more proud of the U.S. Army and excited to see them finally get their own museum. If you want to learn more about the museum’s mission, its collection, or even how you can help them reach their goal by 2018, visit www.thenmusa.org.
Logan Metesh is a firearms historian and consultant who runs High Caliber History LLC. Click here for a free 3-page download with tips about caring for your antique and collectible firearms.