- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 1, 2001

The U.S. Marines have defended this country for 226 years. Standing at attention on the Corps motto of Semper Fidelis — "Always Faithful" — Marines have served on the front lines of every major conflict in which the United States has been involved.
The Corps first priority never has been to preserve history and fill museums, but it does an outstanding job of it anyway, as visitors to the Marine Corps Air-Ground Museum will learn.
The museum is about 35 miles south of the District at the Marine Corps Combat Development Command in Quantico, Va. More than 7,000 Marines are stationed at the 95-square-mile base on the edge of Prince William Forest Park, learning combat staffing, operations and logistics.
The Air-Ground Museum serves as an amazing 3-D classroom to the Marines who visit, helping them understand the "never-ending connection between technology, organization and tactics," says Kenneth L. Smith-Christmas, curator of material history for the Marine Corps.
You dont have to wear a uniform to appreciate the museum, however. The collection is awe-inspiring whether the visitor is a casual observer, a veteran, an armchair historian — or, especially, a child crazy about flying or fighting craft.
The museum displays thousands of items in three pre-World War II hangars that are artifacts in themselves. The collections reach extends from a display featuring Marston Matting, a mobile material that could turn a sandy beach into an airfield, to a group of premiere carrier-based aircraft of World War II, such as the F4U Corsair.
The displays include 17 airplanes and 21 fighting vehicles, including tanks, trucks and self-propelled guns. A kamikaze plane, a torpedo bomber, a Bell HTL helicopter and a breathtaking diorama of the defense of Wake Island are among the exhibits.
"A lot of what brings people in is being able to see the real thing — not a fiberglass replica," says Mr. Smith-Christmas. "When restoring an item, we want to bring it back to operational condition — what it looked like when it was flying or rolling. We try to preserve all the original parts."
The first hangar (which is closed temporarily for repairs) covers 1900 through 1940 and counts biplanes and armored cars from 1915 among its artifacts. The years 1941 through 45 are examined in the second hangar, which contains hardware used in battles in the Pacific, such as Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal and Tarawa, among other items. Hangar three discusses the period of the Korean War, 1950-54.
One prize in the Korean War section is an F9F-2 Panther, the first jet aircraft to fly a combat mission with the Marine Corps.
"Many of the aircraft we have are specimens representative of the types of aircraft that were important," Mr. Smith-Christmas says. "But this is so special because that actual plane made a real landmark in Marine Corps history."
Although certainly the most extensive, the Air-Ground Museum is not the only venue in town offering military history. Visitors to Quantico might wish to stop for an inexpensive bite at the Globe & Laurel restaurant on Route 1 in nearby Triangle, a half-mile from the base. The family of retired Marine Maj. Richard T. Spooner has owned the place for 34 years, and Maj. Spooner greets his guests each day at the door.
The Globe & Laurel, featured by novelist Patricia Cornwell in "All That Remains" and "From Potters Field," is itself a de facto museum. Military and law-enforcement insignia — the FBI Academy is located at Quantico, too — seem to cover every spare patch of wall. Medals and weapons are mounted and displayed in glass cases. Photos of significant military leaders — primarily Marines — are framed.
Chances are good that the diner at the next table is either a retired general or a law-enforcement officer — and Maj. Spooner seems to know every one of them.
"Major Spooners establishment is known worldwide to Marines and law enforcement," Mr. Smith-Christmas says. "I have been to places all over the country, and when you say Quantico, people will ask you if youve ever eaten at the Globe & Laurel."
Many of the restaurants tables are constructed from old wooden hatch covers from the SS Nathaniel Currier.
One highlight is the table commemorating the Battle of Belleau Wood, fought in France in June 1918. Belleau Wood was the first significant World War I battle for the Marines and is considered a watershed for the Corps, which previously had operated largely as a constabulary force.
At Belleau Wood, the Marines faced the German army: modern, well-equipped, well-trained and experienced. The Marines stopped the German advance on Paris.
The Globe & Laurels Belleau Wood table encases soil from the middle of the battlefield, drops of trench water, bullet fragments and a World War I Marine dog tag.
Maj. Spooner calls the Globe & Laurels relative notoriety "a quirk of fate."
He explains that many of his patrons "are people who move here from all over the world, and one thing they remember about Quantico is the restaurant. Im just an old Marine — Im not a businessman — and all these good things have happened to us."
However, he points out, "We hold to the old ways: duty, country, patriotism. That sounds corny now, but it used to be big when I was a small boy."


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