- The Washington Times - Friday, November 10, 2006

Washington Times Video: Birth of a museum | Washington Times Photos: Photo Gallery

President Bush yesterday attended the dedication ceremony for the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Quantico, Va., an event nearly 20 years in the making.

Mr. Bush and thousands of current and retired Marines converged on the Marine Corps base to celebrate the opening of museum. The dedication coincided with the 231st anniversary of the Marine Corps.

After a 21-gun salute and a flyover of four F-18 jets, Mr. Bush told the crowd that the museum will honor past and present Marines and preserve the Corps’ history for future generations.

“For too long, the only people to have direct experience of the Marine Corps have been the Marines themselves — and the enemy who’s made the mistake of taking them on,” Mr. Bush said, drawing cheers and applause.

“In this museum, you’ll experience life from a Marine’s perspective. You’ll feel what it’s like to go through boot camp, make an amphibious landing under fire or deploy from a helicopter in Vietnam.”

The museum opens to the public Monday and is expected to attract 250,000 to 600,000 visitors annually. Admission is free.

“The museum will not make you into a Marine — only a drill instructor can do that,” Mr. Bush said. “But by putting you in the boots of a Marine, this museum will leave you with a rich appreciation for the history of the Corps.”

The 118,000-square-foot museum is adjacent to the base. The building’s skyline is designed to suggest the five Marines and one Navy corpsman raising the flag at Iwo Jima in 1945.

“Marines put a great deal of stock in history,” said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the commandant of the Marine Corps. “We use it for two reasons. One, to inspire us and, two, to educate us. This museum, I believe, will do that not only for the Marines, but for the American public.”

The museum is the centerpiece of the Marine Corps Heritage Center on 135 acres, donated by Prince William County, between Interstate 95 and Route 1 opposite the main gate of the Quantico base.

When completed, the complex will include a parade deck, memorial walking trails, a chapel, an Imax theater, a conference center and a hotel.

In the late 1980s, Congress authorized each military service branch to develop its own national historic center.

Construction of the Marine museum began in 2004.

“It is here that the proud history of the United States Marine Corps will be appreciated, reflected upon and enjoyed like never before,” said Ron Christmas, a retired lieutenant general and president of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, which spearheaded the building of the museum.

During the two-hour ceremony, Mr. Bush announced that Cpl. Jason L. Dunham, of Scio, N.Y., would posthumously receive the Medal of Honor, the United States’ highest military decoration.

Cpl. Dunham, who was killed near Karabilah, Iraq, in 2004 while shielding fellow Marines from a hand grenade, would have been 25 years old yesterday.

“You might say he was born to be a Marine,” Mr. Bush said to Cpl. Dunham’s parents, Dan and Deb Dunham, who were in attendance.

Jim Lehrer of PBS’ “The NewsHour,” who served three years as an infantry officer in the Corps, said such actions of courage are common for Marines.

“The death rate among Marines in Iraq has been more than double that of the other service,” Mr. Lehrer said. “That’s a first-to-fight, first-wave pattern that has pretty much held since the Revolutionary War … whatever needs to be done, particularly if the need is for it to be done well, and be done immediately.”

Today the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation will hold a memorial to honor deceased Marines.

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