Manassas Journal Messenger | Marine Corps museum breaks ground

The opening of the Marine Corps Heritage Center near the Locust Shade Park will be a boost to all those eager to remember or to learn more about the Corps history.

It also will be a boost to Prince William County’s economy, said many attending the groundbreaking ceremony held at the Quantico Marine Corps base Friday.

About 200 people attended, including past commandants Gen. Al Gray and Gen. Carl Mundy.

“I see individuals here who set the stage for those on active duty today,” said Gen. Michael W. Hagee, the 33rd commandant of the Marine Corps.

The ceremony was to be held on the 135-acre site for the Heritage Center including its first phase, the National Museum of the Marine Corps. However, water left behind from Hurricane Isabel left the site too wet to build the gravel road that would have been used by those attending.

Instead, the ceremony was held on the grounds of Lejeune Hall at Quantico.

The Marine Corps sets itself apart from the other branches of the services because of its great appreciation and knowledge of its history, Hagee said.

“The National Museum of the Marine Corps is going to help present that culture, that history, not only educating and informing Marines, but more importantly educating the American public about what we do,” Hagee said.

Hagee acknowledge a retired Marine staff sergeant who traveled from Alaska to attend the ceremony. “What he represents to me is the special culture we have in the Marine Corps,” Hagee said.

“What this is going to mean to this community is an opportunity to explain to people what the Marine Corps means,” said Prince William County Board of County Supervisors Chairman Sean T. Connaughton, R-at large.

Former U.S. Senator, governor and Marine Charles Robb spoke on behalf of Gov. Mark R. Warner.

“This [museum] makes a statement about how much [being a Marine] has been and always will be to me and many of you,” Robb said.

Robb said that the governor anticipated that those visiting the museum would also visit other sites in the area providing an “important boost to Virginia’s tourism and economy.”

When the museum opens in 2005, it is expected to draw 250,000 visitors a year and up to 500,000 in the following years.

“This is the best thing that has ever happened to eastern Prince William,” said County Supervisor Maureen S. Caddigan, D-Dumfries. Caddigan has been working closely with the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation to have the Heritage Center built near Quantico.

“This is not only going to do a great deal for Triangle, Dumfries, the town of Quantico, Woodbridge, but also for Stafford County,” Caddigan said.

Many eastern Prince William County and town elected officials attended the event including Dumfries Mayor Melvin “Mel” Bray, a retired Marine sergeant major.

“We love our traditions and heritage,” Bray said. “As a Marine, it means a lot to me to have [the museum] here. Having it so close to Dumfries means it could help our economy tremendously.”

The National Museum of the Marine Corps will be the centerpiece of the Heritage Center situated on land donated by Prince William County from Locust Shade Park to the Quantico base.

The national museum will feature a soaring 210-foot tilted mast atop a 160-foot glass atrium, evoking imagery of the World War II-era flag-raising at Iwo Jima as depicted at the Marine Corps War Memorial in Arlington.

A variety of galleries and exhibits will depict the Marine Corps and its role since its founding in 1775.

A fund-raising campaign to raise $36.5 million to build the complex has been ongoing for the last few years.

Retired Lt. Gen. Ronald Christmas, president of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, announced during the ceremonies that the group had received a donation of $10 million, which would go far in helping to meet their goal. The family of Alfred Lerner made the donation.

Aside from the Lerner family, the Founder’s Group of donors, those contributing $100,000, were thanked during the ceremony. These donations as well as more than 50,000 smaller ones have allowed the foundation to raise about half of its needed $36.5 million.

“I feel thrilled that we have come so far in such a short period of time,” Christmas said after the ceremony.

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