The U.S. Army kicked off a six-year effort Tuesday to design and build a national museum at Fort Belvoir that will be dedicated to telling the history of the 228-year-old military branch to an estimated 1 million visitors annually.
“It will be much more than a building of displays and artifacts,” said Gen. John M. Keane, vice chief of staff for the Army.
Disney, Universal Studios and Canon Design architects are consultants for what will be a 55-acre campus of parade grounds, an amphitheater and a 419,965-square-foot museum complex that will not rely on placard displays and labeled artifacts, but create environments to immerse visitors in past experiences, said Judson E. Bennett, the director of Army museums.
“It will be entertaining; it will be exciting and it will educate,” Bennett said.
Before the museum is finished, a virtual museum will be built on the Internet that will connect the museum to schools, other museums and to soldiers in the field.
The U.S. Army Center of Military History expects to invest $95 million to design, staff and operate the museum, and another $120 million will be raised through donations to build the museum.
With 485,000 on active duty in the Army, another 558,000 in the National Guard or Reserves and 25 million veterans, soldiers past and present are expected to be a major source of donations. Also, corporate naming rights will be sold in high visibility areas.
The museum is expected to open in June 2009.
In 1999, Fort Belvoir gained an edge over competing Carlisle, Pa., home of the Army War College, to be the location of the museum, when the late Sen. Strom Thurmond, R-S.C., sponsored legislation with Rep. James Moran, D-8th District, to require Fort Belvoir be the location.
Two years later, after the Army studied locations, it picked Fort Belvoir.
Three locations along U.S. 1 on the base are under consideration for the museum. The top site is on the north side of the base near Pence Gate, but its viability will not be known until an environmental review of the base is completed in the fall 2004.
There are 61 Army museums around the world but none solely dedicated to representing the entire Army’s history. This museum will complement Carlisle’s Military History Institute that is more of a library used for research, Bennett said.
The museum is one of three museums expected to help in the revitalization of the U.S. 1 corridor.
A $40 million Marine Corps Heritage Center in Triangle will open in 2005.
An $80 million Belmont Bay Life Science Center, still in the planning stages, is envisioned to be built on U.S. 1 adjacent to the Occoquan Bay National Wildlife Refuge.
On Tuesday, the story was the Army.
Approximately 400 people under white tents and blue skies were on Fort Belvoir’s parade field. Past Army traditions like marching fife and drum players performed, interpreters played the part of soldiers from past wars, and new technology like a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter was parked next to its predecessor, a Huey helicopter.
Bennett told the story of Sgt. Webster Anderson in the 101st Airborne, who in October 1967 directed artillery fire at attacking North Vietnam soldiers from a raised position. He was hit by a grenade but refused evacuation and continued to direct fire, helping fight off the attack. During the fight he lost his arm trying to throw away an enemy grenade thrown into his parapet. He had to have both his legs amputated.
In 1999, when Bennett took students to interview Anderson, who is black, and one student asked him if he had any regrets because he grew up in the segregated South and came home to an ungrateful country.
Bennett said Anderson responded: “I have one arm left and if my country needs it today, I will gladly give it up.”
“It is for people like Sgt. Anderson we are building this museum,” Bennett said.
Anderson died Aug. 30 at the age of 70. He received the Medal of Honor.