‘In this museum, our story will be told’

SPECIAL REPORT National Museum of the Marine Corps

Thousands of Marines -old and young- gathered Friday in an atmosphere that was part reunion and part celebration to dedicate the National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico.

Most had traveled from across the country and waited several hours for the ceremony to begin. Many were elderly; quite a few waited in wheelchairs.

Retired Marines from World War II proudly wore their dress blue uniforms. Others sported a variety of hats and jackets; their insignias bore the names of their units and the wars in which they had fought.

The retirees eagerly greeted and chatted with each other throughout the day. And they approached active-duty Marines, many also in dress blues, to wish them “Happy Birthday.”

Friday was also the 231st anniversary of the founding of the Marine Corps.

Everyone seemed to have a camera and posed for pictures – a distinct pride on their faces in solemn remembrance of Marine Corps history.

“This is a dedication to the memories of the Marines who have brought honor to themselves and this country,” said Navy Rear Adm. Alan T. Baker, chaplain of the Marine Corps, in his invocation.

“We are the Marines, and in this museum, our story will be told,” said Jim Lehrer, a former Marine and a news anchor and author. “It’s a single monumental story made up of 231 years of separate stories of heroism and courage, of dedication and sacrifice, of service to our country and to our Corps, of honor and loyalty to each other in war and in peace.”

Since the Corps’ founding, about four million Americans have served their country as Marines.

“This museum is about all of them,” Lehrer said. “It’s about what it means to be a Marine, no matter the time, length, place, rank or nature of the service. It’s the shared knowledge of what comes from being a Marine.”

Invited guests were taken to the museum in 200 buses leaving from the Pentagon and Stafford County Airport. The HOV lanes of Interstate 95 were closed to regular traffic to get the buses in and out of the site.

President Bush was welcomed with a 21-gun salute from cannons and a fly-over of four F/A-18 Hornets.

The president singled out service of one Marine in particular during his remarks.

Cpl. Jason Dunham died in Iraq after engaging in hand-to-hand combat with an insurgent, and then throwing himself on a grenade to save his fellow Marines.

“Cpl. Dunham’s mom and dad are with us today on what would have been this brave young man’s 25th birthday,” Bush said.

“We remember that the Marine who so freely gave his life was your beloved son,” Bush said to Dunham’s parents, who received a standing ovation.

Bush also announced that the nation would recognize Dunham’s actions with the nation’s highest decoration for valor, the Medal of Honor.

“As long as we have Marines like Cpl. Dunham, America will never fear for her liberty. And as long as we have this fine museum, America will never forget their sacrifices,” Bush said.

“The history of the Corps is now being written by a new generation of Marines,” he said from a raised podium to more than 10,000 Marines, many of them veterans of World War II, Korea, Vietnam, as well as Iraq and Afghanistan.

“Years from now, when America looks out on a democratic Middle East growing in freedom and prosperity, Americans will speak of the battles like Fallujah with the same awe and reverence that we now give to Guadalcanal and Iwo Jima,” Bush said.

Seated on the platform with Bush were Sen. John Warner, R-Va. and Sen. John Glenn, D-Ohio, both former Marines; Marine Gen. Peter Pace, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff; the secretaries of the Army, Navy and Air Force; the current commandant of the Marine Corps along with three former commandants; former Gov. Mark Warner; U.S. Rep. Jo Ann Davis, R-Va.; and Prince William County Supervisor Maureen Caddigan, R-Dumfries.

“It will be quite an honor to sit up there,” Caddigan said before the dedication began. The museum is in her district and she was among those who worked to bring it to Prince William County.

“This museum means everything to Prince William County. It’s a very proud day and I feel honored to be part of it,” Caddigan said.