To Honor Those Who Have Served and Their Vehicles, Land, Sea and Air: The National Museum of the United States Army
The “eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month”: On November 11, 1918, the Armistice declared the end of hostilities for World War I, “the war to end all wars,” although fighting continued throughout the day –– a dark premonition of World War II, which began just 21 years later. In the United States, Armistice Day became Veterans Day in 1954, signed by President Eisenhower, a West Pointer, Army veteran and Supreme Allied Commander in WWII.
To honor its members, past and present, the National Museum of the United States Army at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, reopened June 14, the Army’s 246th birthday, after being closed temporarily as a result of the pandemic. The official opening was November 2020.
This is the first comprehensive national museum to display and interpret the Army’s history by telling stories through the lives of its soldiers. The displays and interactive-learning exhibits illustrate the Army’s role in building and defending the United States as well as Army humanitarian missions and technological and medical breakthroughs built on Army ingenuity, explains Susan Smullen, its public affairs officer.
In addition to its three galleries and exhibits, the museum features a multisensory 300-degree theater, a tranquil rooftop garden and over more than 1,300 historic treasures rarely or never-before-seen by the public.
“This is an up-close and personal museum designed to invite visitors to engage and explore,” explains Smullen. “Visitors may be surprised to see the wide variety of artifacts on display and to learn how the Army history is America’s history.”
Smullen recently gave Highline Autos a virtual tour, providing background on some of the vehicles, including which gallery they can be found in as well as why the vehicle, boat or plane is important historically:
•FT-17 Renault “Five of Hearts” (“Nation Oversees, World War I Immersion”) ––The Army had FT-17s in its inventory from 1917 through 1941.
History: Manufactured in 1917, this tank was nicknamed the “Five of Hearts” after the insignia was painted on the side of the turret. It is French built and was given to the American Tank Corps.
The tank was assigned to Company C, 344th Tank Battalion, American Expeditionary Forces (AEF) Tank Brigade, under Lt. Col. George S. Patton, Jr., and saw action in the St. Mihiel Salient and the Toul, before participating in the Meuse-Argonne Offensive.
Eventually, the tank was fired upon at close range, causing multiple drivers to be wounded and the tank to stall. It would be retrieved the day after battle. It was returned in 1919 to Camp Meade in Maryland, where it remained until 2017 before its transfer to the National Museum.
Historical Significance: The “Five of Hearts” is the only documented FT-17 tank to be used by U.S. forces in World War I. The FT-17 was a revolutionary design that the U.S. Army adopted as the basis for America’s first tank, the Model 1917. This tank served as a symbol of the early Army Armor branch and was preserved at Fort Meade, the original training location for Army tankers.
•“Cobra King” Sherman Tank (“Global War, Technology and Tactics”)–– The M4 Sherman was used 1941–1945 and its successor, the M4A3 “Jumbo” Sherman, 1944–1945.
Artifact History: At 1650 hours on December 26, 1944, this Cobra King, manufactured earlier that year, led the 4th Armored Division column that would break through the German line during the Battle of the Bulge. This tank was also sent to support Task Force Baum, the ill-fated secret attempt to rescue U.S. POWs from a camp near Hammelburg, Germany, March 27 and 28, 1945.
There is physical evidence that shows the Cobra King experienced a brief internal fire and explosions that damaged the interior. The tank was known to be abandoned after the raid, and the tank’s whereabouts became unknown. In 2004, Army Chaplain Keith Goode found the “First in Bastogne” tank on display in Germany after doing much research. In 2009, the U.S. Army Center of Military History shipped Cobra King back to the U.S. to be restored.
Historical Significance: The Sherman was the great American tank of World War II. It was employed in all theaters of operation where its reliability and mobility allowed it to spearhead armor attacks, provide infantry support and as artillery. In 1944, the Army introduced the M4A3E2 Sherman “Jumbo” tank, weighing 38 tons.
In the Siege of Bastogne, the tank was crucial for victory. On December 16, 1944, Hitler launched an offensive to recapture the port city of Antwerp. German forces were ordered to attack the Allied lines in Belgium and Luxembourg, with the aim of crossing the Meuse River and recapturing the city. The seven roads that led in and out of the Belgian town of Bastogne made it crucial to German lines of communication and their westward advance towards the river.
By December 21, the German XLVII Panzer Corps had encircled the city of Bastogne and the American forces. American forces were able to hold the town of Bastogne for five days before elements of General Patton’s Third Army were able to arrive and break through the encirclement.
•M3A2 Bradley Fighting Vehicle (“Changing the World, Iraq”) –– The Bradley was introduced in 1983 and remains in service today. What year this particular vehicle was manufactured is unknown.
Artifact History: A Troop was part of the charge from Kuwait to Baghdad, Iraq, in this fighting vehicle. Their route brought them through various Iraqi cities, which led to resistance from organizations loyal to Saddam Hussein.
By April 3, 2003, the troops were given orders to screen Objective Montgomery, directly west of Baghdad. They were able to seize Objective Montgomery but were attacked by two enemy tactical vehicles. Baghdad was eventually isolated and encircled with various elements of the 3d Infantry Division, setting the stage for the initial Thunder Runs on April 5, 2003, into the city.
Historical Significance: This vehicle was a part of the charge from Kuwait to Baghdad, Iraq, in March and April 2003.
•1918 Standard B Liberty Truck (“Army & Society, Innovation and Invention’’) –– The Liberty was used from 1918–1940. The museum’s truck was built in 1918.
Artifact History: In 1918, the Army had more than 294 makes and body types of motor vehicles. To standardize its fleet, the Army organized a committee of 50 engineers who met with Army officers to design a new three-ton cargo truck. The result was the Standard B Liberty Truck, a vehicle with interchangeable parts manufactured in different factories that simplified maintenance in the field. Fifteen companies assembled the trucks, while more than 150 manufacturers made parts.
Despite 10,000-plus being produced in 1918 and 1919, few made it overseas in time for service during World War I. The use of trucks revolutionized warfare as they could economically haul supplies in rugged battlefield conditions.
Historical Significance: When the Army’s transcontinental motor convoy embarked on a 3,251-mile journey from Washington, D.C., to San Francisco, California, in the summer of 1919, Liberty Trucks were a part of the caravan. The trip took 62 days at an average speed of only six miles per hour.
One young officer on the convoy, Eisenhower, would remember this trip 37 years later, when as president, he helped to create the Interstate Highway System –– thinking first of national defense and secondarily of expediting the family summer vacation.
•LCVP (Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel) (Global War, Technology and Tactics) –– One of the key transportation craft that won the war, these remarkable boats were produced from 1941 through the 1950s. This one can be dated to 1942 or 1943.
Artifact History: This boat was located by Overlord Research LLC, on the Island of Wight, England, and acquired by the company. It was transported to Hughes Marine Service in Danville, Virginia, where it was restored. This LCVP is one of fewer than a dozen surviving landing crafts from World War II. This vessel is a confirmed participant of the D-Day landings, but its exact history and area of use is unknown.
Historical Significance: The Higgins assault boat landed more Allied troops on beaches in Europe and the Pacific than all other types of landing craft combined. These small boats could carry 36 combat-loaded troops or a light vehicle (Jeep) and 12 fully equipped men.
The flat-bottomed barged boat’s structure allowed it to slide onto a landing beach, lower the front ramp and discharge its load and quickly turn around in the surf. The LCVP allowed for transport of troops to the beaches of Normandy quickly, a feat that wouldn’t have been possible without the LCVP because of the shallow coastal depths.
•HMMWV (“HUMVEE”) SN #000001 (Concourse) –– Still in use, the first vehicles were produced in 1983, including this one.
Artifact History: This HMMWV was transferred to the Army Artifact Collection from the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment. The HMMWV is the successor to the venerable Jeeps used from World War II through the early 1980s. The Army initiated development of the HMMWV in 1979 with the final contract awarded in 1983.
The HMMWV first saw combat during Operation Just Cause in 1989. The HMMWV vehicle has been produced in a variety of different variants including cargo carrier, ambulance, troop carrier, air defense variant, radar dish carrier, prime mover, armament carrier, etc.
During the Global War on Terrorism, where there were no front lines, HMMWVs were attacked with great frequency and increasing loss of life. This led to the creation of “Up-armored” HMMWVs, which were modified to accept armor and a turret for a mounted weapon.
The HMMWV is now being phased out because it cannot meet all of the requirements of the modern battlefield. The initial award for its successor, the Joint Light Tactical Vehicle, was awarded in 2015.
Historical Significance: The HMMWV has seen combat and use around the world in every American conflict since 1983 and has become an important part of the Army’s public image. HMMWVs are critical to the Army’s ability to quickly move soldiers, supplies, equipment and firepower around the battlefield. HMMWVs were so successful that they have also been used by numerous allies, other countries, and have even been developed into a civilian variant.
•Wright Model A “Military” Flyer (“Army and Society, Innovation and Invention”)
Artifact History: This aircraft was built in 2007 as an exact reproduction of the Wright Model A Flyer built for Army trials held at Fort Myer, Virginia, in September 1908. This was the first U.S. Army airplane test evaluation conducted by the Signal Corps.
Historical Significance: This is the first military airplane used in the world. However, no Model A was bought by the United States Army. In 1891, Samuel Langley built a steam-powered model of an aerodrome that flew for three-quarters of a mile. The Army contracted Langley for a full-size version, but that venture ended in failure.
After the Wright brothers flew a heavier-than-air machine at Kitty Hawk in 1903, the Army challenged inventors to provide an aircraft that could carry two individuals (a pilot and a passenger), fly 40 miles an hour, and remain airborne for an hour.
In 1908, Orville Wright brought his aircraft to Fort Myer, Virginia, for Army demonstrations. He flew several test flights accompanied by an observer. On September 17, the machine crashed, sparing Orville but killing 1st Lt. Thomas E. Selfridge, the first American soldier to lose his life in an air mishap.
The Wright design was improved and trials resumed at Fort Myer in 1909. Orville completed a pair of flights that exceeded the War Department’s endurance and speed requirements, and the Army agreed to purchase the plane for $30,000. That aircraft is on display at the National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.
•UH-1B Iroquois Helicopter, “The Huey” (“Cold War, Vietnam War”)
Artifact History: “The Huey” was built 1960–2001, and this aircraft, manufactured circa 1964, was used as a gunship during the Vietnam War by the 129th Assault Helicopter Company. Between March 1966 and February 1969, this helicopter was damaged or shot down seven times and was retired from service in September 1969.
Historical Significance: The “Huey” was the key helicopter of the Vietnam War. HU-1 helicopters arrived in Vietnam in 1962 as aerial ambulances. The designation was later changed to UH-1, for utility helicopters, but the nickname remained. The Huey was upgraded into a larger version, the UH-1H, with a more powerful engine, in 1963.
It was a versatile aircraft flying a wide variety of missions including air assault, cargo transport, medical evacuation, search and rescue, electronic warfare and ground attack. The UH-1B can hold up to two pilots and seven passengers or three stretchers with three additional wounded in the seats. The helicopter can also be configured with a rescue hoist, auxiliary fuel tanks, spotlights and mission kits.
For more information, including an interactive map, a list of exhibits, educational programs, a special events calendar and more, please visit www.theNMUSA.org. To view a short video of the museum, please visit www.youtu.be/3MLNA_bf2EE.
Free, timed-entry tickets are now available through the museum’s website at theNMUSA.org. All tickets must be reserved in advance online. For inquiries on the museum, its holdings, the site, tours and tickets, please contact Customer Service at [email protected] or 1.800.506.2672.
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