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Restoration is carried out on a World War II-era Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber that will be installed in the National Museum of the Marine Corps. The airplane was lost in Lake Michigan toward the end of the war and was recovered in the 1990s.

Photo by Benjamin Kristy

National Museum of the Marine Corps temporarily closed for final phase construction, installation of new aircraft

13 Jan 2016 | Adele Uphaus-Conner Marine Corps Base Quantico

For the first time since its 2006 dedication, the National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) will close its doors for three months, Jan. 4 through March 31, as part of the construction of its final phase and so that two new aircraft can be added to the Leatherneck Gallery.

“While we never like to close the doors of our museum, this process will better enable us to tell the stories of every American who has earned the title ‘Marine,’” said Lt. Gen. Robert R. Blackman, Jr., president and CEO of the Marine Corps Heritage Foundation, the nonprofit organization that funded the museum’s construction and continues to fund the current final phase completion project.

Two new aircraft will replace the Sikorsky HRS-1 helicopter that is currently depicted in a Korean War scene in the Leatherneck Gallery. Aviation curator Ben Kristy said the HRS-1 is being removed because it needs restoration. In its place, the museum is bringing in a Vietnam-era Sikorsky UH-34D helicopter.

“We don’t currently have a Vietnam-era aircraft on display in the Leatherneck Gallery, so this brings balance to the exhibit. And this particular helicopter has remarkable provenance. It saw five years of combat in Vietnam and has several dozen bullet hole patches,” Kristy said.

The UH-34D will be part of a new ground scene showing the opening moments of Operation Starlite, the Marine Corps’ first major ground operation of the Vietnam War, on August 18, 1965. Marines from helicopter squadron HMM-361 will be shown deploying from the aircraft near Van Tuong, Vietnam, to attack a Viet Cong base nearby.

“This particular UH-34D was with HMM-361 in Vietnam,” Kristy said. “It allows us to continue to tell the story of the introduction of the helicopter to the Marine Corps.”

The other aircraft that will be installed during the closure is a Douglas SBD-3 Dauntless dive bomber. Kristy said this particular plane was in Marine service during World War II. It was lost over Lake Michigan while on a training mission toward the end of the war and recovered in the 1990s by the National Museum of Naval Aviation, from where NMMC acquired it.

Kristy said this Dauntless never deployed overseas, but for the museum exhibit, it will be painted to depict a Dauntless that was the first to operate from Guadalcanal in 1942. It will be suspended from the ceiling of the Leatherneck gallery in a 40-degree dive angle.

“This plane gives us an opportunity to talk about how the Marines were used in the close air support doctrine,” Kristy said. Close air support is air action by fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft against hostile targets that are in close proximity. It requires detailed coordination between air and ground forces.

Kristy explained that as the museum is currently built, there is no good way for large artifacts such as aircraft and tanks to be brought in or removed. But since holes have to be cut in the walls of the Leatherneck Gallery to allow construction of the new galleries to continue, there was a window of opportunity for the aircraft to be switched out.

“January through March is traditionally a period of low attendance at the museum, so we decided to schedule three months for all this work to be done, with built-in flexibility in case of weather conditions,” Kristy said.

Also during the closure, workers will install new energy-efficient lighting throughout the museum and repair the floor in the Leatherneck Gallery, and the curators will make updates to the Vietnam War gallery, the museum’s public affairs chief Gwenn Adams said.

“It will be a very busy three months,” Adams said.

— Writer:

Marine Corps Base Quantico