When it comes to tracing the United States’ vast and rich military history, faith groups have an array of great attractions they can visit.
Places like Philadelphia’s Museum of the American Revolution, Kansas City, Missouri’s National World War I Memorial and Museum and New Orleans’ National World War II Museum focus on specific wars. Other attractions, such as the National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia, and the National Museum of Civil War Medicine in Frederick, Maryland, offer a look at more specialized aspects of military history.
But these places are not your father’s or great-great-great grandfather’s military museums.
Although these five attractions hit the highlights of major wars and military movements, they also provide more personal profiles of soldiers and people on the homefront whose stories are told through fresh tours and modern, interactive exhibits.
Museum of the American Revolution
“We are committed to telling the lesser-known stories of the Revolutionary War era, diverse stories that most people never learned in school,” said Alison English, senior manager of group and travel trade sales for the Museum of the American Revolution.
Visitors will hear how the Oneida Indian Nation broke with the Iroquois Confederacy to join the Revolutionary War cause and learn about Elizabeth Freeman, a Massachusetts woman who sued for her freedom from enslavement and won her case.
English said the crown jewel of the museum’s collection is George Washington’s headquarters tent, which was the general’s mobile command center throughout much of the Revolutionary War.
“It is part of a mixed-media exhibit that includes a film — “Washington’s War Tent” — that explores Washington’s leadership and sets this old tent up as a powerful symbol of our fragile republic,” she said. “It is one of the museum’s best experiences, and it is what visitors rave about the most.”
The museum will debut “Liberty: Don Troiani’s Paintings of the Revolutionary War” on October 16, and it will remain on display through September 2022.
National Infantry Museum
Groups have a range of experiences awaiting them at the National Infantry Museum, which explores the impact of infantrymen throughout U.S. history.
The “Eras of Infantry” exhibits are organized chronologically in five sections, from the pre-Revolutionary War period through today. According to Tiffany Hoffmann, assistant director of education, the museum’s signature exhibit is “The Last 100 Yards.”
“It takes you through eight key battles, starting at the Battle of Yorktown and working up to current operations,” Hoffmann said. “The really cool thing is that each part includes lifelike figures, each of which was cast to represent an actual veteran that served here at Fort Benning.”
The museum offers special programs that bring in veterans from different wars to speak. But Hoffmann is quick to note that those aren’t the only times when you can hear from former soldiers.
“The other really cool thing for visitors is not just the exhibits they get to see but that there are military members and veterans here a lot,” she said. “The idea that, on any given day, I can have a discussion with a Vietnam veteran or visit with an Iraq or Afghanistan veteran or even talk with our World War II veterans, is really special.”
National World War I Memorial and Museum
Kansas City, Missouri
For an immersive history lesson on “The War to End All Wars,” the National World War I Memorial and Museum in Kansas City, which opened in 1926, is a must-visit.
The museum covers the war in a variety of ways, and its curator of education, Lora Vogt, said some of her favorite pieces in the collection are clothing from different countries. Her list includes a furry German Busby hat with the skull-and-crossbones symbol on it; an ornate South African soldier’s kilt; and a uniform from a member of the Hello Girls, the U.S. Signal Corps’ telephone operator unit.
“We also have a fantastic poster collection that shows the iconography that would become popular later on, including the original Uncle Sam ‘I Want You’ recruitment poster,” Vogt said. “People think of that as World War II, but it originated in World War I.”
She suggests that faith planners time a visit for 2022 to coincide with one of the museum’s many special events.
“We have ceremonies on Memorial Day and Veterans Day, and we host the Stars and Stripes Picnic on the Saturday before the Fourth of July,” said Vogt. “We also have Taps at the Tower, which is an entire week around Father’s Day when we do a really unique ceremony that features the playing of ‘Taps’ and some special readings.”
National World War II Museum
There’s always something new to explore at the National World War II Museum. The New Orleans attraction opened in 2000 and has gradually expanded to include five main buildings, and a sixth is on the way.
“Our mission is to tell the story of the war: how it was won, why it was fought and what it means today,” said Lisa Ochomogo, the museum’s senior sales manager of group sales. “What makes this such a special attraction is that it tells the American story of World War II, including the stories of both those who fought in World War II and those who contributed on the homefront.”
The Arsenal of Democracy area includes permanent exhibits that cover why the war was fought, and when groups explore the Campaigns of Courage building, which houses the “Road to Tokyo” and the “Road to Berlin” exhibit spaces, they get a better feel for how the Allies won the war. The new Liberation Pavilion building, slated to debut its first phase in the fall of 2022, will focus on what World War II means today.
“Visitors and group travelers are also able to experience the on-site Higgins Hotel and Conference Center, with proceeds supporting the museum’s ongoing educational mission,” said Ochomogo. “The hotel offers meeting and event spaces that are able to accommodate unique events of all sizes.”
National Museum of Civil War Medicine
The world of 19th-century military medicine is the order of the day at this unique attraction. As visitors explore more than 8,000 square feet of exhibits, they find out about the journey of medicine — especially trauma care — from the 1850s through the end of the Civil War.
“The museum is different than the other Civil War museums because it is the only one that deals exclusively with the consequences of war,” said membership and development coordinator Kyle Dalton. “We look at what war causes, not just what war is. That necessitates a careful, deliberate interpretation of that history, one that is going to be mindful of the suffering that so many went through.”
Guided tours are the attraction’s bread-and-butter group offering. Visitors are paired with well-trained guides, many of whom are former medical professionals who can cater a tour to the specific interests of the group.
“One exciting tour program for next year is a citywide scavenger hunt called One Vast Adventure,” said Dalton. “It will take people across the entire city, and there will be costumed characters and puzzle clues hidden around town. It’ll be a lot of fun.”
Each Saturday and Sunday from April to October, the museum offers the One Vast Hospital Walking Tour, which focuses on the city’s role as a makeshift hospital in the final months of 1862. Dalton said an additional themed tour is available the first Saturday of the month.