Along the Legacy Walk, visitors are immersed in more than 200 years of Marine Corps history. Entering the Legacy Walk visitors are greeted by Colonial Marines perched high atop a sailing ship’s “fighting top” ready to sweep the decks of an opposing ship with withering musket fire. Only yards away, two-time Medal of Honor recipient Dan Daly fights on the Tartar Wall in Peking in 1900. Farther on, a World War I Marine locked in hand-to-hand combat with a German soldier reminds visitors that war can be intensely personal. Continuing along the Legacy Walk, a Navy corpsman works frantically to save a wounded Marine during World War II. Overhead, a de Havilland DH-4 prepares to pick up a message pouch during the “Banana Wars” of the 1920s and the UH-1E Huey helicopter in which Marine Maj Stephen Pless earned the Medal of Honor in 1968 is proudly displayed.Photographs, maps, iconic artifacts and life-like cast figures capture the courage of individual Marines and the evolution of the Marine Corps as a whole. The Legacy Walk includes a timeline detailing the Marine’s activities at home and abroad since 1775 and introduces visitors to the cooperative relationship between the Marine Corps and the US Navy, the Marine Air-Ground Team and the many innovations developed by the Marine Corps to improve its operational capabilities. Special exhibits along the Legacy Walk explore the meaning of the Marine creed Semper Fidelis, the history behind the Marines’ Hymn, and other facets of Marine Corps culture.
For visitors with only a limited amount of time to spend at the National Museum of the Marine Corps, the Legacy Walk provides a quick initiation into the rich and storied history of the Corps. Additionally, the Legacy Walk connects the museum's seven primary exhibit galleries and provides access to the Scuttlebutt Theater.
New in March 2020! The Museum opened the extension of Legacy Walk. The extension starts with an exploration of the Corps’ many non-combat duties in the “No Better Friend” exhibit. “Terror Strikes” reveals the role Marines played on September 11, 2001 and its aftermath. “Semper Families” examines the evolution of the Marine family while the “Never Forget” area honors the ultimate sacrifice made by some Marines. In the future, the extension will provide visitors with access to historical galleries that cover the Corps' history from 1975 to 2015. See our Final Phase page for more information.
Over 200 Years of History
1775 – 1865: From the Halls of Montezuma
"Resolved, that two Battalions of Marines be raised.so acquainted with maritime affairs as to be able to serve to advantage by sea."
The Marines created by Congress early in the Revolutionary War formed an armed service patterned after the British Royal Marines. When 200 Continental Marines splashed ashore in the Bahamas, making the first combat landing in American history, the Declaration of Independence still lay three months in the future. Marines fought as sharpshooters on warships and led boarding parties onto British decks during the Revolution and the War of 1812. In 1805, Lt Presley O’Bannon and his men wrested a stronghold from Barbary pirates on "the Shores of Tripoli." Marines joined in storming Chapultepec castle — "the Halls of Montezuma" — outside Mexico City in 1847. When Civil War fractured America in 1861, U. S. Marines fought former Southern comrades who created the Confederate States Marine Corps.
After 90 years of service, though never more than 4000 strong, Marines had won distinction fighting their country’s battles around the globe.
1866 - 1914: First to Fight - The Age of Expansion
"The Marines have landed and the situation is well in hand."
American settlers overcame the nation’s last frontiers by 1890. Public leaders turned their focus to overseas expansion to compete with other world powers. In the Spanish-American War of 1898, the U.S. liberated Cuba and acquired from Spain a virtual "overnight empire" consisting of the Philippines, Guam, and Puerto Rico. Spurred by advocates of sea power like Theodore Roosevelt and Alfred Thayer Mahan, the U.S. expanded its Navy and looked to the Marines to defend advance naval bases. The Marines in this period engaged in frequent expeditionary landings and sharp fighting. A series of dramatic events, well publicized by the press, raised public acclaim for the Leathernecks. These included the Marines’ intervention in Panama, amphibious assaults at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and Vera Cruz, Mexico, savage combat in the Philippines, and defense of the US Legation in Peking, China.
1914 – 1918: Every Marine a Rifleman: World War I
"Come on, you sons-of-bitches! Do you want to live forever?"
World War I dwarfed in size and horror any previous overseas war fought by the United States. By the time the first American forces - including a brigade of Marines - arrived in France, their British and French allies were exhausted from three years of grinding warfare against the Germans. The Marine brigade - two infantry regiments and a machine gun battalion - served alongside an Army brigade in the 2d Division, which entered action in June 1918 to stop a major German breakthrough aiming for Paris. The Marines fought the Germans at Belleau Wood, a three-week battle that eclipsed in its first bloody day all of the casualties the Marines had sustained in their first 143 years of existence. Hearing rumors after the battle that German soldiers referred to them as "Teufelhunde" because of their battlefield prowess, Marines adopted "Devil Dogs" as a proud nickname.
1919 – 1939: The Marines Have Landed
"It will be necessary for us to project our fleet and landing forces across the Pacific and wage war in Japanese waters."
Between World Wars I and II, as America struggled through the Great Depression, experimented with prohibition of alcohol, and warily eyed the increasing aggression of Japan and Germany, the Marines repeatedly intervened in Haiti, Santo Domingo, and Nicaragua as "State Department Troops" to protect U.S. interests, often remaining as affiliated members of the local constabulary.
Meanwhile, other Marines at Quantico developed a distinctive new mission that exploited the Corps´ unique air-sea-land capabilities and enhanced the nation’s preparation for the seemingly imminent naval war against Japan. Here was born the concept of amphibious assault against a heavily fortified beach by Marine landing forces, a role foreseen by the visionary LtCol "Pete" Ellis. In the late 1930s, with war ever more likely, the Marines urgently pressed the Navy to develop the amphibious ships and landing craft needed to execute a forcible beach assault.
1940 – 1945: Uncommon Valor: World War II
"Victory was never in doubt. Its cost was."
America fought World War II in alliance with Great Britain and other nations against Germany, Italy, and Japan. Most Marines fought in the Pacific against Japan.
The Marines entered the war as a small expeditionary force with an unproven new mission of amphibious assault. Enduring the early defeats at Wake, Guam, and the Philippines, the Leathernecks fought back, validating their new doctrine and arousing the nation with hard-fought victories at Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa. Marine pilots dueled Japan’s naval air arm in the skies over the embattled islands.
The Corps expanded 20-fold, including for the first time significant numbers of women and African-Americans.
The Marines sustained 86,940 combat casualties during the war. Eighty-two Marines received the Medal of Honor, 48 posthumously.
1946 – 1953: Send in the Marines: Korea
"The running fight of the Marines had some aspects of Bataan, some of Anzio, some of Dunkirk, some of Valley Forge."
Politicians termed Korea a "Police Action," and historians called it "The Forgotten War," yet the conflict in Korea was as violent a war as the Marines ever fought. For three bloody years the United States and its allies battled against North Korea and China. At stake was the freedom of the Republic of Korea.
The U.S. Marine Corps, overlooked during the post-World War II focus on nuclear warfare, fought in Korea with traditional readiness and renewed intensity. Facing tenacious enemies, the Leathernecks distinguished themselves defending Pusan, assailing Inchon, recapturing Seoul, breaking out of the Chosin Reservoir ("Frozen Chosin"), and holding the line during two years of stalemate. Along the way the Marines pioneered the tactical use of helicopters and refined sea-based close air support. The ravaged Republic of Korea survived and later flourished.
1954 – 1975: In the Air, On Land and Sea: Vietnam
"This is first a political war, second a psychological war, and third a military war."
Vietnam was the nation’s longest war. The United States made a sustained effort to bolster an endangered republic and stem the advance of international communism in Southeast Asia.
The first U.S. Marine advisor ("co-van") arrived in South Vietnam in 1954. Subsequent co-vans helped form and guide the Vietnamese Marine Corps. The first Marine air-ground task force landed in 1965 and fought ashore for the next seven years. More than 450,000 Marines, including 36 women, served in Vietnam during this period. In 1968, at the peak of the fighting, the Corps committed more than 85,000 troops to the defense of the country’s five most northern provinces.
The Marines sustained more combat casualties in Vietnam than they did in World War II. One of every four names on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington is that of a slain U.S. Marine.
1976 – 2000: Global Readiness: Gulf War
The 40-year Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union ended in 1989 with a whimper rather than a bang. Abruptly the Communist empire crumbled and dissolved. The Berlin Wall came crashing down. Aroused crowds overthrew despotic dictators. The world no longer seemed hostage to the threat of nuclear war.
The Marines changed their focus to a series of small but deadly brushfire conflicts, especially in the Middle East. A well-meant but poorly conceived peacekeeping mission landed the Marines in the middle of Lebanon’s civil war, resulting in the Corps´ greatest peacekeeping disaster. A suicidal terrorist blew himself up at a Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, killing 241 Americans.
The largest single combat operation in Corps history unfolded in Kuwait in 1991. In Operation Desert Storm, some 93,000 Marines breeched the "Saddam Hussein Line" and liberated Kuwait City from the Iraqis in 100 hours.
2001 – Present: Semper Fidelis
"For the Marines Corps there is no Peace."
Events early in the 21st century changed the context in which Americans must defend their country. The terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001 that took thousands of civilian lives (including 23 Marine veterans and Reservists serving as first responders) necessitated the inauguration of a new campaign-a Global War on Terrorism. Marines are helping fight that war with a combination of new technology and time-tested principles that continue to make them a scourge to the nation’s enemies. The same combination proved its worth in the Marines’ 22-day march on Baghdad in Operation Iraqi Freedom. Marines on future security missions can be expected to employ the same resourcefulness, fidelity, and esprit that has made Semper Fidelis a way of life for millions of Americans, both while in the Corps and long after returning to civilian life.
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National Museum of the Marine Corps
18900 Jefferson Davis Highway
Triangle, VA 22172
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© Copyright 2020. Admission to the National Museum of the Marine Corps is FREE. Hours are 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM every day except Christmas Day.