I first heard about it in the late 1990s when a group of grizzled retired Marine Corps sergeants major and colonels hatched an idea. They wanted to put a Marine Corps museum in Jacksonville — the one in North Carolina — which is home to the largest Marine Corps base on the East Coast.
There was a lot of common sense behind that notion. This is usually the case when sergeants major, lieutenant colonels and colonels are involved. They’re smart, they’re leaders and they’re usually hardened by experiences most could never comprehend. Not much scares them. Long odds? Pish posh. OK, delete “pish posh.” Never, ever heard a Marine say “pish posh.”
They shoot straight, too. And I’m not talking about rifles, at least not right now.
So this assortment of retired Leathernecks who made their homes in Onslow County because after a life in the Marine Corps it’s sometimes hard to go back to a completely civilian world, decided it would be a good idea to honor the “Few and the Proud” in such a logical, albeit mosquito and alligator-infested site near Camp Lejeune.
The history, they believed, was already there for the taking — and displaying. Here’s a sample of stuff I found in the Jacksonville Daily News.
– It’s not commonly known that Marines trained at Camp Lejeune were dispatched on Marine Air Group-26 helicopters to fish astronaut Alan Shepherd out of the ocean after his first manned space flight. They later did the same for astronaut Gus Grissom. And Cherry Point was an alternate landing site for the space shuttle program — though one never landed there.
– New River Air Station’s Helicopter Squadron was featured on a stamp by the Haitian government after a humanitarian mission following Hurricane Hazel in 1954. This is the only time that Marine Corps helicopters have been featured on a postage stamp, foreign or domestic.
– Camp Lejeune contained the only boot camp and schools for Black Marines during World War II. It was the site of the Corps’ only War Dog training school, and the location of the Corps’ boot camp, officer candidate school and specialized schools for the women Marines of World War II.
– The 1st Marine Division trained at Camp Lejeune during World War II, along with elements of the 3rd, 4th and 6th Marine Divisions. But Camp Lejeune also trained the U.S. Army’s 1st and 9th Infantry Divisions in amphibious warfare. These were the divisions that would spearhead the landings in North Africa, Sicily and Normandy.
Despite all that history, the money for what organizers wanted to call The Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas didn’t follow. A ton of other things fell through, too. A plan for a private-public civic center that would’ve included space for the proposed museum vanished in the thin mist of political and economic realities. Then a movement began for a National Museum of the Marine Corps that is now in Quantico, Va. The effort took donations and wind from the more regional approach in North Carolina.
So as time passed and I moved to Burlington, I forgot about the dwindling hopes for The Marine Corps Museum of the Carolinas. I figured it was a good idea that simply didn’t pan out. It happens. It’s a miracle so many bad ideas thrive when so many good ones are out there struggling for purchase.
Then I saw an Associated Press story published in the Friday Times-News. It seems the dream of a North Carolina-based museum hasn’t gone belly up after all. The concept for what is now being called Museum of the Marine has been rejuvenated with a proposal to raise money nationally and tell the story of Marines in North and South Carolina. It will document the history of the amphibious training for which the Corps has become famous and include the connection Marine Corps installations have to the civilian communities in which they reside.
To those who don’t know, it’s a pretty strong bond.
Fittingly, the museum is set to go on property leased to the museum by the military for $1 a year, right beside memorials to the 241 servicemembers killed in the Beirut bombing in 1983 (a joint military-civilian project) and those who fought and died in Vietnam. There is also a piece of the World Trade Center there marking the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
So while the museum has new life, they still need bucks. It will be privately funded and has around $8 million in hand. The goal is $28 million. A national corporate sponsor would certainly help.
I hope they find one. It’s too good an idea to simply die.