From the outside, the curved, white-concrete structure is visually stunning, living up to its designation by Architectural Digest as one of “the 12 Most Anticipated Buildings of 2018.” Fittingly for the nation’s first museum dedicated to U.S. veterans from all conflicts and all five branches of the military, the building’s intersecting, concentric rings represent all the branches of service supporting one another.
Inside the 53,000 square-foot, spiral-like structure, vets’ stories come to life in often poignant, sometimes heart-wrenching fashion through photos, letters, personal effects, multi-media presentations and interactive displays.
The drama starts with the tales of two Revolutionary War soldiers: Peter Francisco, dubbed a ”one-man Army” by George Washington, and teenager Deborah Sampson, who wanted to serve so badly she dressed as a man and, when injured, dug a musket ball out of her own arm to avoid Army medics from discovering she was female.
From World War II comes the personal recollection of Navy veteran Michael Ganitch who marveled that, during the chaos and carnage of Pearl Harbor, a bomb missed him by just 40 feet, “just a little touch of wind,” as he stood watch in the crow’s nest of the battleship USS Pennsylvania.
Equally riveting is the story of the Army’s Joshua Mantz who said he “flat-lined for 15 minutes” when a bullet from an enemy sniper ricocheted into his thigh and severed his femoral artery during the Iraq War.
Though few in number, these vets are representative of the more than 40 million Americans who have served since the nation’s founding, including some 20 million vets living today, according to Amy Taylor, chief operating officer of the Columbus Downtown Development Corp., which developed the museum.
“There is also a ‘legacy of service’ component in the museum that looks at what vets did when they came back home,” she says. Featured in an exhibit film are three veterans who went on to serve in the U.S. Senate: Tammy Duckworth and the late John McCain and John Glenn. An Ohio native, World War II Marine veteran and astronaut, Sen. Glenn was an enthusiastic proponent of the project who helped formulate its four-fold mission: honor, connect, inspire and educate — themes highlighted throughout the museum.
Upstairs on the mezzanine level is the Remembrance Gallery with a mirrored “infinity flag” installation; “Taps” will play periodically. Outside, the Memorial Grove, with American elm trees, a stone wall, benches and a reflecting pool, is the perfect spot to end a visit, pondering the meaning of service both within and outside the military.
The museum’s grand opening, at 2 p.m., Saturday, will feature a keynote speech by retired Army Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state and former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Check here for opening day details (registration is required) and museum hours: https://www.nationalvmm.org/
The museum is at 300 W. Broad Street, Columbus, overlooking the Scioto River. Admission is $17 for adults, $15 for seniors 65 and older, $12 for veterans, $12 to $15 for active-duty military, free for Gold Star families and $10 for youths age 5 to 17. Children ages 5 and younger are free. Groups of 10 or more receive a 20 percent discount.