The current featured story, Where the Rainbow Ends, takes place in the southeast United States city of Atlanta, Ga.
Together, along with Dorian and Christopher, we are going to Explore Atlanta!
Through Explore Atlanta we are going to discover amazing places of value in and around the city that either make appearances in the story, are related to things that happen in the story, or are just worth investigating.
For the first Explore Atlanta feature, we are going more in an “Explore Georgia” direction. Our destination is Columbus Ga which is west of Atlanta and near the Georgia and Alabama border.
This is the National Infantry Museum.
To learn a little more about this remarkable place, I got a chance to ask some questions to Cyndy Cerbin, Director of Communications at the National Infantry Foundation. She graciously agreed to share with us. Carsten: Why was the National Infantry Museum built and who was it built for?
Cyndy: The National Infantry Museum and Soldier Center was built to honor soldiers and to educate visitors about the cost of freedom and the legacy of valor and sacrifice of the United States Infantry. It is the only major museum dedicated to the Infantry, the oldest and largest branch of the Army.
Carsten: Can you describe some of the highlights guests will encounter at the National Infantry Museum?
Cyndy: The 190,000-square-foot state of the art facility includes six era galleries tracing Infantry history from the Revolutionary War to the present.
In addition, the Fort Benning gallery shows how training turns a young man into a soldier.
Our Family Support gallery recognizes the sacrifices made by a soldier’s friends and family and includes a Kids’ Room where youngsters can try on uniforms and play in a make-believe Bradley Fighting Vehicle, where scopes allow them to watch American soldiers on humanitarian missions.
The Hall of Valor recognizes each Infantryman that has been awarded the Medal of Honor.
Our signature attraction is called The Last 100 Yards.
This gently inclining, 100 yard ramp contains vignettes from Infantry battles over the last 236 years and uses theatrical lighting and music to set a tone for the visitor’s experience. The life-size figures on the ramp were cast from active duty soldiers at Fort Benning specially selected for this honor. Outside the museum there is an authentically recreated World War II Company Street on which visitors can see what life was like for soldiers during the 1940s. There is also a 5-acre parade field on which Basic Training and Infantry School students graduate weekly, year-round. The facility includes the region’s only 3D IMAX Theatre, a casual restaurant called the Fife and Drum, a Rifle Range that uses the same weapons and simulation the Army uses to train soldiers and a gift store.
Carsten: The National Infantry Museum was a winner of the themed entertainment association awards this past year. These awards go out to the best-of-the-best museums, theme park attractions, and interactive experiences and environments worldwide. In light of this honor, how does a day at the National Infantry Museum compare to other places families can go to spend their day in GA?
Cyndy: The National Infantry Foundation spared no expense in finding the nation’s best architects and exhibit designers to help us plan this world-class facility. This is actually the fifth Thea Award our exhibit designers (Christopher Chadbourne and Associates, Boston) have been a part of. From the beginning, we knew this would be a museum of people, not things. Georgia has countless attractions appealing to families, but few can offer the complete experience they’ll get at the National Infantry Museum. Each gallery includes immersive experiences, such as a dark and steamy Vietnam jungle to walk through or a World War I trench to navigate.
Today’s museums must touch all the senses. They must be dynamic, not static. They must appeal to a wide range of people; a museum designed to interest only soldiers would never survive. Furthermore, our subject matter is unique and critical to understanding the history of our nation.
Carsten: Does the museum have any special events coming up?
Cyndy: Events are happening all the time. On Memorial Day weekend we dedicated a memorial to the 382 Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines who gave their lives in Operations Desert Storm and Desert Shield.
It was the 20th anniversary of that conflict. Nowhere else in the country are these brave men and women honored with a memorial. There are granite pavers with the names of each of those who died, and a flag was commissioned to fly above the pavers. Combat leaders from each of the branches were guests of honor at the event. We have just started three sessions of Summer Camp Benning, where kids 9-14 learn history and leadership skills. We just started a 5-week Free Family Film Fest, offering free Disney movies in the IMAX theatre, to give families some affordable summertime activity. Two major events coming up include our annual fund raising gala August 20 and a commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 in September.
The gala’s theme is Thanks for the Memories: a Bob Hope Salute to Vietnam Era Veterans, and features a USO-style performance by a nationally known Bob Hope impersonator. The 9/11 commemoration will include a motorcycle ride and the dedication of a “field of flags” representing each of the 2,973 people who lost their lives in the attacks.
We also will dedicate a new memorial that includes a statue of Rick Rescorla, a former Infantryman who, as head of security at Morgan Stanley, died in the collapse of the World Trade Center after saving thousands of lives.
Last year, a beam from the World Trade Center was delivered to the National Infantry Museum by New York’s first responders; it will be on display during the 9/11 commemoration.
Carsten: What has the response been with guests and visitors?
Cyndy: A visit to the National Infantry Museum can be very emotional. Many find it hard to hold back tears. They tell us until now they never really appreciated what our military does for us. And young soldiers leave bursting with pride knowing we built this for them. We have received 750,000 visitors in our first two years.
They are universally overwhelmed by what they’ve seen. Two quotes we hear over and over are, “I had no idea…..!” and “This museum belongs on the Mall in Washington.” Yes, the quality of this museum easily matches that which you’ll find on the Mall, but we chose to build it here, because nearby Fort Benning has always been the “Home of the Infantry.”
Carsten: Can you share with us one of your most memorable moments with a guest?
Cyndy: A young man wearing street clothes and visiting the museum alone reached the end of the Last 100 Yards ramp where a battle scene from Iraq is depicted. The vignette includes a Bradley Fighting Vehicle that was involved in an IED explosion in Iraq in 2004. The 4-foot hole in the floor of the Bradley was repaired and the company that builds the Bradley donated the vehicle to us. (We actually installed the Bradley early in the construction process and built the museum’s walls around it.)
Anyway, the young man asked a nearby volunteer if he could step over the rope and sit in the back of the Bradley. The volunteer kindly told him that visitors were not allowed to do that. But then the young man told the volunteer that he had been one of the Soldiers riding in that very Bradley when it hit the IED.
Several of his buddies were killed.
The volunteer then helped the young man over the rope and into the back of the open Bradley, where he spent many tearful minutes reflecting on his service.
*(when I read Cyndy’s email and got to this point my eyes were tearing up. Can you even imagine? Incredibly moving. -carsten)
Carsten: Out of all the elements that make up the museum and its grounds, which one is your favorite?
Cyndy: I think the Hall of Valor is the space that moves me the most. It is a very simple gallery, but the air inside seems infused with pride and honor. It is a glass-walled enclosure that sits in the middle of the Grand Hall.
The inside walls are lined with photos (where available) and names of Infantryman who have been awarded the Medal of Honor. Etched in the glass of the outside walls are famous quotes about Infantrymen. The lighting is warm and embracing, and there are benches for quiet reflection. To imagine the stories of sacrifice that lie behind each of those faces is overwhelming.
Carsten: What are some of the memories that you hope families will bring home with them as a result of visiting?
Cyndy: Families have been quick to point out how educational their visit was. They say they have a better understanding of why “freedom is not free.”
We hope that they never forget that no matter how they feel about the politics of war, they will appreciate the sacrifices young men and their families make on behalf of our country. (Note: there are women in the Army, but not in the Infantry.)
Soldiers in uniform can be seen here all the time. For most of us, it’s business as usual. But for those who don’t live near a military installation, just seeing a soldier “in person” is a memorable experience.
On TV, all soldiers tend to look the same. But when you meet one face to face, you see the individual behind the uniform.
Before joining the Army he might have been a rancher’s kid in Colorado or a football star in Texas. He might have been heading down the wrong road before a tough but caring drill sergeant gave him a second chance.
After visiting the museum, you begin to understand what turns a young man into a Soldier and why he chose to put himself in harm’s way in defense of an idea.
Carsten: For first time visitors in the greater Atlanta area, are there things they should know before making the drive to Columbus?
Cyndy: Columbus is an easy, 90-minute drive on the interstate from downtown Atlanta. Southern hospitality is alive and well here. We’re known for the Aflac duck, unmatched barbecue and the lazy Chattahoochee River which will soon be home to a top-notch whitewater rafting attraction. Visitors could easily fill a long weekend with attractions in Columbus and the region.
I want to thank Cyndy for taking the time to answer my questions as well as giving us some of the aims and direction behind the creation of this fantastic place.
If you would like more information about The National Infantry Museum, as well as directions, event times, and other related schedules, please visit the official website at: nationalinfantrymuseum.com
—– Explore Atlanta feature suggestions are acceptable. email your suggestions to: firstname.lastname@example.org
Please include a concise couple of sentences regarding why you think this area, business, or individual should be highlighted here. emails with attachments will be deleted.