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9 Must-See Museums to Honor Veterans and Inspire America

Visit these places to learn about the military’s role throughout U.S. history

spinner image outside of the marine corps museum
The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia.
Courtesy National Museum of the Marine Corps

Hundreds of museums across America honor veterans, ranging from large ones sprawling across acres of land to hometown museums with local flavor. The choice can be bewildering.

Here is a list of the best, all offering discounted or free admission for veterans.

National WWII Museum — New Orleans

spinner image national world war two museum
Jeffery Johnston/National WWII Museum

Interactive exhibits highlight the role of the ordinary service members from the Greatest Generation and the part played by everyone in the war effort. This, added to stories of world leaders, leaves the visitor with a greater understanding of the price of freedom.

Two popular features of this six-acre museum are the Road to Tokyo and the Arsenal of Democracy.  Be sure to see Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D journey of the war, narrated by Tom Hanks. 

For more information: National WWII Museum

National Museum of the Marine Corps — Triangle, Virginia

spinner image inside of the marine corps museum
Courtesy National Museum of the Marine Corps

If you’re fascinated by the exploits of the Devil Dogs throughout history, this is the place to head. One of the most popular features is the Legacy Walk, a timeline of 250 years of Marine Corps history. There are also exhibits featuring individual wars and an interactive gallery where visitors can experience the lessons of boot camp and test their marksmanship skills at the M-16 laser rifle range. 

For more information: National Museum of the Marine Corps

National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force — Savannah, Georgia

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Courtesy National Museum of the Mighty Eighth

This museum tells the compelling story of the men who from May 1942 to July 1945 planned and executed America’s strategic daylight bombing campaign against Nazi-occupied Europe.

Among the attractions, you can experience what it was like to fly a bombing mission, view hundreds of aircraft, and walk under an unfurled parachute representing the airmen who bailed out over enemy territory.  

For more information: National Museum of the Mighty 8th Air Force

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National Vietnam War Museum — Weatherford, Texas

spinner image a helicpoter in a museum
Courtesy National Museum of the Vietnam War

This museum contains outdoor exhibits and memorial gardens that remain open 24/7. A popular inside feature is the Hootch exhibit showing the soldiers’ living quarters in Vietnam. Visitors will come away with a better understanding and compassion for those who served in one of the most misunderstood wars in our history and returned to a nation that in many ways wanted to ignore them.

For more information: National Vietnam War Museum

USS Midway Museum — San Diego

spinner image a statue on the uss midway
Angel Mannion

Walk in the steps of the men who served on the aircraft carrier that was the largest ship in the world until 1955. The 30 restored aircraft and nearly 10 acres of exhibits amount to the most comprehensive picture of carrier aviation in the world. For a Top Gun experience, try your hand at the flight simulators. From the bridge down to the main engine room, you’ll have an unforgettable adventure suitable for the entire family.

For more information: USS Midway Museum

Navy SEAL Museum — Fort Pierce, Florida

spinner image the navy seal museum
Courtesy Navy SEAL Museum

Located on the training site of the first Navy combat divers, the frogmen of World War II, this is the only museum dedicated solely to the Navy SEALs, who in recent history carried out the mission that resulted in the death of Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.  

On display, you’ll see vehicles, vessels, tactical equipment and weaponry from the secret world of naval special warfare. The Memorial Wall reminds Americans how important the SEALs will always will be to our country.

For more information: Navy SEAL Museum

National Infantry Museum — Columbus, Georgia

spinner image inside of the national infantry museum
Courtesy National Infantry Foundation

Visitors can experience the American infantryman’s journey to defeat tyranny around the globe. The museum’s signature experience is the Last 100 Yards exhibit, a gently sloped ramp of life-size dioramas depicting significant battles in the infantry’s history. In addition to the publicly accessible collection, the museum’s archives hold over 100,000 historical artifacts for preservation and future displays.

For more information: National Infantry Museum 

National Museum of the Pacific War — Fredericksburg, Texas

Here you will find the most comprehensive account of World War II in Asia and the Pacific. The Pearl Harbor exhibit tells the story of the day of infamy, Dec. 7, 1941, and the Doolittle Raid exhibit features a B-25 bomber similar to those flown on that mission.

For more information: National Museum of the Pacific War

Southern Museum of Flight — Birmingham, Alabama

This quirky, off-the-beaten-track museum has exhibits that house over 100 aircraft, along with engines, models, artifacts, photographs and paintings from the beginning of powered flight. One of its most popular exhibits honors Alabama’s Tuskegee Airmen.

There are also exhibits regarding CIA aviation, including reproductions of paintings from the spy agency’s private museum in Langley, Virginia, which is not open to visitors. On loan to the museum is a Rolex Oyster watch that was worn by CIA pilot Norman Schwartz, a former Marine officer, who was killed in China when his plane crashed during a secret mission in 1952. The watch was returned to his family in 2004.

For more information: Southern Museum of Flight

Bottom line

Whether on vacation or close to your hometown, a visit to these museums can provide you and your family with a memorable experience — and a chance to reflect on what our service members have done for us.

You can subscribe here to AARP Veteran Report, a free e-newsletter published every two weeks. If you have feedback or a story idea then please contact us here.

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