En español | One of the many photos adorning the walls of the new National Veterans Memorial and Museum (NVMM) in Columbus, Ohio, depicts a woman and young girl bounding joyfully across an airfield’s tarmac toward their just-returned loved one. He's Air Force Captain Thomas Moe, a fighter pilot with the 366th Fighter Wings returning from Vietnam, where he'd been captured and held for more than five years in the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison, enduring starvation and torture. When he’d last seen his daughter, she was still an infant.
Moe’s moving story is just one of dozens told at the NVMM, set for a grand opening on October 27, and open to the general public beginning on October 31. The original concept was for an Ohio statewide veterans center based in Columbus, then a committee headed by the late John Glenn recommended — and Congress approved — its expansion to encompass veterans nationwide. It's now the only museum nationwide honoring the service and sacrifice of all veterans in every branch of the armed forces and in every conflict since the Revolutionary War.
Its goal is to take visitors on a narrative journey, with the stories of individual veterans meant to illustrate the universal experiences shared by men and women in the U.S. armed forces.
But visitors will be struck first by the NVMM's dramatic design. Cited by Architectural Digest as one of the 12 most-anticipated buildings of 2018, the circular structure features three concentric rings swooping upward with a series of interlocking arches holding tall windows looking out on the Columbus skyline and the Scioto riverfront. Stepping inside, visitors are greeted by a soaring entryway. Long banners hang from the ceiling with photos of individuals whose stories are told throughout the cavernous 53,000 square feet of space.
Those stories begin immediately with a timeline of military history, chronicling not only the background of each U.S. conflict but also the experiences of individuals who fought in them — Deborah Sampson, for example, who dressed as a man and fought in the Revolutionary War for 17 months, and actor Jimmy Stewart, who was an accomplished fighter pilot during World War II, flying 20 missions over Europe and earning two Distinguished Flying Crosses.
The dynamic exhibits at NVMM take many forms. Photos abound, like one of Union and Confederate veterans shaking hands at the 50th anniversary of Gettysburg. Videos tell of a soldier’s encounter with a sniper during the Battle of the Bulge, the surge of emotions recruits feel when taking the oath of service, and a comical story of how a returning veteran’s mother “went bananas” to see him since she’d received telegrams saying he was missing in action. Audio tracks include President Reagan’s stirring speech on the 40th anniversary of D-Day. Hands-on displays include hats and gear to try on or trunks from soldiers who were in Korea, Vietnam and Iraq that can be opened and examined. A story booth allows veterans to record their own experiences, making their individual stories part of the history NVMM is preserving.
A somber photo of a weeping woman standing next to a flag-draped coffin reminds viewers that not everyone had the good fortune to return home. Prior to exiting the building, visitors pass through a simple “Remembrance Room” honoring those who never returned. A long wall of colorful windows is bedecked with the colors of every campaign ribbon in U.S. history, and “Taps” mournfully will play four times an hour. Outside, a Memorial Grove of elms is made up of trees descended from those growing at Princeton Battlefield, where a pivotal battle in the American Revolution took place.
NVMM’s executive director, Michael Ferriter, a retired three-star general with 35 years of service in the U.S. Army and three tours of duty in Iraq, predicts that the new building will become a vibrant gathering place for veterans to enjoy camaraderie and re-establish contact with one another. “There's a central core of experience all veterans underwent during their time in the military, and that experience has had an impact not only on themselves and their families but also the entire nation because of what the veterans learned and carried home with them,” Ferriter says. “We’ll tell that story in spades.”
The NVMM is located at 300 West Broad Street in Columbus. Tickets are $10 for children, $17 for adults 18-64, and $15 for adults $65 and older. Open Wednesday to Sunday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
For more information and to RSVP for the grand opening on October 27 and free timed museum passes for October 27 (open from 4 p.m. to 11:30 p.m.) and 28 (10 a.m. to 5 p.m.), go to www.nationalvmm.org. The opening ceremony will be held from 2 to 3:30 p.m. It will feature distinguished veterans whose stories are highlighted in the museum, military leadership and appearances or performances by men and women of the U.S. Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard and Reserves. General Colin Powell (U.S. Army, Retired) will deliver the keynote address.