National Infantry Museum in Columbus, Georgia,
opened in 2009 and is a testament is the army
infantry. It is often called the "Smithsonian
of the Army" and is the largest Army museum in
the United States.
Ga. ó The sky, most appropriately for the occasion, is
gunmetal gray in late December, and underneath the canopy
of clouds Iím standing on the long entrance walkway just
outside the National Infantry Museum. Iíve seen dozens,
maybe hundreds of museums. But this one, just outside the
gates of Fort Benning near the west Georgia city of
Columbus, is most impressive.
not only in architecture, but because it is perhaps the
final due for the American infantry.
love the infantry because they are the underdogs,"
war correspondent Ernie Pyle wrote during World War II.
"They are the mud-rain-frost-and-wind boys. They have
no comforts, and they even learn to live without the
necessities. And in the end they are the guys that wars
canít be won without."
exterior of the museum dedicated to these
"underdogs," which opened in 2009, is
reminiscent of Thomas Jeffersonís Monticello with a
towering rotunda as its centerpiece.
entire complex is huge at 190,000 square feet, and from
its bronze "Follow Me" memorial of a charging
infantryman standing sentry under the rotunda to a series
of galleries and exhibits filled with a colossal
collection of artifacts, the museum recognizes the Army
infantrymen, those grunts, the foot soldiers, the
battleground warriors who stood on the front lines of war.
mission is to honor our infantry soldiers, past, present,
and future," says my guide Jim Talley, an Army
veteran who served in Vietnam and who was a longtime
volunteer of the museum before joining its staff. To say
he knows the museum and army history is quite the
the largest museum in the Army class of museums,"
Talley explains, adding that itís often called the
"Smithsonian of the Army."
indisputable showpiece is the "Last 100 Yards,"
an upward sloping ramp surrounded by 360-degree dioramas
featuring scenes of infantrymen from Americaís greatest
with Yorktown and meandering through battles at Antietam,
Soissons and Normandy in France, Corregidor in the
Philippines, Soam-Ni in South Korea, LZ X-Ray in Vietnamís
la Drang Valley, and Iraq, the dramatic exhibit, with
lifelike mannequins fashioned from body casts of real Fort
Benning soldiers, is mesmerizing and based on the notion
that the last 100 yards of any given battle belong to the
infantrymen who charge ahead to the battleís completion.
follow Talley through more than 200 years of army history
through this cinematic wonder that includes authentic
planes, a Huey helicopter, parachutes, and military
weaponry, we ascend from the first floor of the museum to
exhibit was built upward for the infantry," he says.
"For them, itís always an uphill battle."
there we visit the Fort Benning Gallery, which gives an
excellent overview of infantry training, which is followed
by a stop at several galleries organized according to
certain periods in history.
to spend at least two or three hours wandering through the
well-appointed and highly educational snippets of history
beginning with "Securing Our Freedoms:
1607-1815" to "The Sole Superpower:
1989-Present." With lights, sounds, photographs, and
artifacts, the galleries have the power to transport you
back in time and place you into a page of history.
is the Hall of Valor, a tribute to the almost 1,500 Army
infantrymen recipients of Medal of Honor, the highest
award for bravery. A small plaque honors each honoree, and
the convenience of computer kiosks allows visitors to look
up names and citations of individual recipients.
spring also brings to the museum the Dignity Memorial
Vietnam Wall, a replica of the original Vietnam Wall in
replica, a three-quarter scale model, has journeyed to
more than 200 cities since 1990. Among those cities was
Columbus, where it remained for two weeks in 2010 for a
ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans. And now it is
back, to be a part of the museum landscape for the next
five years and perhaps longer.
we saw how meaningful the wall was to our visitors, we
knew this would be the perfect place to become its new
home," says Ben Williams, president and chief
executive officer of the National Infantry Foundation,
which helped found the museum. "This replica is every
bit as impressive as the original."
museum also hosts an IMAX Theatre, combat simulators, and
the Fife and Drum Restaurant with comfort food of salads,
sandwiches and burgers. (With any meal, try the seasoned
French fries, among the best Iíve ever had.)
visited the museum twice, and the first time I was
fortunate enough to witness graduation ceremonies for the
young men and women who had just completed Basic Training
at Fort Benning. The experience is somber and emotional as
I watched the new graduates with their families, hugging
and crying on such a life-changing yet joyous occasion.
ceremonies take place almost every Thursday and Friday on
the parade grounds adjacent to the museum and are worth
planning a visit to see them. Just bring a tissue or two
for the inevitable tears.
to the museum is free, but donations are accepted.
the artifacts are owned by the Army, so essentially they
are owned by U.S. citizens, so we canít charge a
fee," says Cyndy Cerbin, director of communications
for the museum.
museum, a melding of ideas of the National Infantry
Foundation and the Army, replaces a crowded,
throw-together one that was housed in an old hospital
building on Fort Benning.
newer museum is a gleaming behemoth that instills in you a
sense of pride and celebration of the infantry and gives
you a renewed sense of appreciation for who they are and
what they did for our country. Undoubtedly, myriad stories
of courage and valor hum unspoken within these walls.
obvious audience for the museum is the military,"
says Cerbin, "but itís for the non-veterans,
THERE: Columbus Airport (CSG) is served by Delta Air Lines
from Atlanta. All major airlines offer nonstop service to
Atlanta, about an hourís drive from Columbus.
Infantry Museum and Soldier Center
is free but a $5 donation is suggested. Museum hours are 9
a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday (closed Mondays) and 11
a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday.