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Army, Air Force, and Navy Times....



It's only natural that the Hampton/Newport News area should have so much military heritage to explore. The large past and present armed forces presence in such a small space means those interested in military history have lots to see.

Well-situated on a strategic peninsula, the Hampton/Newport News area has been home to many military bases, huge shipbuilding facilities, and as a port of embarkation and debarkation for troops throughout American history. Much of this history can be explored today, with many museums and sightseeing possibilities.

As the country commemorates the 50th anniversary of World War II, the War Memorial Museum of Virginia provides a unique look at the state's role in this and other conflicts. The saga of military history unfolds inside this fascinating museum, with more than 50,000 artifacts on display which document American wars from 1775 to the present.

Since 1923, the high-quality displays in this museum have drawn military history buffs from around the world. Popular items include an 1883 brass Gatling Gun, the Dachau Concentration Camp wall, a WWI Renault Char I tank, and a Civil War blockade runner's uniform. There are hundreds of other uniforms, insignias, vehicles, weapons, and accoutrements.

One very popular display is the "40/8" boxcar, a gift from France to the Commonwealth of Virginia after WWII. This narrow boxcar got its name from the ability to carry 40 troops or eight horses. It now carries an exhibit detailing the story of the impact of the war on the area, including photographs of embarking and debarking troops; various Peninsula military facilities; an original copy of the WWI jazz tune "Newport News Blues"; and personal items from Virginia's 29th Division.

The museum also offers many unusual items related to America's wartime efforts. For instance, one area is solely devoted to art during the eras of American wars. Dozens of colorful war posters urge Americans to enlist, volunteer, buy bonds, and that "loose lips sink ships." Accompanying paintings and sketchings also adorn the walls.

You could spend an entire day in the War Memorial Museum of Virginia, but the area has many more museums awaiting. One of the best is the U.S. Army Transportation Museum.

Located on Ft. Eustis in Newport News, the U.S. Army Transportation Museum examines more than 200 years of Army transportation history. The indoor and outdoor displays are often awe-inspiring, from miniature models to huge actual vehicles, aircraft, trains, and marine craft from yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

The history of the Army's Transportation Corps first unfolds on film, with the rising chorus of roaring engines and whirling blades. Visitors can feel and see the drama of moving soldiers and equipment in war and peace, from the "Red Ball Express" of WWII and the armored vehicles used in the jungles of Vietnam to the air-cushioned vehicles, cybernetic walking machines, and "flying jeeps" of today.

The world of the Army in motion can be further explored outside, with dozens of vehicles of all sorts. Planes, trains, and jeeps abound at this museum, with highlights including the Army's largest helicopter--the "Flying Crane;" the "Caribou," famed aircraft of the Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights; the first helicopter to land at the South Pole; and a vertical take-off and landing aircraft.

If all of these vehicles make you want to go for a ride, head out for a Newport News Harbor Cruise. This fascinating look at the area leaves from Wharton's Wharf and features a tour around Hampton Roads Harbor. Military buffs will enjoy a unique look at bustling Newport News Shipyard, where the giant aircraft carriers and submarines are being built.

Then the tour boat heads across to the Norfolk Naval Base, for a look at the sleek nuclear submarines, carriers, cruisers, support, and supply vessels and ships from around the world. The two-hour trip includes an interesting narration.

After the boat ride, there's still much more military history to explore. One fascinating possibility is the Casemate Museum on Ft. Monroe. The construction of Ft. Monroe began in 1819 and was completed in 1934. Sometimes called the "Gibralter of the Chesapeake Bay," it is the largest stone fort ever built in the country and is the only moat-encircled fort still used by the Army.

The Casemate Museum opened in 1951 to display the cell in which Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, was imprisoned after the Civil War. The museum has since been expanded to depict the history of Ft. Monroe and the Coast Artillery Crops. Located in the low-ceilinged casemates designed to house seacoast artillery, exhibits include weapons, uniforms, models, drawings, and old living quarters.

The entire area has played a vital role in America's military past and today's active military presence and many museums mean it will continue to do so. For military buffs, the Hampton/Newport News area is a mecca.


--War Memorial Museum of Virginia, 9285 Warwick Boulevard/Huntington Park, Newport News, VA 23607, (804)             247-8523.

--U.S. Army Transportation Museum, Bldg. 300, Besson Hall, Ft. Eustis, VA 23604-5260, (804) 878-1182.

--Newport News Harbor Cruise, 530 12th St., Newport News, VA 23607, (804) 245-1533.

--Casemate Museum, P.O. Box 341, Ft. Monroe, VA 23651, (804) 727-3391.

The Hampton/Newport News area includes many other fascinating sightseeing possibilities for those interested in the area's military presence. For instance, the Virginia Air & Space Museum and the Hampton Roads History Center (600 Settlers Landing Rd., Hampton, VA 23669 (804) 727-0900), features ten air and space craft suspended from the 94-foot ceiling, the official Visitor Center for NASA Langley Research Center, and an in-depth look at the history of the area.

Also in Hampton, the Air Power Park & Museum (413 West Mercury Blvd., Hampton, VA 23666, (804) 727-1163) reveals the vital role the area has played in early space exploration and aircraft testing. Outside exhibits include many jets, spacecraft, and missiles. Inside exhibits include a model wind tunnel, model aircraft, and aviation "firsts" for the area.

The military presence in the area has been greatly influenced by the ocean. The Mariners' Museum (100 Museum Drive, Newport News, VA 23606-3759, (804) 595-0368) in Newport News has many displays related to the military at sea.

The propellor from the USS South Dakota guides visitors to the museum, where they'll find many naval displays, including the William Francis Gibbs Gallery, a world-famous ship designer responsible for many military crafts. Another popular area is the Monitor Exhibit: Clash of Armor and The Monitor Collection, depicting the battle of ironclads.

For further information about the Hampton/Newport News area, contact the Newport News Tourism Development Office, 50 Shoe Lane, Newport News, VA 23606, (804) 594-7475 or (800) 333-7787 or the Hampton Department of Conventions & Tourism, 2 Eaton St., Hampton, VA 23669, (804) 722-1222 or (800) 487-8778.

Lynn Seldon is a former Army officer and is a full-time freelance travel writer and photographer based in Richmond, Virginia.