My dad was in town this weekend so we treated him to a tour of tourism delights. Saturday we drove South (in to The South) to visit the National Museum of the Marine Corps at Quantico. It is so awesome. If you have even the slightest interest in American history, you should check this out. The exhibits now focus on WWII, the Korean War, and the Vietnam War, because it's the veterans from those wars who are getting older and they wanted to show those folks their exhibits before... you know. They're expanding into more modern events.
It's totally interactive, and fun for kids and grownups. You start off as a Marine recruit, standing in line for the barber's chair and getting on the bus. You can simulate drill instructors yelling. You have to examine a uniform and find the infractions. You can even take a crack at the shooting range.
Then you move through the wars timeline. The exhibits are incredibly realistic. They used as much original machinery (jeeps, planes, tanks, etc.) as possible, and you can smell the oil and grease and mustiness. There's a living room set up where you listen to FDR's radio address about the bombing of Pearl Harbor, complete with a woman who dropped her teacup when she heard the news. You walk through a battle scene at Chosin and the air conditioner is pumped up because it was so cold there. You walk through Khe Sanh and the heat is blasting. Unfortunately the interactive landing at Iwo Jima has been broken, but the docents will still bring you in to the mess and give you a briefing on the invasion. They rotate between displaying the two flags that were raised at Iwo Jima. (The gift shop has the Lego display of the Iwo Jima memorial.)
The museum is free and you don't have to go through the Quantico gate to get to it. There's a mess hall and Tun's Tavern for food. It's just off I-95.
After the museum we headed another 15 miles or so south to Fredericksburg. The sun was warm, the dogwoods were blooming; it was just a great afternoon to be outside. First we stopped in town for lunch at an olde-timey drugstore lunch counter. This place, Goolrick's I think it's called, hasn't changed its format in at least 50 years. You get simple sandwiches, real cherry Coke, and ice cream sodas. And everything is served with a handful of chips and a limp pickle.
After lunch we went to the site of the Battle of Fredericksburg. It was my first Civil War battle site. There's a trail that's a nice short walk with signs along the way to tell you what you're looking at. Suburban sprawl has covered part of the battlefield, but you can still get a sense of what went on. If you feel up to it, you can continue walking up the hill to two cemeteries. One is a family plot that was in place long before the battle took place and some of the original headstones are still there. During the battle it served as a field hospital, due to its thick brick walls. The second cemetery is of Union soldiers who died during the battle. They gathered up the remains and identified as many as possible. Even if they couldn't identify the person, each body got a headstone. It was quite impactful.
Even though we uncovered some pretty grim themes throughout the day, it was a great day. And easy to do without too much time and effort. The Fredericksburg site is also free, so you're only paying for lunch and gas. We left Fall Church at 8:30-ish to hit the museum when it opened at 9:00 (good idea, since on a weekend it fills up quickly with tour busses). We were home from Fredericksburg around 4:00. (Plenty of time for a nap before dinner--which was at Arlington Cinema and Draft House while we watched No Country for Old Men.)
D.C. photos on flickr