The M3A1 Stuart Light Tank on display at the National Museum of the Marine Corps on Aug. 16 in Triangle, VA. (Colin Kelly / Staff)
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The National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va., is preparing for its latest renovation, one that will incorporate another Montford Point Marine-themed display as part of the museum’s efforts to highlight diversity in the Marine Corps including the contributions of African Americans.
The renovation, slated for this winter, will take place in the World War II area of the museum by enhancing a stand-alone Stuart Light Tank display with a mural, simulated ground cover and cast figures. They will place the tank in the context of 1940s Montford Point, S.C., where the first African Americans to serve in the Marine Corps completed recruit training.
“ We have a Stuart tank on display. The way it was designed kind of makes it look like it was an afterthought,” said Chuck Girbovan, the museum’s exhibit chief. “It is the only place in the museum where a macro-artifact is just sitting out on a concrete slab with no setting or environment around it. So what we are doing is taking that scene and wrapping a Montford Point setting around it to better showcase the Stuart tank and also tell a little more of the Montford Point story.”
The renovation will include a wall mural of a hand-painted North Carolina pine forest totaling 600 square feet. Ground cover will also be fabricated to look like brown dirt and artificial foliage including four 18-foot-tall fiberglass pine trees will be included.
The exhibit will be topped off by two “cast figures” which are akin to hyper-realistic mannequins. They are created by casting molds of Marines, even down to dental impressions, before being clothed and hand painted to look lifelike. Giborvan said they like to pick current Marines who serve in the same MOS as the people they are trying to depict and have some combat deployment experience. The casting figures can cost up to $20,000 each.
One of the cast figures will be atop the Stuart tank and the other will be on the ground handing the tanker 37mm rounds, as they prepare for a training exercise leading to a Pacific deployment.
The decision to incorporate Montford Point into the tank display was made as part of a diversity initiative directed by Commandant Gen. Jim Amos. Now in its second year, the museum has been taking steps to highlight the contributions of minorities throughout the service’s history, including women and Native Americans. Some of those stories are being incorporated into existing spaces.
“The museum still isn’t big enough to tell all the stories we want to tell, so we like to take our exhibits and build levels into them and tell multiple stories at once,” Girbovan said.
Many more renovations are expected as the Museum sets to expand with the addition of educational facilities, a sports hall of fame, theater and galleries covering modern Marine history. The museum recently launched a seven-year, $100-million project to document the service’s history from the end of fighting in Vietnam to this generation’s conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. That includes actions in Lebanon, Grenada, Panama and elsewhere. Construction of a new wing will begin in 2015.
Additionally, the museum will put on display an array of modern equipment including a refurbished F/A-18 fighter jet, an AH-1W Super Cobra helicopter, an M60A1 tank, an MRAP-All Terrain Vehicle, drones and more.