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Thursday, December 21, 2006

US ARMY TRANSPORTATION MUSEUM



One of the most fascinating museums I’ve ever seen has one of the most uninviting names—the U.S. Army Transportation Museum at Ft. Eustis, Virginia. But never judge a book by its cover.

Ft. Eustis, is just eleven miles south of Williamsburg and the home of the Army’s Transportation branch whose mottos is “Nothing Happens Until Something Moves.” Located on six acres, the museum depicts the history of Army transportation from horse-drawn wagons right to the kinds of amazing vehicles one associates with science fiction.

Inside the main 50,000 sq. ft. building, I followed a path featuring dioramas, models, photographs, walls of citations, and many different examples of the creative ways the Army has transported, supplied, and supported soldiers and materiel since the rudimentary Conestoga wagons and ships used in the Revolutionary War.

Ft. Eustis, as you know from our tour there in the July issue, is the home of the Army’s Transportation School, and we would not have thought to visit had Michael not been posted there for training. Just goes, once again, to show there are hidden treasures in unlikely places.

It’s easy to discount the importance of the Transportation Corps or to ignore it altogether. Yet after reading Guns of August (see Sept., 2006), I learned that the very beginning of WWI centered on transportation timing and lead to Germany’s feeling that it had 15 days before all the countries could move enough men and materiel to respond to her attack.

To the museum—In the building exhibit we learned not only of development but also of the Army’s continually evolving philosophy.

We begin with the Conestoga wagons that accompanied the Revolutionary War troops. Just consider fulfilling the basic needs of troops who marched from the Lake George area in New York’s Adirondack Mountains or from New England to participate in the battles around New York City. They crossed the Adirondacks, traipsed through the Hudson Valley, crossed rivers in summer and winter, and needed to be armed, not only personally but also with cannon, needed to be fed, and needed to be clothed. Livestock traveled with them. Everything had to be coordinated. Wagons had to be maintained and repaired. It was a daunting task.

By the time of the Civil War, the railroad had entered service. By WWI, the Army Transport Service was officially established. The expanding need for jeeps and ships during WWII instigated the formation of the Transportation Corps. Hence, it is one of the newest branches of our service, but ironically in existence before our country gained independence. There are exhibits depicting the inclusion of air and armored vehicles as well as all-terrain vehicles—for jungles, for snow, and for sand.

The Army continues to develop experimental vehicles as well, always seeking to make its Transportation Corps more efficient in serving the needs of its soldiers. Some of those innovations become crossovers to the civilian population, and we all know several examples including the ubiquitous Jeep and Humvee.

Outside the museum building are a series of outdoor exhibits illustrating even more strongly the expansive variety of skills needed by its personnel to fulfill the responsibilities of the Transportation Corps. In the Railyard, the Cargo Yard, the Aviation Pavilion, and the Marine Park, I viewed trains, hovercraft, helicopters, landing craft, amphibious vehicles, tug boats, patrol boats—all artifacts actually used by men and women trained by the Corps.

The entire museum is a learning experience. There are pamphlets to describe the various displays. There are videos, newsreels, photographs, dioramas, and scenes of the conditions in which members of the Transportation Corps operate.

This is not a museum glorifying war. It is a place to see beyond the public image of the Army and the soldier into the reality of the work and effort that goes into protecting our country and keeping it whole and free. For me it was an eye-opening experience.

As I’ve been writing, the Williamsburg area is a whole lot more than Colonial Williamsburg. Try it; you’ll like it.















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