Sunday, January 10, 2010
The new Smithsonian Museum of American History (and Helmets)
One of the many things I enjoy about living in beautiful Western Maryland is the close proximity and easy access to our nation's capital, Washington DC, and the wonderful museums of the Smithsonian Institution.
Last spring I and two friends ventured "downtown" (as anyone within a 90 mile radius refers to the district) to see the newly redesigned and reopened Smithsonian Institution Museum of American History.
It was a remarkable experience. An iconic museum with incredibly well designed and thoughtful exhibits exploring our young nation's rich history.
Of the zillions of artifacts on display, I took especial note of the representation of the various "tin lids" utilized to tell the story of the United States, from this early specimen from the Jamestown settlement of 400 years ago:
to this high-tech composite helmet, complete with night vision and Mar-pat cover, fresh from the war in Iraq:
I was surprised and delighted by the variety and condition of the helmets on public display in tribute to the fighting men and women of the United States.
Not surprisingly, one encounters the helmets chronologically with this M1917 of the First World War an early stop in the exhibit.
The progression continued with a nice M1917A1 represented at the very beginning of the WWII section.
As nearly all of the helmets were behind glass you can only imagine my contortions as I stooped to catch glimpses of liners, chinstraps, and other features not readily visible.
This barracks mock-up provided an evocative setting to introduce the good old M1 helmet of the American soldier.
And there was no shortage of U.S. Marine...
and U.S. Navy representation. This talker's helmet, though missing chinstrap, was a sight for sore eyes for this old Navyman.
I found myself coveting this nice M1938 tanker's helmet, an example of which still eludes my collection.
Axis countries were represented, though generally through booty and bring-backs. This German M.40 topee is nearly as nice (nearly) as the one in my collection.
Below, my friend Brian zeros in on a WWII fixed-bale M1 in the "hands-on" area.
This one, like most of the others, was in outstanding condition.,
The Vietnam War had a great deal of representation with helmets of both the Communist forces:
(here, in reed green)
(and here, in khaki)
as well as the ARVN forces. Here's a particularly nice South Vietnamese Army Ranger's helmet, and unlike those popping up daily on ebay, this one's quite legit.
U.S. forces were represented with various examples of that era's version of the venerable M1,
as well as with a chopper crewman's helmet
After so much of the gallery being populated by steel pots, this newer kevlar "Fritz" helmet came as a reminder that time and technology do "march on".
Helmets were also abundant in the Museum Store, by the stack and ready for some young GI Joe or Jane to don whilst chasing imaginary badguys through the backyard.
After a full and satisfying day we three made our way back to the train station caught our various trains home, certain to return, sooner rather than later, to further explore the many fine museums of this very singular treasure-trove that is "our nation's attic"
And I hope to be posting here again "sooner, rather than later".
Keep your head down,