Vice chief: Americans can gain much from Army history
June 17, 2014
By David Vergun
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WASHINGTON (Army News Service, June 17, 2014) -- "We have to get the word out to the American public what our Army has done for them" over the last 239 years, said Vice Chief of Staff of the Army Gen. John F. Campbell. "I don't think most Americans understand that impact."
The vice chief said he spoke to a group of civilians three weeks ago about World War II. Campbell said one of them had asked if "the Marines won World War II in the Pacific."
Although the six divisions of Marines did a terrific and valiant job, "21 Army divisions fought in the Pacific theater as well, sustaining more than 190,000 casualties," Campbell replied, pointing out that the Army conducted the most amphibious assaults in the war, and it was "predominantly an Army effort."
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, more than 60 percent of those who served were Soldiers. Additionally, 10 of the 14 Medals of Honor from those wars have been awarded to Soldiers.
The reason most Americans don't know this is because the Army is not adequately communicating its message and its history, he said, speaking at the Association of the United States Army-sponsored Army Historical Foundation "Industry Leadership Reception," at AUSA headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, Monday.
One of the most important ways he said the Army could spread its message is by having its own national museum.
Many who were in attendance are involved in just such an effort, including Retired Army Brig. Gen. Creighton W. Abrams III, executive director of the Army Historical Foundation.
Abrams said that if fundraising stays on track, the National Museum of the United States Army could open as early as 2018, at Fort Belvoir, Virginia.
The other services have done a much better job of showcasing the contributions of their services at the national level, Campbell said. While the Army has museums spread out at its posts and stations, "we still lack a museum that brings together the entire Army story at the national level."
The National Museum of the U.S. Navy opened in 1963, at the Navy Yard in Washington, D.C.; the National Museum of the Marine Corps opened its 135-acre campus several years ago in Quantico, Virginia, and the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, just broke ground on their fourth hangar museum complex, he pointed out. These are all highly visible and visited places.
Currently, the Army Heritage and Education Center in Carlisle Barracks, Pennsylvania, serves as a national archive for the Army. "It's a great resource for leaders doing research," but it's not the same as a national museum, he said.
The Army doesn't lack for items to fill a museum.
The Museum Support Center at Fort Belvoir -- basically a climate-controlled warehouse -- holds some 30,000 artifacts and more than 15,000 original paintings covering the Army's 239 years of history, he said.
Items include a World War II-era Rockwell painting and the flag flown on the side of the Pentagon in the aftermath of the 9/11 attack. Without the museum, the "next generation of Americans may even forget the Pentagon was attacked," he ventured.
Properly displayed in an "adequate and modern facility," these "treasures will tell the personal stories of how the Army shaped this nation and changed our world," he said.
Now more than ever, a national museum is necessary to tell that story since today, "less than one half of one percent of the population serve in the military and less than 20 percent of politicians have had military experience," he said
Also, there are fewer recruiting stations and ROTC units around the country due to the drawdown, "so the American population will have less exposure to our Soldiers and a decreased understanding of our Army as we go forward," he said.
A more informed citizenry would be more apt to consider serving and would better appreciate what the Army has accomplished for this nation, he said.
Campbell said he thinks today's youth don't realize the Army was instrumental in the building of the Panama Canal, helped build most of the monuments in Washington, D.C., or manages all of the navigable rivers and waterways in the United States.
Besides that, he said, the Army is "spearheading efforts in trying to get at some of society's toughest problems." Included among those are discrimination, suicide and traumatic brain injury.
A museum in the national capital region would better inform Congress as well, he said. Legislators would be more knowledgeable when it comes to funding issues and would be reminded of the "human cost of war as they make decisions on whether to send Soldiers into harm's way."
Soldiers too can learn from history, he said, pointing to past drawdowns and interwar periods where innovative ideas flourished.
Case in point, he said, is a study by former Army Chief of Staff Gen. Creighton W. Abrams Jr., the father of Abrams in attendance.
He not only led the military in the waning years of the war in Vietnam, he also managed the drawdown that followed and the start of the all-volunteer Army. Abrams also emphasized the intellectual development of leaders and spearheaded transformation, Campbell said.
Countless leaders from other wars and eras have valuable history lessons that are applicable today as the Army transforms its formations to be more expeditionary, agile and lethal, he said.
After the Industry Leadership Reception, several younger Soldiers were asked if they'd ever heard of Gen. Creighton Abrams. None of them had.
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