The Soldier Center, part of the new National Infantry Museum at Patriot Park, will open at 5 p.m. Thursday, three months before the museum's grand opening June 19.
The center includes the lobby, gift shop, 292-seat IMAX Theater with a screen five stories high and the Fife and Drum Restaurant, a Revolutionary-themed American bistro.
The day will kick off with a Sky Soldier show at 10 a.m. The show is a re-enactment of helicopter air mobile operations in Vietnam. The Sacred Soil Ceremony, narrated by actor Sam Elliott, who played CSM Basil Plumley in the film We Were Soldiers, will follow the aerial demonstration.
The ceremony will feature descendents and participants from major American wars who will sprinkle soil from the battlegrounds of Yorktown, Antietam, Soissions, Normandy, Corregidor, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq and Afghanistan, said MG(R) Jerry White, chairman of the National Infantry Museum Foundation.
"When Soldiers graduate, they will walk across the soil where their forefathers fought and many of them died," White said.
The soil will be preserved in glass containers placed in granite pavers on the parade field, south of the museum. All basic training graduations, beginning with B Company, 1st Battalion, 50th Infantry Regiment, will take place on the parade field at Patriot Park.
The keynote speaker for the graduation will be CSM Marvin Hill, senior enlisted advisor to GEN David Petraeus. After the graduation, graduates and their families are invited to eat lunch on the museum grounds. Visitors can also tour World War II Street, a replication of a company street from the 1940s.
The area includes the original temporary buildings that Soldiers trained and lived in, said Mike Criscillis, interim director for the National Infantry Museum. The buildings, some built to last only 15 years to meet mobilization needs, include barracks, a mess hall, a chapel, an orderly room, supply room and the headquarters and sleeping quarters used by GEN George S. Patton before his deployment in 1941 to North Africa. Younger generations would learn a wealth of information "if the walls could talk," Criscillis said.
In a way, they will. Audio recordings will play in each room. In the barracks, people will hear Soldiers joking and reading letters from home. In the mess hall, they'll be greeted with the din of a lunch in progress and even the smell of food. "It's what it would be like if you walked into the orderly and the first sergeant and the company commander were discussing training," Criscillis said. "You're going to smell coffee brewing. Everything, except the uniforms, is authentic. (Visitors) will have a different perspective, and it will bring back a lot of memories for the veterans."
A living history docent will conduct guided tours and answer questions. "It'll be like walking through a company street in the 1940s," White said. "It all ties together. People want to get a feel for the history of their country, and that's the 234-year history of Soldiers. We had Soldiers before we had a country.
"The whole purpose of this project is to educate the American people on the sacrifices of Soldiers and to thank Soldiers for their service. We want people to understand that freedom is not free. Everybody needs to come and see this ... They will come back time and time again." The films Everest and Mysteries of Egypt will play in the IMAX Theater at 5:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. respectively.
The Dark Knight will be shown at 7:30 p.m. Thursday. The Soldier Center will remain open to the public through the museum's official opening in June, when the artifact galleries will be complete. For more information about the museum, visit the Web site www.nationalinfantryfoundation.org.
Yorktown - Douglas Hamilton - Fifth-generation grandson of Alexander Hamilton
Antietam - Dirk Kempthorne - Great-grandson of PVT Charles Kempthorne, wounded Union Soldier at Antietam
Antietam - Henry Benning Pease Jr. - Descendant of Henry Lewis Benning, the Confederate Commander at Burnside Bridge
Soissions - Samuel Parker Moss - Grandson of Samuel Parker, the most decorated officer of WWI, who earned the Medal of Honor at Soissons
Normandy - Theodore Roosevelt IV - Grandson of Theodore Roosevelt Jr. who earned the Medal of Honor on D-Day
Corregidor - Kirk Davis - Son of Charles Davis who earned the Medal of Honor with the Infantry in the Pacific theater at Guadalcanal
Korea - COL Ola Lee Mize - Earned the Medal of Honor at Outpost Harry in the Korean War
Korea - GEN Sun Yup Paik South Korea's most decorated veteran who commanded a Division and Corps at age 30 in the Korean War
LZ Xray Vietnam - GEN Hal Moore - The battalion commander and command sergeant major of the 1/7th Cavalry that fought the first major conflict
LZ Xray Vietnam - CSM Basil Plumley of the Vietnam War at LZ Xray, depicted in the movie We Were Soldiers
War on Terrorism - CSM Marvin Hill - Central Command's command sergeant major, the senior enlisted advisor to GEN David Petraeus