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TANKS AT PLAY: Location Chosen for $50M Wartime Museum

Posted on Apr 14,2010
Filed Under Local Politics , Politics,
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Photo by John Arundel <br /> <br />The National Museum of Americans in Wartime recently held an open house.
Photo by John Arundel
The National Museum of Americans in Wartime recently held an
open house.

Manassas, VA. - These days it's little more than a dusty field about 28 miles from downtown Washington.

But on some weekends the armored toys come out, creating muddy indentures in the ground from World War II-era tanks and amphibious personnel carriers.

Photo by John Arundel <br /> <br />John Abshire of Fort Bragg, N.C. and Marc Lauterbach of Falls Church, in the trenches at The National Museum of Americans in Wartime.
Photo by John Arundel
John Abshire of Fort Bragg, N.C. and
Marc Lauterbach of Falls Church, in
the trenches at The National Museum
of Americans in Wartime.

By 2014, this outdoor reenactment area will provide millions of tourists a true picture of daily life on the battlefront, as the National Museum of Americans in Wartime rises from a cow patch in western Prince William County.

On Tuesday, the Prince William Board of County Supervisors and The Wartime Museum Board of Trustees announced that the future national museum will be located on a 70-acre site near the intersection of Interstate 95 and Dale Boulevard.  

The Hylton Family of Prince William County donated the site for the museum.

“It is fitting that The Wartime Museum will be located in Prince William County where the military has played a significant role in our community’s history,” said Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart.
 
“This nation fought its first battle of the Civil War here in 1861, and the County remained on the front line of the war with the second, and bloodier, battle of Manassas. Our community has always been proud that many Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen have called Prince William home; and this museum will honor our veterans from all services."
 
Stewart added that the Museum will complement the existing resources of The National Museum of the Marine Corps and Manassas National Battlefield Park, and "will provide continued confirmation that Prince William County is a premier destination for anyone interested in military heritage.”

The Wartime Museum will be a one-of-a-kind, world-class museum.  
 
The $50 million project will provide a new cultural, educational and recreational attraction in Prince William County and the Commonwealth of Virginia.  
 
An initial market study estimated that the Museum will create 50 direct and 35 indirect jobs, attract more than 300,000 tourists each year and have an annual economic impact of $10 million to $25 million per year at surrounding hotels, restaurants and other businesses.

Photo by John Arundel<br /> <br />Alan Cors is a weekend warrior who owns one of the world's largest collection of tanks and heavy military equipment. He is the founder of the National Museum of Americans in Wartime.
Photo by John Arundel
Alan Cors is a weekend warrior who
owns one of the world's largest collection
of tanks and heavy military equipment.
He is the founder of the National Museum
of Americans in Wartime.

“We are extremely proud that The Wartime Museum will be located in Prince William County and in Virginia, the heart of American history and patriotism,” said Craig Stewart of Alexandria, the president and CEO of The Wartime Museum.
 
“With unwavering support from Prince William County, the Hylton Family’s generous land donation, and The Wartime Museum’s capital campaign, we look forward to the day when we will open the doors of this incredible Museum to veterans, school children, families and visitors from all walks of life.”

The Wartime Museum will honor those who served in all branches of the United States military and on the American home front from World War I to the present day.
 
The Museum will particularly focus on educating young Americans about personal wartime experiences, the realities of war and the sacrifices made by Americans striving to preserve our nation’s freedoms. Indoor and outdoor exhibits will feature The Landscapes of War – authentic replicas of battlefront scenes – and will provide a dynamic, interactive experience so visitors can see, hear and touch military vehicles and artifacts.

The Wartime Museum will also be a core attraction along “The Corridor of Military History.”
 

Photo by John Arundel <br /> <br />Tom Salemi enjoys jumbo shrimp and oyster crackers.<br />
Photo by John Arundel
Tom Salemi enjoys jumbo shrimp and
oyster crackers.

This burgeoning tourism region in Virginia includes such prominent cultural attractions as The National Museum of the Marine Corps near Quantico and the planned National Museum of the U.S. Army at Fort Belvoir. Ten years ago, the Walt Disney Co. was defeated in its efforts to build "Disney's America," a historical amusement park, in a field near Manassas.

Initial site grading will begin later this year, and officials anticipate that The Wartime Museum will open to the public on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, 2014.  
 
The site belongs to Allan D. Cors, a public affairs consultant and former lobbyist, who has raised nearly $14 million so far from mostly patriotic alumni of the U.S. military to fulfill his dream.
 
For decades, Cors collected barnloads of antique military equipment, often combing the backroads of Normandy in search of his quarry, much like a lepidopterist in search of rare, wondrous moths.
 
It started with a World War II-era Jeep in 1982 and morphed into a full-blown search for rickety tanks, armored personnel carriers, Indian motorcycles and other heavy wartime pieces, said Cors, whose poor hearing prevented him from ever serving in the military.

During the Berlin crisis of 1961, Cors volunteered for the draft to serve as an Army JAG lawyer (Judge Advocate General), but a punctured ear drum precluded him from serving. "My passion is to tell the story of those who did serve," he said.  
 
Cors has never stopped collecting, culling over 100 pieces of wartime machinery mostly from the forgotten battle towns and military-focused auction houses of Europe, often using "pickers" to hunt down rare pieces.

The collection stretches from World War I to the Vietnam conflict, with a special emphasis on machinery used to conquer Hitler's Europe during the Second World War, at places like Pont de Hoc and Omaha Beach.
 
"We left so much machinery over there," he said wistfully. "It would be a shame to see it all go to rust and ruin."
 

Photo by John Arundel<br /> <br />Six year-old Alec Smolkan in a Russian artillery uniform from the Tsarist period of World War II.
Photo by John Arundel
Six year-old Alec Smolkan in a Russian
artillery uniform from the Tsarist period
of World War II.

Cors' collection started with a barn stacked floor to ceiling with vehicles and war materiel in Warrenton, VA., and progressed to storage at a huge warehouse in Crystal City.

Over the years, his interest in war machinery has shifted, he said. "My real interest now is in the people who fought these wars, and in their brave heroics," Cors said. "I'm fascinated by the values they demonstrated; their dedication, loyalty, sacrifice, leadership and devotion to the cause."

On a warm Sunday afternoon recently, Cors unmarked farm on a back country road in Prince William County was abuzz with historic tanks, military vehicles and soldier re-enactors conducting life as it might have been on a World War II battlefield, minus the gunfire and live ammunition.
 
A 1941 Indian motorcycle was gunning its engines, much as it might have been during wartime for the British dispatch riders who brought messages and plans to the battlefront. Produced under the Lend Lease Act by the Indian Motorcycle Co. of Springfield, Mass., the motorcyle, with its broad handlebars and leather saddlebag, was in meticulously working order.

At auction, the classic war motorbikes fetch as much as $40,000.
 
"I'd love to have one of these," marveled Jim Houk, a pharmacist from Woodbridge, who said he owns five modern-day motorcycles. "It's a work of art...It's history."
 
Nearby, a three-ton amphibious truck stood sentry, seemingly ready to transport a few Allied soldiers onto Omaha Beach.

Developed in 1942, about 121,000 of these vehicles were developed by the Yellow Truck Division of General Motors by the end of World War II. It could carry about 25 soldiers and two tons of cargo in its massive, watertight hull.
 
"These were critical in supplying food and ammo to the war theater," Cors explained, as an A-20 armored utility car sped by and a noisy T-72 tank spit mud and grass from its treads.
 
Taking a break from the action were uniformed, Korean War-era military re-enactors who stood behind sandbags in a freshly-dug trench, munching jumbo shrimp the size of silver dollars. "Lucky day for us," chuckled Marc Lauterbach of Falls Church, who teaches criminal justice at George Washington University.
 

Photo by John Arundel<br /> <br />Donald Taylor of Fairfax serves tea at The National Museum of Americans in Wartime.<br />
Photo by John Arundel
Donald Taylor of Fairfax serves tea at
The National Museum of Americans
in Wartime.

"We're kind of weekend reservists," chimed in John Abshire of Fort Bragg, N.C., a civilian military contractor who drove up from Fort Bragg, N.C. This weekend Abshire is "serving" in the Army's 3rd Infantry, 23rd Regiment, deployed to Korea with his M1 Garand infantry rifle ("It packs more of a punch than a pistol," he brags). His regular "day job" in Fort Bragg, he said, is to serve as a Taliban combatant preparing Army soldiers for war in Afghanistan.

Nearby, Donald Taylor of Fairfax, a retired Park Ranger who served on a Coast Guard cutter as a Russian interpreter, wears a WWI uniform from the Siege of Leningrad period. "The Russians had many neighbors and they seem to have had issues with all of them," he said, as he poured tea from a brass Russian sumovar.
 
"We want to build a museum which honors those who served on the battlefront from World War I forward," said Craig Stewart of Alexandria, Episcopal High School's former director of development who now serves as President and CEO of the National Museum of Americans in Wartime. "We'll focus on telling the story of the individual and their personal sacrifice."
 
Stewart envisions a large site near Manassas which will feature the landscapes of war, dedicated to a particular conflict. "There might be recreations of bombed-out German villages or period-authentic demonstrations or re-enactments in a controlled environment," said Stewart, formerly director of development at Episcopal High School.
 
The new museum is privately-funded and well-backed. Its leadership board includes about a dozen luminaries, including former Sen. Charles S. Robb (D-VA.), Virginia Secretary of Transportation Pierce R. Homer, and a smattering of military historians, Medal of Honor recipients and other U.S. military alumni.
 
Stewart said the museum will open in stages, as funding is procured and development milestones are reached. Some $50 million is needed to fund construction of the first phase. About $14 million has been raised, and Stewart's goal is to open the museum in Nov. 2014.
 
"We have a broad mission as a welcoming museum to the millions of tourists who come to the area and to the surviving families of the 20th century wars," Stewart said. "We think it's vital to keep their stories alive."



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