Best War Museums in America
The best war and military museums aren't just rooms stuffed with medals and pictures. They are captivating experiences with stealth bombers, war-scarred aircraft carriers, virtual reality combat simulators, life-sized battle dioramas and war reenactments that use actual tanks.
They also are sobering and powerful reminders about the costs of war, the people we lost in wartime and the atrocities that accompany it. From sharing the history of the American Revolution to collections of modern military technology and everything in between, these best war museums are the best in America.
Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
Location: New York, New York
Year opened: 1982
Located along the Hudson River in New York City is the aircraft carrier-turned-museum, the USS Intrepid. The carrier served in World War II and survived five kamikaze attacks and one torpedo strike, then went on to serve in the Cold War and the Vietnam War.
The museum consists of the USS Intrepid, the submarine Growler, the supersonic aircraft Concorde and the space shuttle Enterprise. There are over 20,000 artifacts and pieces of media in the museum's collection as well as a dozen aircraft.
Must-See Exhibit at the Intrepid Sea, Air and Space Museum
The Space Pavilion, which showcases "a soundscape featuring actual conversations between mission control and Enterprise pilots during flight tests."
Also don't miss the kamikaze exhibit, which explores the history and impact of kamikaze pilots.
Pima Air and Space Museum
Location: Tucson, Arizona
Year opened: 1976
Bring your walking shoes. The Pima Air and Space Museum consists of a 127-acre campus and about 400 aircraft.
There are several hangars, each with their own exhibits, as well as an aerospace gallery.
Must-See Exhibit at the Pima Air and Space Museum
World War II buffs should check out hangars four and five, which showcase weapons, artifacts and aircraft, from the Pacific theater. The aerospace gallery is great for kids, and it has the capsule from the 1995 "Apollo 13" film.
Check out their extensive list of airplanes before going.
National Naval Aviation Museum
Location: Pensacola, Florida
Year opened: 1962
The National Naval Aviation Museum has a vast and encompassing range of naval aviation and spacecraft from the navy, marines and coast guard. There are over 150 aircraft and spacecraft on display in the 300,000-square-foot museum and on its vast, 37-acre grounds.
You can spend hours upon hours here learning about the history of flight or watching a 4K Blue Angels movie at the massive, giant-screen theater.
Must-See Exhibit at the National Naval Aviation Museum
Hop in a flight simulator for a five-minute simulated flying experience and see what it's like to be inside a Blue Angels sky show or a F/A-18 Hornet as it sweeps and turns through the sky.
Or select the Desert Storm simulation, which showcases what it's like to be inside an aircraft while it's in combat.
USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Location: Mobile, Alabama
Year opened: 1965
The USS Alabama Battleship is a 45,000-ton South Dakota-class warship that earned nine Battle Stars during her service in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans during World War II. At the height of World War II, the ship was manned by 2,500 crew members and was armed with nine Mark 6 guns.
When it was decommissioned in 1962, the state of Alabama and its citizens raised $100,000 and had the "Mighty A" installed at a memorial park in Mobile. She was then joined by the USS Drum, a Gato-class submarine.
Today, you can tour them both, along with various other tanks, boats and planes at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park.
Must-See Exhibit at the USS Alabama Battleship Memorial Park
Aside from the USS Alabama, tour the park's grounds and check out the M-26 Pershing, M-4 Sherman, M-48A 1 Patton and an M-60A 1 tanks.
And be sure to check out the guns on the USS Alabama. You can't miss 'em.
Airborne and Special Operations Museum
Location: Fayetteville, North Carolina
Year opened: 2000
The U.S. Army's Airborne and Special Operations Museum (ASOM) highlights the missions and endeavors of soldiers from the first paratroopers in 1940 to modern conflicts.
Special operations during World War II, the Korean War, Cold War, Vietnam War, and various other contingencies are remembered in this museum through incredibly detailed models and vignettes.
Must-See Exhibit at the Airborne and Special Operations Museum
The Battle of Mogadishu — the "Black Hawk Down" operation— is a particularly intriguing exhibit.
Helicopter wreckage from the Super 61 and various other artifacts from the bloody conflict are now permanently installed at the ASOM.
Also impressive is the Vietnam War display, which takes a closer look at the 101st Airborne and holds a Huey chopper.
The Wright Museum of WWII
Location: Wolfeboro, New Hampshire
Year opened: 1994
The Wright Museum of WWII takes a closer look at American life at home during World War II, and how that shaped American culture. Like how skirts became shorter and tires got narrower because of material conservation efforts.
But there are bigger things in the 20,000-square-foot building, too, such as military vehicles.
Must-See Exhibits at the Wright Museum of WWII
Check out the war poster exhibits and the exhibit about the role women played during WWII, as well as authentic recreations of American kitchens during this historic time period.
You might even get some remodeling ideas.
National Museum of the United States Air Force
Location: Dayton, Ohio
Year opened: 1954
The National Museum of the United States Air Force is the oldest and biggest museum of military aircraft in the entire world.
There are some extremely rare planes on display here, like the only XB-70 Valkyrie, the Memphis Belle and Bockscar, the B-29 bomber that dropped the Fat Man nuclear bomb on Nagasaki. Also on display are missiles, uniforms, and various other aviation artifacts, like the Apollo 15 command module, Endeavour.
If you love warplanes, this is the place to go.
Must-See Exhibit at the National Museum of the United States Air Force
There's a lot to see at this museum, so if there's a particular kind of military plane you love, chances are the National Museum of the United States Air Force has it.
The Missile Gallery, which is located in a 140-foot silo-like building, is a sight to behold. Additionally, the Space Gallery, which houses satellites, space suits, spacecraft and launch vehicles is a place you can spend hours while dreaming of space travel.
The National Museum of the Pacific War
Location: Fredericksburg, Texas
Year opened: 1969
The National Museum of the Pacific War is dedicated to tell the stories of those who served in the Pacific Theater during WWII.
This sprawling museum is located on six acres and is divided into several areas and buildings, including the Plaza of Presidents, Pacific Combat Zone, Japanese Garden of Peace, Memorial Courtyard and many exhibits.
Must-See Exhibit at the National Museum of the Pacific War
The Pacific Combat Zone is a scale map of the Asian-Pacific Theater, and it's where battle reenactments take place.
These are full-fledged reenactments, too. Expect to see flamethrowers, tanks, and other military vehicles used as the United States and Japanese forces fight for control of various positions.
Earplugs are provided.
Museum of the American Revolution
Location: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Year opened: 2017
The Museum of the American Revolution is the newest museum on this list. It opened on April 19, 2017— 242 years after the opening shot of the Revolutionary War.
The museum is dedicated to exploring the Revolutionary War, the founding fathers and the lives of Americans during the early years of this country's formation.
Must-See Exhibit at the Museum of the American Revolution
The Road to Independence exhibit showcases how British-Americans turned into revolutionaries.
This part of the museum also has a life-sized replica of the Boston Liberty Tree, where the first rumblings of revolt were held.
National Museum of the Marine Corps
Location: Triangle, Virginia
Year opened: 2006
The National Museum of the Marine Corps is a museum dedicated to the history and work of the United States Marine Corps.
Every battle since the Marine Corps was formed by the Continental Congress in 1798 to 9/11 and modern conflicts have an exhibition here, with more to come.
The building is a massive 100,000 square feet and has some of the best battlescape dioramas in existence.
Must-See Exhibit at the National Museum of the Marine Corps
The Legacy Walk is the museum's central exhibit and its can't-miss attraction.
It's a walking tour that takes you through more than two centuries of Marine Corps history, using vignettes and scale models to showcase some of America's most important conflicts.
The models and sculptures in this museum are absolutely stunning, so seek them out.
National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial
Location: Kansas City, Missouri
Year opened: 1926
The United States opened the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial eight years after World War I ended. When entering the main gallery, you'll cross a glass bridge over a field of 9,000 red poppies. Each one represents 1,000 deaths and is a reminder of the nine million people who died during the First World War.
While it has served as the country's primary WWI museum, the museum was closed from 1994 until 2006 due to its aging infrastructure. It took $102 million in repairs and renovations to get the museum back up and running — and bring the museum up to modern expectations.
Must-See Exhibit at the National World War I Museum and Liberty Memorial
The museum has an awesome display of life-sized trench scenes that have ambient sounds and letters from the people who fought in the war.
Also don't miss the walk-through crater, which recreates the aftermath of a farmhouse destroyed by a 17-inch howitzer shell.
Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum
Location: Washington, D.C.
Year opened: 1946
The Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum is a museum dedicated to the progress of aviation and space flight. That means rockets, missiles, planes, helicopters, spacecraft and thousands of other aviation-related objects.
Many airplanes used in World War I and World War II have been donated to the NASM. Those that can't be displayed in the museum are housed nearby in the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.
Admission to the NASM is free.
Must-See Exhibit in the Smithsonian National and Space Museum
There's some really cool non-military stuff here — like the capsule from the Apollo 11 exhibit and the USS Enterprise model used in the original "Star Trek" show — but there's also some great war-related stuff here as well.
The Lockheed SR-71 Blackbird, the most iconic spy plane ever created, is a sight to behold. This Cold War-era plane is on display at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. It's a permanent fixture at the NASM and also part of the Cold War Aviation exhibit, which is also a can't-miss attraction.
And don't forget about the huge IMAX theater.
National Infantry Museum
Location: Columbus, Georgia
Year opened: 2009
Located right by Fort Benning, the National Infantry Museum holds over 10,000 military artifacts from the Revolutionary War to the present day.
Must-See Exhibit at the National Infantry Museum
Check out the combat simulator exhibit, a virtual reality experience that can put you in three different scenarios: inside a Black Hawk helicopter, a humvee or a shooting range. It's like being at war, only without any of the risks or training required.
The museum also has a restaurant, Fife and Drum, a place where visitors might meet with veterans and active service soldiers who are stationed at Fort Benning.
United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
Location: Washington, D.C.
Year opened: 1993
The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum is one of the most important museums in the United States. The USHMs primary goal is to remember those who died in the Holocaust and to teach people how and why it happened.
The museum showcases a trove of documents, photographs, artifacts, film, music and various other media. It's an unforgettable experience.
Must-See Exhibit at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum
The Permanent Exhibition is the most widely toured part of the USHM. It's a three-floor exhibit that chronicles the rise of the Nazi party to the "final solution" and then the end of WWII and the liberation of Nazi camps.
Each visitor is given a card of a random survivor or victim to take with them through the tour, which lasts around three hours.
There are many striking, sobering displays in the museum. One that stands out is a room filled with thousands of shoes that belonged to Jews murdered in concentration camp gas chambers.
National World War II Museum
Location: New Orleans, Louisiana
Year opened: 2000
The National WWII Museum is probably the best World War II museum in the entire world. There are so many aspects of the American soldier experience in this museum, from the off-to-war train ride to the dramatic vignettes of D-Day.
WWII veterans are known to volunteer here and might be up for a chat.
Must See Exhibit at the National World War II Museum
With the Dog Tag Experience, visitors get a radio-frequency identification (RFID) dog tag, which can be used at interactive kiosks. These kiosks tell the story of the real-life veteran attached to these dog tags, learning where they went and what they did during WWII.
The Road to Courage is also an incredible exhibition that features the stories and sacrifices that Americans experienced in major theaters of war. In truth, you can't go wrong with any exhibit at the National World War II Museum.
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