Final Phase: The Story of Modern Day Marines in the Galleries

By Michael Deets

The National Museum of the Marine Corps (NMMC) is hard at work on its final phase of the museum.  The museum opened on November 10, 2006, on the 231st anniversary of the Marine Corps.  The seven original galleries are a walking timeline from the founding of the Marine Corps in 1775 to 1975.  Over 60,000 square feet of exhibits display artifacts, videos, oral histories, and dioramas, which provides the visitor with a realistic and historical insight into the United States Marine Corps.

The final phase of the museum, seen in this picture below, will double the current size of the museum and will convey the modern Marines’ story from 1976 to the present. The ground breaking for the final phase began in 2015 and will conclude in 2020.  My public history internship work included researching and drafting text panels for NMMC final phase galleries (1976-2018).

The final addition will include a giant-screen theater, expanded Education Suite and Children’s Gallery, Sports Gallery, Combat Art Gallery, Hall of Valor, 9/11 Exhibition, and additional historical galleries depicting the bravery and service of the men and women who served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1976 though present day. The construction is ongoing and is scheduled to be completed in 2017.  The museum plans to have all exhibitions opened by 2020.

Forward Deployed Gallery

The Forward Deployed gallery exhibit will be opening in 2018. The gallery concentrates on the time period as the Vietnam War ends and concludes just before the planes flew into the Twin Towers in New York City on September 11, 2001. Some of the exhibits in this gallery will concentrate on Marines in Beirut and Grenada, the Tanker War, and the First Gulf War.  Let’s take a closer look at some of the new artifacts that are going into the Forward Deployed Gallery.

Beirut, why were we there?

The United States played a decisive role in Beirut, Lebanon in the aftermath of the 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon. Prior to the invasion, Israel had many decisive victories in the Arab-Israeli Wars of 1948 and 1967, causing an abundant amount of Palestinian refugees to flock to Lebanon.  Over the years, tensions rose between the Lebanese and the Palestinians in Lebanon that led to civil war in 1975.  At the request of the Lebanese government in 1982, President Ronald Reagan deployed Marines of the 32nd Marine Amphibious Unit (MAU) to Lebanon as peacekeepers to help resolve the hostilities while the Lebanese Civil War continued.

The United States, along with France and Italy, formed the Multinational Peacekeeping Force (MNF) in order to break the deadlocked parties in Beirut, to support the Lebanese government in restoring order by supervising the evacuation of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and to stabilize the tumultuous domestic situation in Lebanon after the Israeli invasion.  President Reagan stated to Congress that the Marines would be needed only for a limited time and that there was absolutely no expectation or intention to involve them in combat responsibilities.

At first, the Marine peacekeepers were left alone by the local forces, but on April 18, 1983 a suicide bomber hit the United States Embassy in Beirut killing sixty-three people including seventeen Americans.  As the months went by, sniper attacks increased against Marine positions.  They came in peace, but on Oct. 23, 1983, a truck filled with over 2,000 pounds of explosives crashed into the Marine Battalion Landing Team headquarters building in Beirut, Lebanon killing 220 Marines, 18 sailors, and three soldiers. This tragic marked the beginning of the Era of Terrorism.

Before and After. Photos from the Long Commission Report, U.S. Marines in Lebanon 1982-1984. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

The Secretary of Defense ordered that the Long Commission be established in order to investigate the bombing.  The Commission concluded that from now on the Marine mission must be clear and understood by all levels of command. It also determined that terrorism was now a mode of warfare and that U.S. military forces must train to combat terrorism.  The Commission went on to state that a rules of engagement plan must be implemented in order to give proper guidance for a wide variety of terrorist attacks.  Many lessons were learned from the Beirut Bombing in 1983 and are now incorporated into modern day doctrine and tactics according to the Long Commission and Bob Sullivan, Curator of the Final Phase at the National Museum of the Marine Corps.

A Personal Connection

My father’s high school friend, Corporal James “Jimmy” Knipple, died in the Beirut bombing on October 23, 1983. He honored Jimmy’s memory by joining the United States Marine Corps in 1984 after graduating from high school.


My dad, Sergeant Major Jamie Deets, USMC (Ret.), went on to serve for 31 years in the United States Marine Corps.

An Exhibit Remembering 9/11

Terrorist attacks can shake the foundations of our biggest buildings, but they cannot touch the foundation of America.  These acts shattered steel, but they cannot dent the steel of American resolve. –President George W. Bush, September 11, 2001


World Trade Center I-Beam from “Ground Zero.” Donated by the New York City Fire Department.

The United States of America was forever changed on September 11, 2001. It all started at 8:46 in the morning in New York City when nineteen militants from the Islamist extremist group, al-Qaeda, carried out four well-coordinated terrorist attacks killing close to 3,000 innocent people in the United States.  After hijacking four airliners, the militants carried out the attacks at various United States landmarks. The terrorists first flew two of the four planes into the World Trade Center in New York City.

The impact was so intense that the buildings caught on fire and subsequently collapsed.  Another plane, Flight 77, flew into the Pentagon in Arlington, Virginia at precisely 9:37 a.m. killing 189 people.  The Pentagon is the headquarters for the United States Department of Defense.  The final plane crashed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania.  It is believed that the passengers aboard Flight 93 fought the terrorists and prevented them from reaching their original target.

New York City Police Department Medal of Honor citation and medal for NYPD Sergeant Michael Curtain who died on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center while attempting to rescue victims trapped.  He was a United States Marine Corps veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

From the passengers aboard Flight 93 to the police and firefighters in New York City, there were many heroes on September 11, 2001.  Sergeant Michael Curtain was certainly one of those heroes.  Sergeant Michael S. Curtin became a New York Police Officer on January 26, 1988. His police career was soon interrupted when, as a Marine Corps reservist, he was called to active duty during Desert Storm. He ended up serving twelve years on active duty and eventually retired from the Reserves as a Sergeant Major, the highest enlisted rank.

After returning to the New York Police Department, he responded to the 1993 World Trade Center bombing. Sergeant Curtin was also later assigned to support FEMA rescue/recovery operations in the wake of the Oklahoma City bombing.  NYPD Sergeant Curtin was killed on September 11, 2001 while trying to rescue victims trapped in the World Trade Center. He was posthumously awarded the New York City Police Department’s Medal of Honor for his heroic actions on September 11, 2001.

Artifacts like an analog clock that stopped at 9:37 a.m. at the moment of impact from the Pentagon to an I-beam from the World Trade Center to personal belongings will help visitors remember the terrorist attacks on U.S. soil and why Marines were sent to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Did you know?….Not all of the victims of the September 11, 2001 attacks were American.  They came from 93 nations.

Afghanistan and Iraq Gallery

Following the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States government declared a “Global War on Terrorism.”  One month later the United States and her allies began combat operations in Afghanistan based on intelligence that the Taliban run government was providing a safe haven for Osama Bin Laden and his al-Qaeda network. Due to the Taliban government’s refusal to expel known terrorists and turning a blind eye to their activities, Marines were deployed to Afghanistan as part of Operation Enduring Freedom.

Campaign Medals for both Afghanistan (left) and Iraq (right)

Starting in October 2001, the United States formed a coalition of 85 countries that supported operations during OEF.  In 2003, Iraq became a second front in the war on terrorism with Operation Iraqi Freedom, with Marine responsibilities ranging from combat and security operations to humanitarian efforts.  In March of that year, President George W. Bush ordered United States forces to Iraq because he feared that weapons of mass destruction were being stockpiled.

The United States Marine Corps’ I Marine Expedition Force staged in Kuwait and then crossed into Southern Iraq on March 20, 2003, marking the beginning Operation Iraqi Freedom.  The task force attached to the 1st Marine Division was called Task Force Tarawa.  The Marines quickly captured the Rumaylah oil fields and then moved on to their next objective.  Before making their way to Baghdad, the Marines had to go through An Nasiriyah,an ancient desert city that had important bridges that were needed in order to have an alternate route to Baghdad and to transport supplies across the Saddam Canal and the Euphrates River to the Coalition lines closer to Baghdad.

The Marines of Task Force Tarawa planned on avoiding urban combat by just securing two of the four bridges on the outskirts of the town, which would ensure that the supplies to the 1st Marine Division remained uninterrupted.  By having the task force handle this operation at An Nasiriyah, it would enable the 1st Marine Division to maintain its push towards Baghdad while reserving its combat power for much larger encounters closer to Baghdad.

Unfortunately, hours before the Marines of Task Force Tarawa arrived in An Nasiriyah on March 23, 2003, an Army convoy consisting of thirty-three soldiers with the Army’s 507th Maintenance Company misguidedly drove directly into the ancient city of An Nasiriyah, which alerted the Iraqi forces to the American presence.  The Iraqi forces ambushed the convoy and they suffered catastrophic losses.  Eleven of the soldiers died that morning and eighteen Marines would lose their lives later that day.  As the five thousand eight hundred U.S. Marines and U.S. Navy Corpsmen came upon retreating Army soldiers, the Marine mission had to be adapted.  Task Force Tarawa not only had to secure the two bridges, but they also had to rescue as many stranded Army soldiers as they could.  The Battle of An Nasiriyah was the first major battle and true test for the Marines in Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Marines of 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, rescued ten fortunate soldiers.  Four of the ten soldiers were wounded, but were all moved to safety.  Unfortunately other soldiers were killed and some were even captured by the Iraqis.  The Marines now refocused on securing the bridges on the eastern side of town before the Iraqi forces could destroy them.

The four kilometers in between the two bridges was referred to as “Ambush Alley.”  The Marines and the Iraqis were in an intense urban firefight that lasted two long days where eighteen Marines lost their lives.  An Nasiriyah was historically significant and became a defining battle in the Iraq campaign.  Many mistakes were made, but just as many valuable tactical and operational lessons learned came from the two-day Battle of An Nasiriyah, which proved invaluable for the battles to come.

Now, Marines would expect the Iraqis not to follow international laws of war or to follow the Geneva Convention. The Marines also learned the vital role of scout-snipers, artillery, and air support. Furthermore, the Marines learned of the importance of establishing a positive rapport with the civilian population along with distributing humanitarian aid and working to help rebuild the city, according to the Department of Defense publication U.S. Marines in Battle: The Battle of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq and An-Nasiriyah on the Eve of War – March 23 to April 2, 2003, Task Force Tarawa, PFC Jessica L ynch, Ambush Alley.  The aggressive speedy victory in An Nasiriyah allowed the United States led Coalition to continue their push towards Baghdad.

Fast Fact: At the time of OIF (Operation Iraqi Freedom), there were three distinct groups in the Iraqi population: the Shia majority, the ruling Sunni minority, and the Kurds.

Did you know? No weapons of mass destruction were ever found in Iraq.

Helmets worn by then Gunnery Sergeant Justin D. Lehew who fought during the Battle of An Nasiriyah with 1st Battalion, 2d Marines, Task Force Tarawa

Gunnery Sergeant Lehew’s Navy Cross citation for his heroic actions during the Battle of An Nasiriyah

Michael Deets with Sergeant Major Lehew, who participated in the Battle of An Nasiriyah. He is currently the Sergeant Major of Training and Education Command at Quantico, Virginia.

We would like to thank all of the staff at the National Museum of the Marine Corps who assisted Michael during his internship.  A very special thanks goes to Robert. J. Sullivan, Senior Curator.  We truly appreciate these meaningful opportunities that your agency provides for our students.

Suggested Reading for Marines in Beirut:

Barry Rubin, The United States and the Middle East,” in The Middle East after the Israeli Invasion of Lebanon, Robert O. Freedman (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1986).

Colonel Timothy J. Geraghty, USMC (Ret.), Peacekeepers at War: Beirut 1983- The Marine Commander Tells His Story (Dulles, Potomac Books, Inc., 2009).

“DOD Commission reports on Beirut terrorist attack,” Marine Corps Gazette (Quantico, VA: Marine Corps Association, February 1984).

Eric Hammel, The Root: The Marines in Beirut August 1982- February 1984 (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Publishers, 1985).

Fabian, Larry L. “The Middle East: War Dangers and Receding Peace Prospects.” Foreign Affairs 62, no. 3 (1983): 632-58.

“MULTINATIONAL FORCE IN LEBANON RESOLUTION.” International Legal Materials 22, no. 6 (1983): 1391-394.

Suggested Reading for both 9/11 Exhibition:

The Washington Post, “Timeline of Events from September 11, 2001,” September 11, 2006.

Suggested Reading for both 9/11 Exhibition and Afghanistan/Iraq Gallery:

Colonel Patricia D. Saint, USMC (Ret.), 23 Days to Baghdad: U.S. Marine Aviation Combat Element in Iraq, 2003(History Division United States Marine Corps Quantico, VA, 2015).

Suggested Reading for the Afghanistan/Iraq Gallery:

Company Commanders, “The Battle of an Nasiriyah,” Marine Corps Gazette Volume 87, Issue 9  (Quantico: Marine Corps Association, September, 2003).

Colonel Rod Andrew Jr., USMCR, U.S. Marines in Battle An-Nasiriyah (Washington: U.S. Marine Corps History Division, 2009).

Major Christopher M. Kennedy, Wanda J. Renfrow, Evelyn A. Englander, and Nathan S. Lowrey, U.S. Marines in Iraq, 2003: Anthology and Annotated Bibliography (Washington, D.C.: History Division, United States Marine Corps, 2006).

U.S. Marines in Battle: The Battle of An-Nasiriyah, Iraq and An-Nasiriyah on the Eve of War – March 23 to April 2, 2003, Task Force Tarawa, PFC Jessica Lynch, Ambush Alley,  U.S. Marine Corps; Department of Defense (Kindle Progressive Management. Kindle Edition, 2012).

Michael Deets in front of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Virginia

Forward Deploy Gallery

A look at the future galleries at the museum. Image courtesy of Mr. Eric Long, Ms. Kathy Reesey, and EAI

Before and After. Photos from the Long Commission Report, U.S. Marines in Lebanon 1982-1984. History and Museums Division, Headquarters, Washington, D.C.

      James C. Knipple’s Boot Camp Photo Courtesy of The Knipple Family

Lance Corporal James C. Knipple in Beirut, Lebanon. Courtesy of the Knipple Family.

SgtMaj J.A. Deets, USMC (Ret.) at Cpl. Knipple’s gravesite. At Arlington National Cemetery.

9/11 Exhibition

World Trade Center I-Beam from “Ground Zero.” Donated by the New York City Fire Department.

New York City Police Department Medal of Honor citation and medal for NYPD Sergeant Michael Curtain who died on September 11, 2001 at the World Trade Center while attempting to rescue victims trapped.  He was a United States Marine Corps veteran of Operation Desert Storm.

Afghanistan and Iraq Gallery

Campaign Medals for both Afghanistan and Iraq. Courtesy of National Museum of the Marine Corps.

Adapted from a Central Intelligence Agency map by Marine Corps History Division

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