After years of planning and construction delays, the National Museum of the U.S. Army will open next June. It is billed as the first in the nation to tell the 244-year-old story of the Army and the 30 million soldiers who have served since 1775.
The opening date has been postponed several times, but the Army said in a news release Wednesday that this time it's going to happen: On June 4, the doors will open to the 185,000-square-foot main building on an 84-acre campus at Fort Belvoir, Virginia, about 30 minutes south of Washington, D.C.
In a visit to the museum site, Defense Secretary Mark Esper, a former Army lieutenant colonel and West Point graduate, said, "The theme of this impressive project is spot-on: the epic story of individual soldiers throughout the history of our republic."
"The Army has served American citizens for 244 years, protecting the freedoms that are precious to all of us," acting Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy, a former Army Ranger who served in Afghanistan, said in a statement.
"Millions of people have served in the Army, and this museum gives us the chance to tell their stories to the public and show how they have served our nation and our people," he said.
The museum, located on a publicly accessible section of Fort Belvoir, plans to be open 364 days a year, the only exception being Christmas Day, to an expected 750,000 visitors annually.
Tickets for admission are free, but the Army and the Army Historical Foundation have yet to straighten out how ticketing will work.
The release said tickets must be requested through an online reservation system for a specific date and time, but the online reservation system won't be set up until sometime early next year.
"Due to the expected demand, visitors are being reminded to wait until they have received confirmation of their tickets before making travel plans," the Army release states.
Public transportation to the museum is expected to be available via the Washington Metro rail system and a Fairfax County, Virginia, connector bus, an Army spokeswoman said.
In addition to historical artifacts, the museum site will include a parade ground, grandstand, amphitheater, a memorial garden and an Army Trail.
The museum's goal is to tell a visitor the Army's history, mainly through the stories of its soldiers, from the earliest militias to today's volunteers.
The museum's Army and Society Gallery will also describe the history of service innovations through the years and the evolution of the relationship between the Army, society, the government and the people it serves and defends.
The choice of June 4 as the opening date was not tied to any particular historic date, said Army spokeswoman Susan Smullen, although it has immense significance for the Navy.
June 4 marks the anniversary of the beginning of the naval Battle of Midway in 1942, considered the turning point of the war in the Pacific during World War II.
Smullen said the opening of the museum would set the stage for the celebration of the 245th birthday of the Army on June 14, marking the day in 1775 when the Continental Congress authorized the enlistment of expert marksmen for one year of service to the United Colonies.
The Army Historical Foundation has thus far raised about $175 million toward the $200 million expected cost of the museum from more than 178,000 veterans, Army families and other Americans, according to the release.
"We are asking the American people to get involved and contribute to this campaign before the museum doors open next year," said retired Army Lt. Gen. Roger Schultz, president of the Army Historical Foundation.
"There is simply no better way to ensure our nation always remembers and honors the contributions of the American soldier than by supporting this historic project," said Schultz, a recipient of the Silver Star and two Purple Hearts from Vietnam and a former director of the Army National Guard.
-- Richard Sisk can be reached at Richard.Sisk@Military.com.