30 minutes outside of Washington, D.C. sits Fort Belvoir, a nondescript, unassuming building. In part of the structure lives the Museum Support Center where, behind security doors and camera-laden hallways, lies a massive collection of precious and priceless artifacts.
The building and the treasures within are owned by the U.S. Army. They sit in the Support Center awaiting completion of the National Museum of the United States Army. The museum, which has been over a decade in the making, still has only around half the money needed for its construction.
All of the pieces had been housed in the leased basement of an office building in downtown Washington until they were moved to the center in 2010. Now, while the fundraising (slowly) continues, priceless works of art sit quietly in the dark climate-controlled and heavily secured rooms of the low-profile support center. Very few people have access to the building.
The journey to the cache requires clearance and a trip through long, echoing hallways.
The building is usually shrouded in darkness, with the lights being motion-activated.
Behind this particular of doors lies a collection of army weaponry.
The room consists of collapsible rows that are filled with firearms, which are both historic and valuable.
With the press of a button, the rows of weapons can be moved for access.
Another storage area, known as “3D Storage” consists of long rows of airtight lockers. Every meaningful artifact that has been worn on a military battlefield is stored here, including Gen. Ulysses Grant’s Civil War cap.
Famous generals’ uniforms and Revolutionary War powder satchels…
…flags, canteens, and cannons.
Rows upon rows filled with similar items.
The main portion of the collection consists of 16,000 pieces of art.
While American military art became popular during the Civil War, the official War Department art program did not begin until WWI. The Department shipped 8 artists to France to produce artwork.
During WWII, the program was expanded to include 42 artists. 3 months into the project, Congress cut its funding.
Life Magazine picked up where the Department left off, hiring many of the artists and continuing the program. In 1960, Life donated 1,050 originals to the Defense Department.
“Marines Call It That 2,000-Yard Stare.” by Tom Lea.
There is also artwork by Norman Rockwell, Floyd MacMillan Davis, the magazine and advertising illustrator, and by Edward Reep, who, painted the World War II bombing of Italy’s Monte Cassino while it was still underway.
The collection also includes Army propaganda art.
Rockwell’s “Let’s give him enough and on time”. It’s said that when the solider posed for the piece, Rockwell asked him to rip holes in his clothes and smear mud on his face, and the solider complied. Rockwell then asked him to rub dirt on the machine gun, and the solider replied that no proper gunner could tolerate that. So he painted the solider dirty and tattered with his big gray Browning machine gun clean and smooth.
There is artwork from many conflicts. These are from Vietnam.
Humanitarian aid missions to the conflicts of the 1980s.
Peace and war.
The “war on terror.”
There is also controversial art that was stolen from the Nazi collection after WWII.
Including watercolors painted by Hitler himself.
Last year, the foundation’s president told the Washington Post that it has raised $76 million of the $175 million required for the museum and predicted that it could open in 2018. Until then, these pieces of history will remain in place and away from the public, tucked away behind lock and key in a cool and silent storage facility.