The museum's miniature ships, meanwhile, include vessels of the Great White Fleet, amphibious landing craft, and a detailed facsimile of the USS Missouri (BB-63), complete with the World War II surrender ceremony tables. Many of the models were built to teach Sailors about their ships, and two have cut-away hulls to view interiors.
Among the largest artifacts on display are an F4U Corsair fighter, a Japanese Okha suicide rocket bomb from World War II, and the bathyscaphe Trieste , which explored the depths of the Pacific Ocean. The most impressive historic items, however, are among the smallest. Housed in a glass box next to a mock-up of "Little Boy," the first atomic bomb dropped on Japan, are the bomb's two fuse plugs. But what are artifacts from an Army Air Forces operation doing in a Navy museum? The B-29 crew that dropped the bomb included Navy Captain William Sterling Parsons, the mission's weaponeer. His job was to arm the weapon before it was dropped.
The Navy Museum's Korean War section boasts a piece of the Inchon seawall, which Marines had to scale using ladders to assault the city. Also included are captured enemy weapons and uniforms.
While the Navy has an unparalleled record of victory at war, most of its history has been made during times of peace. The museum pays special tribute to two peacetime naval endeavors: exploration and mapping. A separate section is dedicated to the mapping and sounding of the Dead Sea by Lieutenant William Lynch in 1848. Another area includes Admiral Richard E. Byrd's Antarctic meteorological station, in which he almost died from a carbon monoxide buildup in 1934.
Some of the museum's artifacts predate the Navy. The oldest piece in the collection is a cannon built in 1490 and used by Hernando Cortes in his conquest of Mexico. The newest piece can be found in the submarine room: a battle flag from the USS Louisville (SSN-724), which participated in Operation Desert Storm.
To bring the Navy's story up to date, the museum is expanding into a neighboring building to create a Cold War gallery, which is projected to open in the fall of 2009.
The Navy Museum is free to all visitors, but because it is on a naval base, you must first check in at the gate (remember to bring your vehicle registration to the check-in office). The museum is open Monday through Friday from 0900 to 1700 and weekends and holidays from 1000 to 1700. Call first at (202) 433-4882 before visiting on Fridays or weekends. To arrange a free guided tour, call the director of public programs at (202) 433-4995, and for information about children's programs, visit the museum's Web site at http://www.history.navy.mil/branches/org8-3.htm .