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About the Cold War

About the Gallery

It is imperative that we pay tribute by telling the stories of the brave men and women  who served and sacrificed during this significant time in our history. - Admiral Gary Roughead, Chief of Naval Operations
About the Cold War

A Proud History
Nearly half a century ago, Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Arleigh A. Burke had the vision to establish a national museum at the Washington Navy Yard to tell the story of the millions of Sailors who had served our nation since the Navy's birth in 1775.

Since 1963, the National Museum of the United States Navy has enlightened hundreds of thousands of visitors with naval exploits from the American Revolution through World War II. The Navy Museum collects, preserves, displays, and interprets naval artifacts and artwork to educate and inspire naval personnel and the general public about the Navy's proud history and heritage.

Now the Navy is planning to recognize a group of lesser known American heroes - the Navy's Cold War veterans - for their selfless service during one of history's most perilous epochs. The Navy has begun work on a new Cold War Gallery at the Washington Navy Yard. In addition to telling the Navy's Cold War story, the Gallery will offer visitors exciting new paths for discovery in math, science, history, and other subjects.

The Cold War Gallery will be located in a historic 19th Century building at the Washington Navy Yard that once housed a basin for testing boat models. The Gallery will be fronted by a Vietnam-era Swift Boat.
The Cold War Gallery will be located in a historic 19th Century building at the Washington Navy Yard that once housed a basin for testing boat models. The Gallery will be fronted by a Vietnam-era Swift Boat.

Tradition of Service
The Cold War was unlike any conflict before or since, and there were no clear precedents to guide the way. Our country's best course was to remain vigilant, strong, and prepared to respond to changing military and geopolitical conditions anywhere around the globe.

At the forefront of this strategy were the men and women of the United States Navy. Whether serving above, on, or below the seas, tens of thousands of dedicated Americans devoted untold hours far from home in the most remote parts of the world. These heroes were highly trained, mastering evolving technologies in order to help us maintain unquestioned sea superiority. In the process, we defended not only our own country's interests, but also those of our allies around the world.

The Cold War Gallery will give visitors the chance to see up close what it was like to prepare for and execute high-stakes missions from our aircraft carriers, to stand beside actual weaponry used by both sides in the conflict, and to understand the fascinating strategies and tactics of brinksmanship that defined the era.

Ready Room Orientation Theater
The Ready Room Orientation Theater will offer a variety of brief presentations to visiting groups to provide context for the exhibits they will be viewing.

Maritime Supremacy
The Cold War pitted a maritime alliance against a land-based empire and the U.S. developed a comprehensive naval strategy to contain Communist expansion and permit free trade on the high seas. Our European allies, as well as Japan, Australia, and other nations were important partners in this struggle.

Visitors to the Cold War Gallery will learn that maintaining superiority over the Soviets meant going to sea with increasingly sophisticated ships and aircraft. Exhibits showing how aircraft carrier battle groups became core elements of the American maritime strategy will be included. The Gallery will also open a window on a very different front: the dangerous acts of intrigue and espionage - on both sides - that fueled the conflict.

The public will learn about the roles, missions, and capabilities of the Navy's frigates, destroyers, cruisers, battleships, and amphibious "Gator" squadrons in providing defensive and offensive firepower. Rounding out the story will be information and artifacts detailing the vital oilers, ammo ships, store ships, and other vessels that enabled our fleet to stay at sea for weeks at a time.

Undersea Chess Match
As post-war tensions grew between the U.S. and the Soviet Union, the two countries began an arms race. The Cold War Gallery will tell the pivotal - yet little understood - role that the Navy played in deterring a nuclear attack on the United States.

"Fast Attacks and Boomers" exhibit
To tell the undersea story, the Navy is expanding upon the successful "Fast Attacks and Boomers" exhibit featured at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History from 2000 to 2003.

At the heart of this strategy, the Navy's ability to launch retaliatory missile attacks - first from aircraft and later submarines - assured the Soviet Union that any attack on America's homeland would not go unanswered. Year after year and decade after decade, naval personnel worked selflessly to maintain a credible deterrence, until the Soviet Union ultimately collapsed under the weight of its vast military machine.

Visitors to the Cold War Gallery will learn how, under the leadership of Admiral Hyman G. Rickover, the Navy pioneered nuclear propulsion and the Fleet Ballistic Missile Program became a reality. With displays tracing the history from Polaris and Poseidon to the Trident missile program, visitors will see first-hand the actual missiles and supporting technologies, as well as exhibits detailing the day-to-day lives of the warriors who kept us safe.

Heat of Battle
During the Cold War, the United States Navy engaged in several "hot" conflicts. Gallery visitors will learn, for example, of the roles naval aviators and gunners played in the Korean War, as well as the impact of amphibious forces under United Nations commander General Douglas MacArthur.

Korean War-era landing craft
From what was once a San Francisco houseboat, this landing craft has been carefully restored to its Korean War-era appearance. This display recreates the amphibious landing at Inchon in September 1950, which forced the collapse of the North Korean effort to conquer the peninsula.

Naval sea power served a key role during the Vietnam conflict, in which thousands of Sailors fought alongside Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines to defend South Vietnam against Viet Cong and North Vietnamese enemies. Over some of the most heavily defended skies in military history, hundreds of Naval aviators made the ultimate sacrifice or were captured and incarcerated in North Vietnam's notorious prisons, while countless others were wounded in service.

The Cold War Gallery will serve as a fitting tribute to the sacrifices of these heroic individuals as well as the many others who served in combat conditions wherever duty took them. Exhibits will provide visitors with narratives of the conflicts with special displays focusing on the many daring - and dangerous - aspects of the Navy's involvement, from the role of carrier-based aviation and submarine reconnaissance missions to deadly riverine patrols in the Mekong Delta.

USS Forrestal model
Placed on a mock flight deck, the USS Forrestal model will be the centerpiece of an exhibit focusing on life on an aircraft carrier and the importance of teamwork.


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