Encapsulating the experiences of the American military veteran within the walls of a single museum is a daunting task. But the reactions received by the retired officer and MOAA member in charge of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum from those who've previewed the Columbus, Ohio, facility point to a successful effort.
A lot of them have narrowed it down to a three-letter, word, in fact.
“The word 'Wow,' over and over again,” said Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, USA (Ret), when asked Thursday by MOAA about early reviews for the museum, which opens Saturday. “You'll go through this museum and the way that these stories are presented, it's completely different from one exhibit to the next.”
The “Wow” factor generally kicks in before reaching the front door: The museum's spiral design is topped with a rooftop sanctuary that will offer a space for contemplation and solace, primarily designed for families of fallen servicemembers.
“It sets the tone” for those guests, Ferriter said. “We want them to know that they're special, too.”
The curved façade allows for a wheelchair-friendly interior - a feature requested by John Glenn, a founding force behind the museum that opens Saturday in his home state. The Marine pilot, astronaut, and senator led the committee of veterans that began the process, which received support from throughout the region, including Columbus-area businesses large and small, Ferriter said. MOAA's Ohio Council of Chapters endorsed the project, and its members will participate in Saturday's opening ceremony.
Groundbreaking for the museum came in 2015. Glenn died the next year. Ferriter, whose 35-year military career included three Iraq deployments and ended in 2014, came to the project early this year.
An interior shot of the museum, with its four goals related to veterans and their stories: Honor, Connect, Inspire, Educate. (Brad Feinknopf photo)
“I knew this was going to be something special,” said Ferriter, whose last military job was leading Army Installation Management Command. “I really thought that this was going to be something where we could touch hundreds of thousands, but we can touch millions.”
That added outreach will come from online and virtual efforts, Ferriter said, including plans for virtual tours and ways that veterans can contribute their stories. The 53,000-square-foot museum, next to a 2.5-acre Memorial Grove, will offer multiple exhibits that take visitors from the Revolutionary War through modern service, and include interactive opportunities such as a video booth allowing veterans to share personal reflections.
“The museum is the base from which we'll project our voice,” Ferriter said, adding that beyond “Wow,” early feedback has suggested that designers and developers have hit the mark.
“We get, 'I wish my dad was still alive. I really wish I could bring him here,'” Ferriter said. “And we get, 'You guys got this right.'”
Another response Ferriter hopes for but has yet to receive: That the museum can help a veteran, regardless of age or type of service, move through any personal struggles related to their time in uniform.
“We haven't gotten that yet, but I know it will happen,” he said.
Lt. Gen. Michael Ferriter, USA (Ret), took over as the museum's president and CEO earlier this year. (Courtesly of the National Veterans Memorial and Museum)
It's not just for veterans, either: Part of the mission is to connect with and educate civilians, including programs that can translate the veteran experience for visitors from kindergarten through high school.
“Visionary people came up with a vision of what our veterans, and what America, deserves in a national memorial, and then men and women of action carried it through,” Ferriter said.