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Want to thank a veteran for their service? Make a visit to MCRD Command Museum. It’s free! You can make a donation and/or buy Marine-related items at their gift shop. Money from each gift shop purchase goes directly back to the museum.
Teachers constantly face the challenge of engaging children in history lessons. For San Diego Unified School District middle school teacher Jack Vallerga, that’s where the Marine Corps Recruit Depot Command Museum comes into play.
Last year, Vallerga brought the Mexican-American War to life for his students thanks to an education and outreach grant generously provided by SDG&E to the MCRD Command Museum. The grant from SDG&E provided funds to develop curriculum using the museum’s strengths: artifacts, paintings, and other visual resources. Students in Vallerga’s eighth grade class got to try on period correct reproduction uniforms and equipment worn by Marines in 1846 during the Mexican-American War. Vallerga said kids who are kinesthetic learners go nuts for the hands-on history lessons the MCRD Command Museum offers. The museum wants other local teachers, students and families to take advantage of this free San Diego resource.
The Museum as a Learning Tool
The MCRD Command Museum was founded in 1987, with the MCRD Museum Foundation as a nonprofit, created shortly after to help support the mission of the museum and its expansion throughout the years. Since its inception, the MCRD Command Museum has grown to be a free resource for visiting groups of veterans, civic organizations, schools, and new Marine recruits and their visiting families. Last year, the free museum had 190,000 visitors.
Joan Schwarz-Wetter, the education program specialist at the museum, said visiting the museum to learn about the history of the Marines in San Diego can help people understand their local history better.
“Marine Corps history parallels local and United States history, we’re just telling it from a Marine Corps perspective,” Schwarz-Wetter said. “If you’re a local San Diegan, you’re going to learn more about other San Diegans who were here before you or who are here now.”
This past year, the MCRD Museum Foundation has helped the government-run MCRD Command Museum expand its services to San Diego schools. Local teachers can take students to the museum to learn about the Mexican-American War, the Korean War, World War II and the Vietnam War. The museum’s curriculum complements California State History-Social Science Standards and the Common Core Curriculum. Museum staff members are also available to bring lessons to the classroom, with free curriculum available to teachers nationwide.
Vallerga said having this resource for teachers is important in a military town, like San Diego, where many students have family in the service.
Educating Marines and their Families
For families visiting their Marines on graduation day from boot camp at San Diego’s MCRD, visiting the replica barracks room at the museum is always a big hit. Getting to see the replica “rack” (bunk bed) where their Marine slept during training, with the perfectly tucked-in corners and lined up boots and shoes, is something Schwarz-Wetter said families like to see so they can get a glimpse of what their child went through while at boot camp.
Retired Marine Col. Mike Lee, the Museum Foundation’s Executive Director, said the museum, a focal point of the base and the visitor reception center where families gather during graduation and Family Day, is the heart of the museum. Two weeks before graduating, recruits get to visit the museum on Training Day 56. They get the full tour by museum docents, who themselves are veterans of the Marine Corps.
During Family Day, Lee said they get to witness the students become the teachers. On this day, the newly graduated Marines teach their families and friends what they have learned throughout the course of their training.
“The new Marines come here with their family and it’s amazing to watch them,” Lee said. “You see them act as docents with their parents, explaining the artifacts to them. You can see the pride and the knowledge. You really see the fruits of your labor almost immediately.”
The MCRD Museum Foundation has helped the MCRD Command Museum expand and revamp its exhibits including the addition on the recent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The foundation has plans to bring a statue to the Depot commemorating the war in the Pacific and to build an outdoor exhibit honoring the Marines’ service during the most recent wars in the Middle East, highlighting the deeds and actions of Marine Medal of Honor and Navy Cross recipients in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Recognizing the work and sacrifice of local Marines and Marine veterans is all in a day’s work for the staff at the MCRD Command Museum and the Museum Foundation.
“It’s a military family town,” Lee said. “I think there is a pride San Diego has about its military.”
Learn more about MCRD Foundation’s sponsor, SDG&E.