240 Years in 20 Minutes
If all you have is 20 minutes, we will give you perhaps the most memorable museum experience of your life.
The Last 100 Yards ramp is the National Infantry Museum’s signature exhibit. Its dramatic drum-shaped entry is the first thing visitors encounter as they step into the museum’s grand lobby. Along the way, life-size dioramas accented with theatrical lighting and sound take them on a quick but immersive journey through 240 years of Infantry history. At the end of the ramp, they have the framework they need to fully appreciate the rest of the museum’s galleries and the stories of valor and sacrifice told throughout.
The Last 100 Yards ramp was the brainchild of Christopher Chadbourne and Associates, the Boston-based exhibit design team hired to design the museum’s galleries. The idea emerged from something the team learned while studying Infantry history before ever putting pen to paper. They were told that despite all the air, sea, and ground support that make a combat mission successful, it is the Infantryman, armed with little more than a rifle and a bayonet, that meets the enemy eye-to-eye and takes the last 100 yards of the fight.
True to its name, the Last 100 Yards ramp is 100 yards long, and 30 feet wide. Each scene contains life-size Soldiers whose faces clearly reveal both bravery and fear. The figures were cast from real-life Soldiers selected during auditions at nearby Fort Benning. The Soldiers traveled to a New York sculpture studio and spent hours frozen in poses of combat or patrol. The figures are so true to life that models’ family members instantly recognize their faces.
The journey through history begins at Redoubt #10, where Alexander Hamilton’s triumph opened the way for American victory in the War for Independence. Next, Union troops can be seen taking the bridge at Antietam, where staunch Confederate defenders have been forced to retreat. Visitors will walk through a bombed-out building at Soissons, France, and meet Soldiers scaling the daunting cliffs of Omaha Beach beneath a WWII troop glider. A Bell UH-1 helicopter drops off troops at Landing Zone X-Ray, and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle at the top of the ramp bears witness to the successes of the mechanized ground war in the Middle East.
The glider, the Huey and the Bradley Fighting Vehicle are actual artifacts. LTG (Ret) Hal Moore, who led a battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam’s deadly Ia Drang Valley, has spent long moments of quiet reflection alongside the Huey, remembering all the men lost in the war’s first major battle.
The Bradley Fighting Vehicle once belonged to the 1st Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 4th Infantry Division in Iraq. During a mission in 2004, it hit an improvised explosive device, killing a rifleman and injuring several others. Later, the Bradley was repaired and donated to the museum. A crane was used to hoist the 25-ton vehicle 20-feet into the air and onto the ramp before the museum’s walls and roof were constructed.
At the end of the Last 100 Yards ramp, visitors find they’ve risen a full story. The last exhibit on the ramp is an oversized projection of the American flag, waving in the wind. It is subtly superimposed over images of rucksack-laden Soldiers marching along a nameless highway. We don’t know where they’re going, and we don’t know what they’ll face when they get there. But we know without a doubt they’re thoroughly trained and fully prepared to give their lives for love of country.
The National Infantry Museum is in Columbus, Georgia, just outside the gates of Fort Benning, the Maneuver Center of Excellence. The 155-acre campus also includes a parade field, Memorial Walk of Honor, Vietnam Memorial Plaza, authentic World War II Company Street, the Fife and Drum restaurant and a Giant Screen Theater. Visit www.nationalinfantrymuseum.org for suggested itineraries for your visit.