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ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. — Dozens of tanks and heavy artillery guns weighing tens of thousands of pounds are leaving the outdoor U.S. Army Ordnance Museum at Aberdeen Proving Ground for an indoor, climate-controlled facility.
The relocation of the ordnance school and museum — requiring cranes that can lift 120 tons — is the largest move in the Army's history, totaling about 60 pieces, and was spurred on by BRAC. Construction at the Fort Lee facility should begin in the spring and be done by 2012.
"For the first time in decades, related pieces will be placed next to each other so they can tell a better story," said Joseph Rainer, museum director. "We will be staging these pieces chronologically and best of all, preserving them from the weather."
The project to move the military artifacts will take three phrases, but the new museum south of Richmond will be three times as big as the Maryland site. About half of the collection is staying at Aberdeen.
"It's like Solomon's dilemma," said Rainer about dividing one of the world's largest collections of military artifacts. "How do I split the collection? If I had my druthers, I would take everything. I love them all."
The collection includes tanks such as a 70,000-pound German Elefant tank from World War II. Most of the artifacts were hidden under canvas covers on flatbed trucks driving south; for security reasons, the only indication of their size and the cargo was an assistance vehicle with a flashing sign that read "oversized load."
More than 17,000 ordnance school students at APG will still be able to study artillery histories at the museum. The exhibits staying there include technology from the 18th and 19th centuries which is now being adapted to modern-day war situations.
Rainer is giving special attention to several artifacts, such as a restored Stuart M5 tank, to make sure it's preserved in the upgraded facility. Within days of storming Normandy's beaches, Rainer said American soldiers fashioned a hedgerow cutter on the front of the tank.
"It tells an important story of improvisation in the time of battle," Rainer said. "Soldiers had 300 of these mounted on tanks within 48 hours. Without the cutters, they could not have gotten through a terrain of rock walls" along which thick hedges grew. The cutters, fashioned from metal obstacles the Germans had installed on the Normandy beach, cut a path through the hedges and rocks.
The last M6 American tank remaining in the United States will go to Fort Lee. It's one of only 100 produced but it never saw service. A French-made field gun is displayed several times because it's one of World War I's first rapid-fire shooters and it was still being used in World War II.
Construction at the Fort Lee facility will have to be built around "Anzio Annie" because the German gun U.S. troops commandeered in WWII is 135 feet long and weighs 215 tons. The gun's too big to be installed at the new museum so it has to be set on a concrete slab before the walls go up.
Marilyn Monroe — a lifelike mannequin of her anyway — will also appear in a kerchief and dress displaying the flaming bomb insignia of the Ordnance Corps. She was an ordnance factory worker before becoming an actress. There will be several other mannequins wearing military uniforms and some will be inside a tank cut in half to reveal their roles during combat missions.
"The museum shows where we have come from and where we are going and gives pride in this branch of the service," Rainer said.