Arlington, VA

(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) There was one question that ran through the mind of Zeb Armstrong, a newlywed from South Carolina recently drafted for service in the Vietnam War.

“Will I return?”

It was a question Armstrong etched onto his bunk in a magic marker, alongside hundreds of other messages and images from countless young men taking a journey many wouldn’t return from. The 18-21 day trip from the West Coast to Vietnam aboard the USNS General Nelson Walker left a lot of time for soldiers to get homesick or anxious about the journey ahead. Though against regulations, drawing on the canvas beds became a widespread past-time.

Yesterday (Tuesday), a traveling exhibit called the Vietnam Graffiti Project stopped at CNA, a nonprofit research and analysis organization in Clarendon that works on improving efficiency and effectiveness of military operations. For one day, canvases covered with years of doodling from soldiers covered the walls of the offices, and co-founder Art Beltrone spoke with CNA personnel about their stories.

The ship started its service in the final days of WWII then ferried troops to and from the Korean War and the Vietnam War. After Vietnam, the ship was put into the James River Reserve fleet — the Ghost Fleet — to be reactivated in case of an emergency. It sat there virtually untouched until Beltrone visited the ship with Jack Fisk — a production designer doing research for The Thin Red Line — and stumbled on rooms littered with relics from the war sitting exactly as they’d been left when the last soldiers disembarked.

When he found out the ship was scheduled to be scrapped, Beltrone said he and his wife asked the military if they could recover the canvases and other items to preserve the memory of the soldiers who traveled on the ship. The ship was taken apart in Texas in 2005, but Beltrone had recovered the graffiti from inside the ships.

“We did not want to see that material lost and those men forgotten,” Beltrone said. “It’s not just an artifact. It’s someone talking back to us through time.”

Then the work began on telling those stories. Many of them signed their work and left messages about their hometowns or loved ones, which made looking them up easier. Beltrone said he still gets emotional when they read the little notes drawn on the canvas about insecurities and homesickness — only to find that the person who wrote them was ultimately killed in Vietnam.

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It’s probably not something on most local tourism agendas, but if you wanted to check out the Drug Enforcement Administration Museum and Visitors Center, you’d better do it soon.

The museum, at 700 Army Navy Drive in Pentagon City, will be closing for over a year as part of a headquarters-wide renovation.

Clarion Partners, the landlord for the DEA headquarters, received an $11.5 million incentive grant from the Arlington County Board in April to keep the DEA in Pentagon City. Clarion Partners agreed to invest $82 million into a full renovation of the headquarters and to secure temporary space in Crystal City.

The final day for the museum is scheduled for Saturday, July 20. The museum is planning to reopen in fall 2020.

Admission to the DEA Museum is free. The museum is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. All guests older than 18 must present I.D.

If you haven’t visited the museum, virtual exhibits are available online or you can check out Roll Call’s gonzo-style tour.

Photo via DEA/Facebook

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The Black Heritage Museum of Arlington is hosting a talk with local civil rights activist Joan Trumpauer Mulholland.

On Tuesday, April 30, the Museum will hold a talk with Mulholland, who hails from Arlington and who will share her experiences as an activist in the Civil Rights Movement in the 1960s.

“She is known for taking part in sit-ins, being the first white to integrate Tougaloo College in Jackson Mississippi, joining the Delta Sigma Theta, joining Freedom Rides, and being held on death row in Parchman Penitentiary,” the museum said in a press release about the upcoming event.

Mulholland’s stories were previously chronicled in the 2013 documentary, “An Ordinary Hero.”

The event is free and will start at 7 p.m. in the Reinsch Library Auditorium at Marymount University (2807 N. Glebe Road).

Image courtesy of Black Heritage Museum

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The Newseum is selling its Pennsylvania Avenue home of the last 11 years to Johns Hopkins University and is now looking for a new location.

A museum of the journalism profession and the First Amendment, the Newseum first opened in Rosslyn in 1997 before moving to the District in 2008. Its Rosslyn location was featured in the TV show The West Wing and later, after the Newseum decamped for D.C., became the short-lived Artisphere.

The former Newseum space is now a co-working space and Rosslyn now has a new marquee tourist attraction, but given that the Newseum is looking for a new home we thought we’d ask: do you think it should return to Rosslyn?

Flickr pool photo by TheBeltWalk

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Arlington’s Black Heritage Museum, once only a virtual museum, opened a physical, though temporary, location today (May 1).

A bit sparse, the museum’s exhibits and decor are still in the works; at least one exhibit room still needs to be filled. Though it opened in 1996, the museum has only had an online presence.

It’s a relatively bare-bones space, nestled on the top floor above the Sun Trust bank at 3108 Columbia Pike. It’s intended to be temporary until a suitable, permanent home for the collection can be located.

“It is what it is,” said Portia Clark, the museum’s volunteer office manager and the Nauck Civic Association’s president.

“For now, we just need a presence, so we don’t have a preference,” Clark added.

While additional exhibits are lined up, those currently available provide a glimpse into what Clark calls the rich history of the three predominantly African American communities in Arlington — Nauck, Hall’s Hill and Johnson’s Hill (now Arlington View).

In one area of the musuem, a visitor can learn about the life of prominent African-American Arlingtonian John Robinson; in another, the history of how black Arlingtonians never could truly say that they were born in the county since black families had to go to Washington to give birth, according to Clark.

“There are so many stories to be told,” she said. “There’s a number of stories that we’re still collecting to tell.”

Volunteer staff are still planning fundraising events, and Clark said that the museum hoped to raise much-needed funds at a Founders Day event, as well as at a possible art show and a book signing later in the summer.

The Black Heritage Museum is currently open on Tuesdays from 11 a.m.-3 p.m., on Thursdays from 3 p.m.-6 p.m., and on Saturdays from 1 p.m.-4 p.m., but different exhibit viewing times can be arranged by calling ahead and making a request.

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