From the earliest days of the American colonies, citizens would band together in times of war. The concept of an army comprised not of professional, full-time soldiers, but rather of citizens who volunteer their time for national defense, is an idea as old as the founding of the United States. The Army National Guard was founded in 1798, only nine years after the adoption of the U.S. Constitution (via
Guardlife). Soldiers from New Jersey have participated in every major conflict fought by the United States, and members of the New Jersey National Guard continue to contribute to the safety of the nation.
Several years ago,
I visited the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey (NGMMNJ) in Sea Girt, where, among other cool objects, I stood inside a Civil War-era submarine. What I did not realize, however, is that the NGMMNJ has another location in Lawrenceville, just outside of Princeton, on a NJ National Guard base. A far larger museum than the location in Sea Girt, the Lawrenceville facility tells the history of New Jersey soldiers from the American Revolution through the present day. It also focuses on artillery, which has been a specialization of New Jersey forces since the colonial period. On a beautiful fall morning, I set off to explore a little-known, yet fascinating, military museum.
Come along, then on this journey into the history of New Jersey citizen soldiers. Along the way, we’ll also share some automotive updates and pass along news from friends.
National Guard Militia Museum of NJ
Situated just outside of Princeton, the National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey is located an hour north of Philadelphia, and two hours southwest of New York City.
The past several weekends have been busy – between work, family commitments, and to-do lists around the house, road trips have been on hold. It felt good to get back behind the wheel for a new adventure! Although I had the day off, my wife had to work, so for the first time in a while, it would be a solo trip for just myself and the Accord. It felt weird, man.
The museum is located in the Lawrenceville Armory, a NJ National Guard base. As this is an active military post, you must pass through a security gate to enter. Fortunately, the guard was friendly (as was every single person I met during this trip), and gave me directions to the museum. Between the security and all the imposing heavy weapons, I’m pretty sure we can dub the base “Places where you are least likely to have your car stolen.”
After previously being housed in a smaller building on the base, the museum relocated to this new structure, which opened only last month! Also… you know you’re on a military base when the hours of operation are posted in military time.
Far larger than the NGMMNJ in Sea Girt, the Lawrenceville location has seemingly countless uniforms, weapons, flags, and documents on display. The horse is a recreation of Bucephalus, which served in the 112th Field Artillery Regiment during World War II. According to the placard, only Lieutenant Jack Eberhardt (the rider) was able to approach the horse. Anyone else who came near got bit or kicked. Lt. Eberhardt’s secret? He bribed the horse with sugar cubes. The 112th was the last artillery unit to use horses, finally switching to trucks in 1941.
A significant portion of the museum is dedicated to New Jersey’s role in the American Revolution.
Artillery has played a major role in the military history of New Jersey. During the Revolution, New Jersey fielded two artillery regiments. Since then, New Jersey has a long history of manning the big guns that provide supporting fire to infantry and tanks in battle. Even today, New Jersey continues to field an artillery battalion that stands ready to defend the nation. The gun pictured here is a Napoleon (named after a design from France), which was popular with both the Union and the Confederacy during the Civil War.
Prior to World War I, New Jersey also fielded companies of Gatling Guns. A precursor to the modern heavy machine gun, the Gatling was capable of firing over 200 rounds per minute, an unheard of speed in the late 19th century.
The museum also has a small, but significant, collection of WWII-era weapons from both Imperial Japan and Nazi Germany. One of the museum staff members told me that most of these items were donations from New Jersey soldiers who returned from fighting overseas.
One of the more fascinating objects on display – a field telephone, which was in use from World War II through the Vietnam War. These telephones communicated over wire, at times requiring soldiers to string telephone lines during combat so troops could talk across the battlefield. Talk about a job for the brave.
It is a truism that an army travels on its stomach. The Vietnam War-era Mermite container (left) was used to deliver hot meals from mess kitchens to soldiers at the front lines, while the WWII Officer’s Mess Kit (right) could serve up to 8 officers at a time.
One of the most sobering exhibits was this display of a HMMWV (Humvee) door and its blast-resistant plexiglass window. This HMMWV was hit by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq, but the rocket failed to penetrate the thick window, saving the lives of the crew members.
Hundreds of model kits of military equipment were on display throughout the museum. I was chatting with one of the staff members, and he informed me that one volunteer built and donated every model you see in this display case. Talk about a labor of love! And speaking of volunteers… several staff members took the time to check in with me, to answer any questions I had, and to share their own stories of military service. Museums can all too often come across as cold, stagnant institutions, but the people that run the NGMMNJ made it a great place to visit!
The museum also features a small but notable collection of military vehicles on display outside. This M55 howitzer, capable of firing shells up to 10 miles, served in the New Jersey National Guard during the 1950s and 1960s.
This M110 howitzer stood watch over my Accord while I toured the museum. In service through the 1990s, this weapon also served with the NJ National Guard. One thing to note about this gun…
…unlike many self-propelled artillery pieces that have a turret, the gunner and crew of the M110 are exposed to the elements (the gunner’s chair is in the foreground on the right). In the heat of battle, I can’t imagine this was an easy place to work.
Believe it or not… it’s a Cadillac! The M42 anti-aircraft gun, designed to defend ground units against aerial attack, was built by the Cadillac Motor Car Division of General Motors.
Among the tanks displayed, this is one of my personal favorites: the M60 Patton. The Patton has served with US and allied armies for decades. Pattons were withdrawn from US service in the late 1990s, although the tank continues to serve in many foreign armies today. The M60 was the primary tank of the New Jersey National Guard during the Cold war.
As I was examining this M109 howitzer, a soldier walking to his car called out, “Yes, sir! Artillery is king of the battlefield!” He and I struck up a conversation, and he told me that he served in the artillery regiment of the NJ National Guard, and during his career had used many of the guns on display. I asked him what is one fact that would surprise my readers, and he gave me a fun bit to share…
Pointing at the gun barrel, he said that if you are inside the turret of the howitzer, the big gun isn’t nearly as loud as you would think it would be. However, the large cylinder in the middle of the gun barrel is the bore evacuator, which releases gases and explosive force away from the crew inside the turret. Stand outside beside this, he said, and your ears will be a-ringing.
I had a great time exploring the museum, chatting with the staff and volunteers, and learning as much as I could about the history of the New Jersey National Guard. After a fun morning, it was time to head back home.
Home again. The Accord continues its climb to 200,000 miles. The next trip with this car will be to my local Honda dealer for a scheduled oil change and tire rotation. Otherwise, all seems well. Onward! Updates!
Before closing, I have some automotive updates and news to pass along.
One Chapter Ends, Another Begins.
Longtime readers will remember my friend Josh, whose 2015 Honda Accord LX sedan had over 600,000 miles. Unfortunately, an encounter with a deer resulted in catastrophic damage to Josh’s vehicle. Josh was unharmed, but his Accord was totaled.
The final odometer reading before his Accord was taken away. While I know Josh was disappointed not to reach a million miles with his car, 634,000 is nothing to sneeze at. Most importantly, the Accord did its last job well: protecting its occupant.
Josh replaced his Honda Accord with… a Honda Accord! He’s the proud owner of a 2018 Honda Accord LX in Kona Coffee Metallic (i.e., dark brown). He initially looked at hybrids, but settled on the non-hybrid 1.5-liter turbo engine model. When I asked why he steered away from a hybrid, he said, “With the miles I put on my cars, I’m not a fan of the cost involved to replace the batteries, nor the frequency with which they would have to be replaced.”
Josh did relay the he missed not having a manual transmission. The car comes with a continuously variable transmission (CVT), a form of an automatic that uses a series of belts to transfer power from the engine to the wheels (as opposed to the gears found in a traditional automatic transmission). CVTs provide greater fuel economy, though, and Josh reported he is seeing good miles-per-gallon. He also appreciates the Honda Sensing safety features such as adaptive cruise control and lane-keeping assist.
Josh sent me this image of his dashboard – almost 39 miles per gallon is impressive for a non-hybrid car! Looking at the odometer on the lower right, I’m pretty sure we’re going to see higher numbers soon! Good luck with the new Accord, Josh, and keep us updated on your high mileage adventures! The Champ Is Here!
Meanwhile, my friend Justin continues to rack up the mileage in his 2003 Honda Accord coupe. 875,000 miles! Good luck Justin, and keep us posted when you cross 900k! Jeep Update!
Meanwhile, Grace, my wife’s 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee, crossed a mini-milestone of 74,000 miles. It recently went to the Jeep dealer for an oil change and tire rotation. It also received a new battery (the old one was working fine but was factory original, and I wasn’t comfortable with my wife going into the winter with a 7-year old battery in her car). Otherwise, the Jeep dealer said all looks well. Onward! Wrapping Up
The National Guard Militia Museum of New Jersey in both Sea Girt and Lawrenceville are hidden gems. If you are interested in learning more about the history of New Jersey, NGMMNJ is a must-see attraction. The Lawrenceville Armory is open Tuesday, Friday, and Saturday from 10:00 am – 3:00 pm, and both admission and parking are free of charge (although donations are appreciated).
We have some fun adventures planned for Thanksgiving week, so stay tuned!
And as always, thanks for coming along on another journey down the open road ahead.
‘Til next time.