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Smithsonian exhibit honors vets from Revolution to now

Artifacts like Washington's uniform, bugle from the Maine, on display

From Paul Courson

Smithsonian Institution

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A new exhibit honoring the American sacrifice during wars that span the nation's history opened in Washington D.C. on Veterans Day.

The Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History dedicated the display "The Price of Freedom: Americans at War" on Thursday.

Smithsonian Institution Secretary Lawrence Small said visitors get to "step into the world of the people who acted in these tremendous events, and discover what it was like."

The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Richard Myers, said at the opening: "From the Revolutionary War, to the global war on terrorism, America's sons and daughters have indeed paid the very high price of freedom."

A restored U.S. military helicopter from the Vietnam era is among the more than 800 artifacts in the sprawling walk-through exhibit. One visitor, a U.S. Army pilot who was shot in the legs in Vietnam, saw his old Huey helicopter for the first time since he was wounded in 1966.

Retired Army Maj. Jim Newman told CNN "this aircraft means a lot, being in here, not just because it was the aircraft I got shot up in, in Vietnam, but because it is the aircraft we used in Vietnam."

Newman, who went through years of rehabilitation, reflected on his war service, and said the reality and symbolism of the museum display is profound.

"It means a lot to all the veterans, and I think they'll all have closure now that they never could have before, and they'll be able to talk about experiences there that they never were able to, before," Newman said.

Representing the war on terrorism are pieces of the twin towers of the World Trade Center, brought down by terrorists who flew hijacked jetliners into the skyscrapers on September 11, 2001.

A small pedestal displays a photo ID issued by the Defense Department for one of the military workers killed in the 9/11 attack on the Pentagon in Virginia.

Other items on display, according to the Smithsonian's Web site, include: George Washington's uniform from 1789, a Berdan sharpshooter's rifle from the Civil War and pieces of the Berlin Wall.

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