National WWII Museum

WWII MuseumDecember 7, 2013  — A week ago today, I was immersed in war history as I walked through the modern and spacious pavilions of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. Today — Pearl Harbor Day — was especially poignant as images from horrifying battle  photographs were so fresh on my mind. I can’t help but wonder how the WWII veterans who experienced those bloody scenes firsthand ever were able to get those images out of their heads. Most did not. The boys who went to fight came home as men, and many bottled up those battle scenes for the rest of their lives.

Fortunately, some veterans talked about their experiences to Stephen E. Ambrose, the late author and historian who founded the museum and recorded the oral histories that play throughout various exhibits. The National WWII Museum, which opened in 2000 in New Orleans’ Warehouse District, covers three city blocks and is a national treasure filled with  rare photographs, displays, and interactive exhibits.

The first question many visitors ask is “why New Orleans?”  The museum is Higgins Boat in lobby of National WWII Museumbuilt on the site of Higgins Industries that built the sturdy, flat-bottom boats which were vital in WWII. General Dwight Eisenhower himself said if Andrew Higgins had not designed and built the boats, U.S. troops could have never landed on open beaches. War strategy would have been different. Higgins Boats were designed to operate in the shallow waters of Louisiana’s bayous, but they were just the ticket for landing our troops on foreign shores. The New Orleans based company had made such an impact on the war effort that Ambrose — also a New Orleans resident — wanted the museum there.

The museum website recommends three hours for a visit, but that was hardly enough time. In fact, my husband and I spent a full day exploring the pavilions, and we still were unable to see everything. Beyond All Boundaries, an award-winning 4-D film narrated by actor Tom Hanks, is an additional $5 charge but worth every penny. The film gives an overview of the war on every front and the special effects will cause goose bumps, especially the final scene with a flash that simulates the atomic bomb over Hiroshima.

History came alive even more as an elderly gentleman slowly moved from one exhibit to the other in front of me. His daughter apologized that they were taking so long and then added that he had landed in Normandy on D-Day but he didn’t talk about it much. Tears came to my eyes as I watched him stare at the faces of the young men in the photos. Those images weren’t just someone else’s history… they were his.

WWIIMusExteriorIF YOU GO: The National World War II Museum is open seven days a week except for Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Visit www.nationalww2museum.org.

Don’t miss The American Sector Restaurant at the museum, where renowned Chef John Besh adds some real New Orleans flavor to American cuisine. Prices are very reasonable and the gumbo has to be some of the best in the city.


1 Comment

  1. This brought tears to my eyes also. War is so terrible. Very good article.

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