Destination World War II
No matter what your age, you can’t help but be swept away by the larger-than-life presence oozing from the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
This indiscriminate exhibit is not only a true awakening of the self, but also a testament of what American freedom really means.
Whether you are a member of Generation Z, Millennials or the dwindling number of gray-haired veterans in their 80s and 90s, you will have no choice but to capitulate to the timeless experience permeating from the three buildings telling one of the most riveting, epic stories of American history. You will look eye-to-eye with people just like yourself; only they answered the call in a test of the human spirit as part of a massive effort to protect the free world.
TripAdvisor’s Travelers’ Choice ranked the museum No. 4 in the country and No. 11 in the world in 2016 and it’s no wonder: the Smithsonian-affiliated institution exudes the timeless notion of what it means to fight for human rights in the deadliest war in history, one that involved nearly every part of the world.
Inside this museum is probably the closest you will ever get to an authentic, intimate and personal experience of what “the war that changed the world” was really like – unless, of course, you were in combat or alive during the 1940s. This vessel holds one of the most extensive orchestrations of the global conflict from the American perspective. (Fun Fact: The museum houses more than 100,000 WWII artifacts.) And with the help of state-of-the-art technology, you will time travel to America’s pre-war era and witness the staunch regimes and battles across the globe, culminated by the American and Allies victory, which came after 65 million lives were lost.
From the moment you walk through the main entrance, you know you are in for a life-changing experience that will tug at your spirit and soul, and one you with which you will be able to relate, regardless of whether or not you were alive during the time. It is at this time the cares of 2017 will instantly vanish as your journey back begins. A journey through which you will quickly learn of the parallels, on many fronts, with civilization and the political history of today. This national treasure humanizes the entire war on a massive scale, and includes a pre-and-post-war timeline, which divulges the repercussions and the domino effect of actions throughout the globe.
Your powerful expedition begins when you are handed a dog tag (a Personalized Radio Frequency Identification card or electronic keycard) as part of the Campaigns of Courage Pavilion experience. It is here that you become one of the 16-million Americans who put on a uniform, including soldiers, nurses and others war-time professions. With dog tag in hand, you physically board a replicated Transcontinental Limited at a makeshift Union Pacific Train Station, just like the tens of thousands of G.I.s who had no clue of what lied ahead of them.
The 1940s Pullman car has wooden seats, which vibrate, and the sounds of the box car rocking on the track (along with conductor calls) fill the air; this is your first experience of seeing the war through a soldier’s eyes. While looking out the train’s windows, you will see film footage of scenes of the cross-country terrain, similar to what the soldiers saw during this journey, only your trek is just five minutes long. It is during this time you will have an opportunity to, using your dog tag key card, select a serviceman or woman. One you get off at your stop, just as the G.I.s did, you will be able to follow your chosen veteran throughout the war by using kiosks called Dog Tag Stations throughout the exhibits. (Tip: visitors are able to archive artifacts onto their dog tag and continue their exploration and museum experience at home by accessing an accompanying website.)
While there are so very many ‘must-see’ exhibits and attractions inside the National World War II Museum, at the top of my list is the Solomon Victory Theater in which, every hour on the hour, you can view "Beyond All Boundaries," the ultimate World War II documentary from executive producer (and Oscar winner) Tom Hanks. An all-star voice cast – including Kevin Bacon, Gary Sinese, Brad Pitt, Viola Davis, Jennifer Garner and Tobey Maguire among others – brings you to the 1940s.
The film, with stirring 4-D effects, gives you a thrilling and sometimes chilling feel of what the second World War was really like: the sound and atmospheric effects, vibrating seats, rare footage and moving props are just a few elements that make this experience so surreal.
You will travel to the unnerving jungles of the Pacific, ocean beaches, the horrific Nazi death camps and to the bombing of Pearl Harbor. (Tip: The best seats in the house is in the center of the first elevated row; and if you want to experience the artificial snowfall represented during scenes during the Battle of the Bulge, the best place is in the first three rows.)
Other ‘must-sees’ can be found inside the 32,000 square-foot Campaigns of Courage Pavilion, which houses both the Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries and the Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries. How dangerous were the challenges? How did the war unfold on multiple fronts? How did America and the Allies ultimately prevail? Those questions and more are answered inside the museum’s newest pavilion. Both galleries bring to life the innumerable dangers faced by our countrymen – in jungles, on beaches, mountains and oceans – all accompanied by scintillating personal stories, film footage and a plethora of fascinating artifacts and personal momentos.
Inside the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, you can stand among the astounding warbirds and ground transportation of WWII, which is an experience unto itself. Whether you are looking overhead from the ground level, ogling the aircrafts suspended from the ceiling, or viewing the skyline from the catwalk high above the aircrafts, you will be awed by these beauties – vessels that ultimately helped thrust America to victory.
Among this grand display of American aviation power is the B-17E Flying Fortress “My Gal Sal.” This heavy bomber, with a wingspan of 104 feet, was one of the first (of thousands of aircraft) to fly from the United States to England. (Fun Fact: The B17E had a crew of ten and could fly a maximum speed of 318 miles per hour, all the while carrying a bomb load of 4,200 pounds). Also, included in this unmatched fleet of aerodynamics is one of WWII’s greatest fighter planes, the Vought F47 Corsair, which could outfight any propeller-driven enemy. (Fun Fact: The Japanese nick-named the Vought F47 Corsair “Whistling Death,” primarily because of the engine sound). Showing off more of America’s industrial might, the Sherman Tank and jeeps mass-produced under President Roosevelt are showcased inside The Boeing Center.
Possibly the ultimate test of consciousness experienced at the museum is an exhibit titled "What Would You Do?" Visitors are put to the challenge and asked to make decisions with great moral and ethical ramifications during WWII, as an interactive series of videos presents you with real-life situations faced by both notable Americans and average citizens during the war. (You’re presented with a difficult scenario, then asked ‘what you would do.’ After you answer the question, you are shown how others answered the same question. You will also learn what really happened, and told the decision a person actually made during the war, and how it affected the war effort.)
Author’s note: One blog could never do the National World War II Museum justice; after all, you could easily spend three days immersing yourself inside this astonishing facility, unmasking nearly a decade of American courage and selflessness. Along with this life-changing war came forms of much-needed escapism, which took place during this emotional time, and this, too, can be experienced first-hand under the same roof at the National World War II Museum. We will uncover this crucial component of the lifestyle of this period in next week’s blog.
For further information, visit the World War II Museum’s website.