New Orleans is known for its outstanding food, authentic culture, beautiful architecture and amazing music. I’ve visited New Orleans many times through the years, and have enjoyed all those things. But one of the standouts to me has nothing to do with the city’s unique culture. The National WWII Museum provides a look at one of the most important periods in modern world history, and it’s located in the heart of the New Orleans Central Business District.
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in World War II. The museum opened on June 6, 2000, as the National D-Day Museum. It was founded by historian Stephen Ambrose, the author of a number of wonderful World War II books. As a side note, I can’t recommend enough for people to read Ambrose’s books on the war. He tells the real story of the people who fought the battles.
On our most recent visit to New Orleans I enjoyed a quick visit to the National WWII Museum. As a history buff, specifically 1930s and 1940s world history, the National WWII Museum is an important place to me. It’s somewhere I could spend hours enjoying, but had to make 1.5 hours work this time.
The first time I visited the National WWII Museum it was 2003 and the museum was still known as the National D-Day Museum. It might seem odd for a museum devoted to the United States’ involvement in World War II to be located in New Orleans. But the connection is because of Higgins Industries being in New Orleans. Higgins Industries designed and built the Higgins Boats, which were instrumental in delivering soldiers and equipment to the landing beaches during the war.
Back in 2003, I made the mistake of taking so much time visiting the exhibits devoted to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, that we didn’t have much time to spend in the exhibits devoted to the Pacific Theater of the war. I was determined on this visit to not make the same mistake, especially considering the museum has expanded a great deal in the past 10 years.
Yeah, that didn’t happen. I again spent too much time in the Normandy invasion exhibits, which I thought going in wouldn’t be possible since we visited the D-Day beaches in Normandy, France, two years ago.
But I loved these exhibits. Even though I’ve read countless books about the battle, the National WWII Museum does such a good job with the Normandy exhibits that it sucked me in. And that’s OK.
A visit to the museum easily could take up three or four hours. I managed to see the highlights in 1.5 hours, although I really needed more time to watch the award-winning 4D experience featuring Tom Hanks, titled “Beyond All Boundaries.”
The main building of the museum is the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. The pavilion features rotating artifacts from the museum’s collection, guest services, ticket counter and restrooms.
After purchasing tickets, a visit to the museum begins with the Train Car Experience. This is a short audio experience in a re-created train car, showing visitors what it was like to be a soldier leaving home for the war.
Following the train car, visitors can check out the special exhibits gallery or the Malcolm S. Forbes Theater and its rotating showings of “D-Day Remembered” and “Price for Peace.” Or, be like me and head straight to the main exhibit galleries on the second and third floors. This is where I spent much of my time.
The exhibit starts out with information about the buildup to war in the United States before going into the D-Day Invasion of Normandy galleries.
One gallery shows what it was like for the paratroopers who parachuted from planes or crash landed on the gliders into the Normandy darkness. it has a re-created glider in what is made to look, feel and sound like a quiet Normandy field. The occasional sound of gun fire in the distance echoes off the walls.
The exhibit then shifts to the massive armada that brought hundreds of thousands of men and equipment ashore on the morning of June 6, 1944.
The exhibit has galleries devoted to each of the four landing beaches: Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah.
There was much more to the Normandy galleries, and I could’ve spent more time. But having visited Normandy less than two years prior, I did feel I needed to use my time to look at some of the other parts of the museum.
So it was off to the galleries focused on the landing beaches and D-Day invasions of the Pacific.
One sad aspect to how we remember World War II today is that it seems like the battles of the European Theater, particularly those related to Normandy, are romanticized and given more attention than the gruesome battles of the Pacific Theater.
The island hopping the sailors and Marines did was terrible work. They often fought for volcanic islands foot by foot.
The Japanese fought to the death, and there was plenty of gruesome scenes in the Pacific.
Of course, millions of civilians died around the world during World War II. In the Pacific, many of those deaths happened in the fire bombings of Japanese cities.
While the heart of the exhibits at the National WWII Museum are in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, much of the current and future museum sits across Andrew Higgins Drive. The Solomon Victory Theater where “Beyond All Boundaries” plays is just across from the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. Just across from that is the Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters exhibit building that is set to open sometime in 2014. Next to that is an open space that eventually will be the Liberation Pavilion. There is a restaurant and Stage Door Canteen on this side, too.
But the main attraction, especially if children are on the visit, is the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.
The largest and newest building at the museum, it features six World War II aircraft and a number of other items.
One cool aspect of this pavilion is you can walk up several levels and see the aircraft from various heights.
The climb up gets you eye-to-eye with My Gal Sal, a B-17 that has an interesting story of being downed during the war and only recently discovered and put on display.
If You Go
The National WWII Museum
945 Magazine St.
The museum is open seven days a week from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.