The National WWII Museum Remembers History

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

These flags signify the military size of the three countries near the beginning of World War II. The U.S. clearly was not as prepared for war as Japan and Nazi Germany.

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.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

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.”

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

Train Car Experience

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.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

I recall this photo from one of my earliest social studies textbooks, probably in the fourth grade.

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.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

The exhibit has galleries devoted to each of the four landing beaches: Sword, Juno, Omaha and Utah.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

So it was off to the galleries focused on the landing beaches and D-Day invasions of the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

The island hopping the sailors and Marines did was terrible work. They often fought for volcanic islands foot by foot.

National WWII Museum

The Japanese fought to the death, and there was plenty of gruesome scenes in the Pacific.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

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.

National WWII Museum

But the main attraction, especially if children are on the visit, is the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.

National WWII Museum

The largest and newest building at the museum, it features six World War II aircraft and a number of other items.

National WWII Museum

One cool aspect of this pavilion is you can walk up several levels and see the aircraft from various heights.

National WWII Museum

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.
New Orleans

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.

14 thoughts on “The National WWII Museum Remembers History

  1. Britany, this museum does a great job. I do think it ultimately could do a better job of telling the story of other battlefields in the war, specifically Italy, North Africa and more on the push to Germany (like the Battle of the Bulge). But overall, as a WWII enthusiast I love this museum.

  2. I love this post, Lance! So, the D Day Museum (as I always knew it) has been on my list since it opened. As with so many things in your own back yard, you can easily take it for granted, put it off, and say “I’ll do it one day.” Next time I’m home in Louisiana, I definitely want to try to go to the WWII Museum. I love museums and history, and like you, could probably spend hours in there! Wonder how I would fare with a new born ;-)? I’ll be down there in August. I’m fascinated with Normandy and D-Day because my grandpa landed there (my mom used to always talk about it). But I’m also very intrigued about the Pacific front of the war. Did you ever watch the HBO mini-series The Pacific? I was enthralled with that show!
    Also, I had no idea about the connection with New Orleans being Higgins Industries. That makes sense. Fascinating! Great post and looking forward to these exhibits and that 4D movie!!
    Lindsay recently posted…Hotel El Beaterio: The Coolest Place to Stay in Santo DomingoMy Profile

  3. Lindsay, all newborns are different. I’m pretty sure there is no way mine would’ve lasted at the museum, but he was always finding something to cry about as a baby. I did watch the Pacific series. The one I really loved was Band of Brothers. I’ve watched World War II movies since I was probably in the third grade. I grew up watching John Wayne war movies. My favorite movie of all time is “The Longest Day,” which tells the story of D-Day. It’s based on the book by the same name, which I used as my guide to plan our trip to Normandy two years ago.

  4. Absolutely fascinating! I was wondering why a WWII museum would feature so prominently in NOLA but now it makes sense. I’d probably spend more time with the Pacific Theater exhibits, since that’s where my grandfather served during the war. I’m adding this museum to the long list of things I need to see/do when I finally get to New Orleans!
    Francesca (@WorkMomTravels) recently posted…The trouble with luxury travel accommodationsMy Profile

  5. I’m so glad you took the time to visit the WWII Museum while in NOLA. It’s one of my favorite things to do. The Tom Hanks narrated movie is chilling and a definite must-see. You got some great photos, particularly of the Normandy display. That was really cool.
    Leah recently posted…Initial Thoughts on Life in Rio de JaneiroMy Profile

  6. Francesca, how cool that your grandfather served. My grandparents were just a bit too old by the time the war came around. The Pacific Theater, that’s some scary stuff. I’ve read a number of books about those battles. Brutal, absolutely brutal.

  7. The problem with a city like New Orleans is, at least for me, there is so much culture to experience there that I don’t devote enough time to completely enjoy the museum.

  8. I grew up in Poland, surrounded by plenty of WWII history… Maybe even too much for a kid growing up an hour away from Auschwitz. For that reason, not sure how interested I’d be in visiting this particular museum, but I’m glad to learn something new! I didn’t know it was there – I too associate NOLA with other attractions.

  9. I think another unfortunate aspect in how we remember World War II is many people do not understand the contribution Russia made to the way. They lost and estimated 10 million civilians and 10 million soldiers. The price they paid was horrific, They did the lion’s share of facing up to and defeating the German Army.

    New Orleans I think is a great place for this museum. There is not much to do in New Orleans except party and eat, so it gives visitors something else to do. I imagine it brings a lot of exposure to people who would not normally seek out a war history museum. Only issue is to find time to check it out when you are sober and not too hungover.
    Traveling Ted recently posted…Breaking spider webs on the Collier-Seminole Adventure TrailMy Profile

  10. Pola, you have a whole different perspective on this I’d love to know more about. My mother in law was a child hiding in the garden bunkers of England during the raids while her father was a soldier fighting who knows where. Americans can’t possibly have an idea of what it was like for Europeans. I want to visit Poland, and definitely want to visit Auschwitz. But I want to go when my son is old enough to understand the horrors that happened there, not that anyone can possibly understand what happened there.

  11. Ted, both times I’ve visited the museum it was a Sunday and we were leaving the city for home later that day. I do think it’s a good departure day activity. We’re always trying to find ways to extend trips as long as possible. This is a good way to do it. As far as the Russian experience, the Russian people suffered great loss. The war was won because they held during the cold winter against the advancing Germans when Hitler first turned on Russia. I believe that was the fall of 1940? Of course Stalin was mad at the other Allies for choosing to invade North Africa then Italy before establishing a true western front with the Normandy invasion. But I think if Roosevelt and Churchill invaded France before having a true buildup of strength, it would’ve been a disaster.

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