National World War II Museum reveals secrets of our way of life
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans includes The Road to Berlin interactive exhibit showcasing the challenges servicemen face in Europe.
Walking up Andrew Higgins Drive to the corner of Magazine Street, the National World War II Museum rises against the New Orleans skyline like a giant stone vault, holding the history, and perhaps some secrets, of what’s been termed America’s “Greatest Generation.”
It’s a history touching every facet of American life. Sixteen million men and women served in the armed forces during World War II. Inside the museum’s five (soon to be six) buildings are the stories of those lives. For many, those stories are also passed down on family trees from generation to generation.
The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion is the place to start your journey through the museum. There you can buy tickets and talk to museum volunteers. With a little luck, you’ll hear a first-hand account from one of the approximately 20 WWII veterans who volunteer with the museum. The Memorial Pavilion is also where you start your “Dog Tag Experience.”
With a general admission ticket to the museum, you receive a dog tag allowing you to follow the life of a WWII participant. The Train Car Experience is your first stop with your dog tag, recreating the first leg of a journey that carried millions of Americans away from their families and into service. Throughout the museum, you check-in at different stations, collecting the stories for your dog tag and learning more about the person whose life you’re following.
If your museum trip starts early, Jeri Nims Soda Shop is a great place to grab a snack or a quick breakfast, while The American Sector is a full-service restaurant serving lunch and dinner. You can add a little flair to your visit with a live show at Stage Door Canteen, where music of the war years comes to life. Find the show lineup and ticket information online before your visit at stagedoorcanteen.org.
Once you leave the Memorial Pavilion, cross the street to the main portion of the WWII Museum. The newest addition, added in 2014, is Campaigns of Courage, considered the heart of the museum experience. The Road to Berlin exhibit showcases the grueling challenges servicemen faced in the European theater, from the deserts of North Africa to Germany’s doorstep. The interactive experience brings together the entire campaign from battle to battle, and reveals the strategy and the sacrifices that helped win the war. The exhibit presents a unique personal perspective on the cost of war, with personal items, such as family photographs, strewn across a beach of real sand from Normandy. The Road to Tokyo exhibit is scheduled to open later this year.
Continue your journey through history with a stop at the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. Replicas of six WWII-era aircraft, including B-17 My Gal Sal, are suspended in air, and in time. The four-story viewing deck provides a 360-degree view of the aircraft. The Vehicles of War exhibit offers a glimpse of what it was like on the ground, facing an attack from different war machines, or being rushed from the battlefield with an injury. There you’ll also find the Medal of Honor Wall and “Final Mission: The U.S.S. Tang Experience.”
Set aside enough time to see everything at the museum, including the “Beyond All Boundaries” movie (produced and narrated by Tom Hanks) and the Final Mission interactive experience. Each requires an additional ticket and happens at pre-set times throughout the day. Be sure to check times and prices online before you go at nationalww2museum.org.
Beyond All Boundaries is a 4D experience that puts you on the front lines. Archival footage and narrations of real life stories bring to life a growing threat in Europe and news of Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor. The movie affects every one of your senses, enabling you to better understand the magnitude and weight of the war that changed the world. You feel the rumble of tanks as America enters the war, and see and hear steam rising from the jungles as American troops fight for freedom. The production also highlights the courage of Americans at home, as every citizen — male, female, black, white, immigrant — answered the call and lived up to the demands of wartime.
One of the most emotional stories in the museum is that of the U.S.S. Tang. The interactive experience puts you inside America’s most decorated WWII submarine on its last patrol. The commander gives orders as visitors man battle stations. The experience combines actual tasks with an overhead projection of the submarine’s final, fatal fight. Standing at a duty station, the makeshift compartment rings with the sounds of firing torpedoes and mechanics. There’s a sense of pride as crew members take down more enemy vessels, followed by panic with the realization your efforts aren’t enough to save the ship.
If you’ve already been to the museum, the new additions should bring you back on your next trip to New Orleans. You’ll leave feeling more proud than ever to be an American, knowing your cultural heritage runs in the blood of these heroes.
Plan a visit
The National WWII Museum
945 Magazine St.
New Orleans, LA 70130