Vacationing visitors to New Orleans—especially first-timers—typically develop sightseeing priority lists that look something like this:
Bourbon Street, Jackson Square and the rest of the French Quarter. The Garden District. Café du Monde (for beignets, of course). Frenchmen Street jazz clubs. Riverwalk Marketplace.
The National WWII Museum often is overlooked on such lists. Perhaps that’s because it isn’t rooted in the unique and colorful New Orleans culture so captivating to visitors. Still, the Museum of Natural History isn’t quintessential New York City (like the Statue of Liberty), and the Museum of Science and Industry isn’t pure Chicago (like Wrigley Field)—yet they’re top tourist destinations in those cities. The National WWII Museum warrants the same level of visitor interest here and wouldn’t be any more deserving if a B-25 rubbed its rooftop with Cajun spice.
Besides standing as a testament to an era of individual and national ingenuity, bravery and sacrifice perhaps unmatched in our history, the museum is just a flat-out pretty cool place. We predict you’ll be talking about the experience of your visit for years to come.
New Orleans might seem like an unlikely site for this museum, but history suggests otherwise. The museum today chronicles all aspects of U.S. involvement in both theaters of the war—European and Pacific—but opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. And Higgins Boat—the principal landing crafts for the invasion of Normandy—were designed and developed in New Orleans by Higgins Industries.
The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
This multistoried pavilion offers everything from World War II aircraft and tanks to personal archived accounts from veterans to an interactive “patrol” experience on a decorated but ill-fated U.S. submarine. The Boeing Corporation, which produced almost 100,000 aircraft for the war effort – almost 28 percent of the U.S. arsenal—contributed $15 million to the museum. One exhibit is Warbirds, in which fully restored crafts including a mighty B-17 “Flying Fortress” from Boeing and B-25 Mitchell from North American are suspended overhead but can be better viewed from a third-floor balcony. Another exhibit, Vehicles of War, displays M4 Sherman and M3A1 Stuart tanks among other so-called “hunks of metal.” The pavilion also features interactive exhibits, notably Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience and What Would You Do? As a specific submarine crewman, you’ll perform actual tasks and follow orders during a simulated final engagement with the Japanese and ultimately learn where you “perished” or were “taken captive.”
The latter experience presents you with dilemmas actually faced during World War II that bore extreme moral, ethical and strategic consequences.
The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
Exhibits in this Pavilion tell the story of America’s involvement in the war from pre-war days to final victory. The Home Front Gallery, D-Day Landing Gallery, D-Day Beaches Gallery and Pacific D-Days Gallery take you through the American military and industrial buildup anticipating war, Pearl Harbor, the landings on Normandy and in the Pacific—on Guadalcanal, Iwo Jima and Okinawa—and the atomic bomb.
The John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion
The restoration practices for all museum artifacts take place here, in full view of museum visitors and, through floor-to-ceiling windows, the public outside.
The Stage Door Canteen
Here you’ll find live entertainment, in matinees and nightly performances, that replicate the Stage Door Canteens that entertained 11 million troops, first on Broadway and eventually in nine other cities including London and Paris. Enjoy 1940s-style song, dance, comedy and big bands, just as you would have on the eve of deployment in 1942 or on furlough in 1945. You can almost picture the Andrews Sisters performing on the stage (if you’re old enough to know of the Andrews Sisters).You also can enjoy a dining experience, afternoon or evening, presented by noted New Orleans chef John Besh at the museum restaurant, The American Sector.
The Solomon Victory Theater and “Beyond All Boundaries”
This is no ordinary theater. This 120-foot-wide immersive screen and 250-seat auditorium was specially built to present one film only, “Beyond All Boundaries,” a so-called 4D experience. That means get set to experience interactive special effects throughout the film that will make you feel as if you’re there, in the battlefield path of rumbling tanks and the cockpits assailed by antiaircraft barrages. What – you’d like a specific example of an interactive special effect? Hint: It snowed in the Ardennes during the Battle of the Bulge. In less than an hour, this one-of-a-kind film—backed by Executive Producer Tom Hanks and narrated by top film stars—traces the war from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day recreating venues as faithfully as possible, based on research so thorough as to rely on German blueprints.
It’s an experience you’ll never forget, but so is your entire visit. So the next time you plan a trip to New Orleans, the first thing to do is set aside about 3 hours to visit this tribute not only to the Greatest Generation but also to a great commitment to preserve its memory.
Written By: Jim Saturday