April 19, 2012

National World War II Museum brings to life the American experience during the war

by Marti Jaramillo
staff writer

Founded as the National D-day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s Official World War II Museum, The National World War II Museum in New Orleans clarifies the American experience during the war years with moving, personal stories, historic artifacts and powerful interactive displays.

From the Normandy invasion to the sands of the Pacific Islands and the Home Front, the museum brings to life the teamwork; optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who won the war.

The 16,000-square-foot galleries of The National World War II Museum feature state-of-the-art, interactive exhibits highlighted by oral histories from veterans worldwide, artifacts, documents, photographs and never before seen film footage.

These exhibits take museum visitors through the weeks and days leading up to the D-Days of World War II, to the foggy morning of June 6, 1944, when the allies landed on the beaches of Normandy and to the other decisive air and sea assaults, which led to victory in Europe and the Pacific.

The John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion features glass exterior walls that allow the public a permanent, behind-the-scenes view of the restoration and preservation of priceless World War II artifacts. Visitors are able to see first-hand the techniques that conservators use to repair and restore boats, vehicles, weapons, military equipment and other items that played an important role in winning World War II for the Allies. The John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion was funded in part by the Office of the Secretary of Commerce, Economic Development Administration.

The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion showcases essential tools of the war effort, including the famous Higgins landing craft. More than 20,000 boats were designed and built in New Orleans and used in all the amphibious landings of World War II. Dwight Eisenhower credited these boats with winning the war for the allies.

In the Home Front Gallery, join the effort and build a Higgins boat on the bayou, while listening to the voices of those who were there.

In the D-Day Planning Gallery, explore the deadly fortifications awaiting the Allies, view the weapons, uniforms and gear of the Germans and Americans, meet the commanders of Operation Overlord and marvel at the variety of ships used in this largest and most complex amphibious assault in history.

The D-Day Beaches Gallery features artifacts and stories of individual soldiers so that visitors can put a human face on the most decisive day of the Second World War – June 6, 1944. Visitors can hear from the men who fought for Utah, Omaha, Gold, Juno and Sword Beaches.

The Pacific D-Days Gallery follows the American campaign in the Pacific theater of operations during World War II. Using artifacts, photographs and maps, this exhibit begins at Pearl Harbor and ends with the birth of the atomic age. The individual personal accounts of survivors, both military and civilian, tell the story of operations such as Guadalcanal, Tarawa, Iwo Jima and Okinawa. This exhibit also presents the story of the racism and brutality that were such a part of the Pacific war.

Other artifacts include Sherman tanks, jeeps, halftracks and a restored C-47. This plane dropped paratroopers into Normandy on D-Day and saw action in the Battle of the Bulge and the “Rhine Jump” airborne assault in 1945. An interactive exhibit on the C-47 features the story of this plane and others like it.

A changing exhibition gallery, houses special displays related to the museum’s mission and various traveling exhibits.

The museum is currently showing, September 11, 2001: A Global Moment, from now through May 20. Organized by the New York State Museum, this exhibit explores the global, personal and historical significance of Sept. 11, 2001. This major exhibition includes rare and important artifacts from the World Trade Center after its destruction, a timeline that traces the events of the day, and personal stories about everyday life and the aftermath. Visitors will gain a clearer understanding about the events of 9/11, and will be able to use the exhibition as a platform to share their experiences about that day.

Also showing in conjunction with the 70th anniversary of these tide-turning events, The National WWII Museum is currently presenting, Turning Point: The Doolittle Raid, Battle of the Coral Sea, and Battle of Midway, from now through July 8. Experience the suspense, heroism and ultimate triumph that has inspired Hollywood and historians for seven decades.

For more information on current and upcoming exhibits visit the Web site at

Returning to offer aficionados the chance to experience World War II history where it happened, the museum recently announced dates for its 2012 tours, Victory in Europe and In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men, the inspiration for an upcoming George Clooney film.

“The National WWII Museum is known for creating exhibits, programs and attractions that tell the story of World War II in a way that is personal, moving and inspiring,” said Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, the museum’s president and CEO. “But nothing is more personal or inspiring than experiencing World War II history right where it happened. Our tours offer once-in-a-lifetime experiences combined with renowned authors and historians and the WWII veterans who saw the war through their own eyes.”

The two-part Victory in Europe tour, scheduled for June 1 through 15, follows the journey of the American troops from the beaches of Normandy to the Ardennes Forest.

Leaders of part one of the tour will include; World War II veteran Dan Farley, special guest Viscount Montgomery of Alamein and renowned historian Alex Kershaw, author of The Bedford Boys, The Longest Winter, The Few and Escape from the Deep. Travelers will visit the D-Day headquarters in England where General Eisenhower ordered the start of the allied assault, then travel to Normandy where they will retrace the greatest amphibious invasion in history. There, they will pay homage to the American troops who lost their lives by visiting the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach.

Other noteworthy sites early in the tour include Pegasus Bridge, where the first shots of the invasion were fired; Sainte-Mère-Église, where paratroopers of the U.S. 82nd Airborne Division attacked in the pre-dawn hours of June 6, 1944; and Brécourt Manor, where Lt. Dick Winters and paratroopers of “Easy” Company knocked out four German 105mm howitzers on D-Day.

The second leg of the Victory in Europe tour kicks off with an exclusive look at the Battle of the Bulge, the largest World War II land battle involving American forces, and one that repelled a last-ditch effort by Hitler to turn the tide of the war. Other sites on the tour include the infamous Seigfried Line and Bastogne. Travelers will also be able step into actual foxholes and trenches along the famed Elsenborn Ridge. In addition to Kershaw and Jeremy Collins, a museum programs manager, the second part of the Victory in Europe tour will be led by World War II veteran Carl Beck and special guest Roland Gaul. Both legs of the tour feature luxury accommodations and meals.

The next 2012 tour, In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men, will run from Sept. 14 through 23. Robert Edsel, author of the The Monuments Men: Allied Heroes, Nazi Thieves and the Greatest Treasure Hunt in History, and one of the surviving Monuments Men, Harry Ettlinger, will lead a tour that will trace the path of a different type of wartime hero: the Monuments Men.

These scholar soldiers raced across Europe to save art treasures from destruction by the Nazis in the chaotic final days of the war. Their exploits will be highlighted in a film, featuring actor George Clooney that is currently in development.

In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men retraces the route the Monuments Men took across a war-torn continent. Travelers will visit some of the artistic treasures saved from ruin. Stops include the Louvre, the Residenz Palace in Wurzburg and the Church of Notre Dame in La Gleize.

Additional visits include sites where Nazis hid the stolen treasures including: Hitler’s Eagles Nest retreat at Berchtesgaden and the salt mines of Altaussee, a repository uncovered by the Monuments Men that contained thousands of works of art destined for Hitler’s Fuhrermuseum.

Officially called the Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives section under the auspices of the Civil Affairs and Military Government Sections of the Allied Armies, the Monuments Men included approximately 345 men and women from 13 nations. Many were museum directors, curators, art historians, artists, architects and educators. Most were volunteers. In the closing months of the war they tracked down artworks hidden in more than 1,000 locations. They remained in Europe until 1951 to oversee the return of more than five million artistic and cultural items.

The tour, In the Footsteps of the Monuments Men, includes travel from Paris to the tour’s final destination in Munich, luxury accommodations and meals.

For more information or to book one of the tours, visit or call 877-813-3329 x511.

The National WWII Museum recently announced its acquisition and restoration of a P-51 Mustang, the aircraft depicted in Hollywood’s drama about the courageous fighter pilots known as the Tuskegee Airmen.

The Tuskegee Airmen were the first African-American aviators in the United States military. They comprised the United States Army Air Forces 99th Fighter Squadron and 332nd Fighter Group and were trained at Tuskegee Army Air Field in Alabama.

The museum’s P-51 D, an aircraft replete with authentic “Red Tail” markings, will hang in the new US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. The 96-foot tall structure, built to house the institution’s spectacular collection of macro artifacts, opens on the museum’s New Orleans campus November 11, Veterans Day, this year.

“The P-51 with ‘Red Tail’ markings should be a symbol of pride for all Americans,” said Wendell Pierce, actor and spokesperson for the museum’s initiative to restore the plane. “But it is of special importance to black Americans as it embodies the patriotism of these pilots, who did, indeed, prove that courage has no color. I am proud to help in the museum’s efforts to honor all African-Americans who fought for their country during World War II.”

Pierce’s father, Amos Pierce, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1943 and was assigned to the famous 24th Infantry Division – the African American “Buffalo Soldiers” attached to the U.S. Marines that took Saipan from the Japanese in 1944.

Though restricted by segregationist practices and U.S. military policies throughout World War II, black servicemen and women performed vital efforts during the conflict. Their successes helped to spur integration of the Armed Forces in 1948. Still, widespread recognition of the contributions of African Americans did not come quickly. Pierce’s father Amos, for example, did not receive his medals for combat bravery until 2009, after assistance from the museum.

“African-Americans’ experience in World War II was a fight for two victories,” explains Mueller. “The first was to defeat the Axis. The second was for equal rights. The museum feels it must always convey the story of this double victory so that young generations know and understand the challenges these Americans faced. Our P-51 will serve as a touchstone for that effort.”

The family of museum board member Todd Ricketts, co-owner of the Chicago Cubs, has committed to donate $500,000 to fund the P-51’s restoration, which will be finished in early 2013. The museum needs to raise another million dollars to complete the project.

“The P-51 is the iconic aircraft of World War II and the museum would not be complete without one,” Ricketts said. “But beyond that, it is also important to recognize and honor the Tuskegee Airmen who furthered the American war effort, and civil rights for all Americans, by doing what they saw as their patriotic duty.”

“We can’t thank Mr. Ricketts and his family enough for their generosity,” Mueller says. “Because of this gift, museum-goers will be able to enter the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center and see a real P-51, not one generated by computer graphics. It’s history made real.”

The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today – so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. For more information, call (504) 527-6012 or visit

Museum exhibits and the Museum Store are open seven days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. It is recommended that visitors allow at least 2 to 3 hours to visit the museum exhibits.

The museum exhibits, Solomon Victory Theater, Stage Door Canteen, the American Sector Restaurant and the Museum Store are closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas Day.

The Solomon Victory Theater shows Beyond All Boundaries, featuring Tom Hanks, daily from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., Sunday – Thursday, with an additional 5 p.m., showing on Friday and Saturday. The 4-D film runs approximately 45 minutes and is preceded by a seven-minute pre show. Show times are based on availability.

The Malcolm S. Forbes Theater features alternating films focusing on the D-Day invasions at Normandy and in the Pacific, The Price for Peace and the Emmy Award-winning film D-Day Remembered. Each is about 45 minutes long and is included in regular museum admission. Both films are also available for purchase in the Museum Store.

Check the performance schedule for information on events at the Stage Door Canteen at See the music of the war years come to life in the Stage Door Canteen, a living exhibit showcasing the song, the sass and the spirit of the era.

The American Sector Restaurant is open from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday through Thursday and 11 a.m. to 11 p.m., on Friday and Saturday. Located in the Solomon Victory Theater complex, the American Sector Restaurant is the vision of James Beard award-winning local chef, John Besh. The restaurant serves generous portions, vintage cocktails and decor combining the best of old and new.

The Museum Store is available to all visitors at any of the locations. Museum members receive a 10 percent discount. The Museum Store is also available online at

The museum offers a discounted group rate for groups of 15 or more.

The Behind the Lines and Call of Duty tours, guided by a museum curator, offer a rare opportunity to don white gloves and get up close and personal with World War II artifacts. To book a Behind the Lines or Call of Duty Tour call 504-528-1944 x 222 or email Gift certificates are available.

There are also self-guided tours, student tours, military reunions, group visits and new for Spring 2012 the museum is now offering STEM Field Trips for Science & Math students and Victory Garden Field Trips for Elementary students.

The museum is fully accessible to all visitors. A limited number of wheelchairs are provided for use in the museum at no charge.

Cars and vans may park at nearby meters and area public parking lots.

The museum provides an unloading/loading zone for busses alongside the building on Magazine Street. Drivers should be prepared to move their vehicles from this position once students are unloaded and arrange a time to meet the group for pick up. Busses are not allowed to unload/load on Higgins Street. Bus parking is available two blocks away (under the overpass).


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