Remembering the price of freedom – National World War II Museum

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The Desert War gallery takes visitors into Northern Africa. Front and center is the M2A1 105 mm Howitzer that became an invaluable artillery asset.
The Battle of the Bulge gallery mimics a frozen forest where citizen soldiers defended their battered line against Hitler’s final surge. A large video and running audio of German and American voices evoke the chaos and danger of the costly battle.
The B-25 Mitchell hangs in the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.
Exhibits focus on both the logistics for the D-Day invasion and the personal stories of those experienced it.
Home Front exhibits explore wartime shortage, Rosie Riveters, draft boards, boot camp and the art of the propaganda poster.
Surrounded by recreated walls of an Italian village, the Italian Campaign gallery features personal narratives, artifacts, audio and video elements.

Remembering the price of freedom – National World War II Museum

By Linda Miller

World War II ended seven decades ago, but 21st century technology captures the gripping events and details, powerful moments, personal stories and graphic images and scenes for a museum experience that moves beyond typical displays.

It all comes together at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, a world-class package that engages the senses with a modern delivery that’s educational and compelling.

A good place to start a museum visit is at the Soloman Victory Theater where a short pre-show about pre-war life in the U.S., narrated by actor Tom Hanks, sets the scene for the main movie attraction.

“Beyond All Boundaries,” with Hanks as executive producer, is a 4-D cinematic journey through the war that changed the world. A 120-foot panoramic screen, special effects, props, motion and music help the viewer experience what it must have been like to be in the trenches of battle, a dense jungle or a fighter plane. Special effect snow falls on the audience during the bitter Battle of the Bulge. Seats rumble like the earth must have when tanks rolled.

Throughout the 40-minute film the words and stories of actual World War II participants and war correspondents are brought to life by some of Hollywood’s leading stars, including Brad Pitt, John Goodman, Neil Patrick Harris, Gary Sinise, Jennifer Garner, Viola Davis and Kevin Bacon.

Visitors leave the movie wanting to learn more about the Greatest Generation and about the war that began in 1939 and ended in 1945. It was the deadliest and most destructive war in history, claiming 65 million lives.

After the movie, it’s just a few steps to the three main buildings – the Campaigns of Courage, the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Theater and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.

The Campaigns of Courage, described as the heart of the museum experience, features European and Pacific theater galleries that tell the story of how the war was won. The Road to Berlin depicts the challenges of the European military theater – from struggling first battles in North Africa to the bloody struggle at Germany’s doorstep in nine all-encompassing galleries.

Along with historic film footage, oral history kiosks and displays, intricate galleries mimic different events. A briefing room is set in an abandoned farmhouse. A desert and rocky landscape sets the stage for images of tanks rolling over the sand in the Desert War in North Africa. The blown-out interior of a German bunker shows the infrastructure Germans used as they protected their homeland. A winter scene shows the frigid conditions during the Battle of the Bulge.

Each visitor is given a dog tag-style card which can be used to hear WW II veterans recount their personal experiences depicted in the gallery. Visitors can also register their tag to select an individual’s story to follow throughout the galleries.

The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center features several WW II-era vehicles and aircraft, including B-17 “My Gal Sal,” one of the first of thousands to fly the northern route from the U.S. to England. Weather conditions forced it to make an emergency landing in Greenland, and while the crew was rescued, the plane remained frozen in time for more than 50 years before being recovered and restored.

“My Gal Sal” and other planes are suspended in air, as if in flight, and skywalks on upper floors give visitors a bird’s eye view. Exhibits, videos and interactive displays help tell the story of Americans at war and those pitching in at home to keep the war effort strong.

The Freedom Pavilion is also home to Final Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience which allows visitors to relive its last epic battle

Upon entering the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion atrium, it’s impossible to miss a reproduction of the amphibious LCVP — or Higgins boat – that made the landing on the shores of Normandy possible.

The pavilion also houses a train car that recreates the rail journey that carried millions of Americans off to war. It’s also the first station in the Dog Tag Experience, so if you want to follow a real life story, start here.

Artifacts from the museum’s collection and exhibits are focused on the road to war and the D-Day invasions. Weapons, uniforms, wartime memorabilia and personal artifact fill the area.

The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion actually got its start as the D-Day Museum in 2000. Six years later it was renamed the National World War II Museum and continues to expand. The Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries will open in December.

Allow plenty of time for a visit. This isn’t one of those museums you can breeze through in an hour or two.

There’s so much to experience. Not just for veterans or for those whose relatives served. Or for scholars or history buffs.

It’s the perfect place to revel in the American spirit and courage … and remember the price of freedom.

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. seven days a week and is closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. For ticket prices, special exhibits and performances, directions and more information, go online to nationalww2museum.org.

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