On a recent trip to the city of New Orleans, I was able to visit The National WWII Museum, formerly known as the D-Day Museum. I had always been under the impression that the museum was a local effort, or perhaps state funded. I was wrong. The museum was designated by Congress as the official National World War II Museum in 2003 and is affiliated with the Smithsonian Institution.
The WWII Museum does not take a comprehensive look at WWII, but rather it focuses on the American experience of WWII. Keeping with that theme, you will begin your journey through the museum by loading into a passenger train car, as was the experience of most every service member fighting for our nation in WWII. While on the passenger car, you will have the option to link your provided electronic dog tag to an actual service member who served in the war and follow them through their war experience using kiosks located throughout the museum.
After exiting the train car, your first stop will be pre-war Germany, to provide an understanding of events leading up to the war. The museum uses video displays, projectors, signage and static displays to provide the visitor with information about both the events of WWII and the artifacts in the museum.
Pre-war Germany soon transitions to Hitler’s march across Poland, then Europe. You will find yourself passing a typical newsstand of the era, complete with papers announcing the war in Europe. You’ll also pass through a couple of rooms of a typical American home of that era, in an attempt to convey what life was like in mid-century America.
From there you move to a section highlighting the manufacturing capabilities in that era, along with concerns like rationing and the need for secrecy, even among production workers. The Merchant Marines and Liberty ships are highlighted along with the Lend-Lease Program which supplied our allies with war fighting equipment and materials.
Your next stop puts you standing in front of a 30-foot semi-circular screen showing the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the war. The focus here shifts to the US Navy and its role in Pacific. You’ll follow Marines through Saipan and Guadalcanal, watch the Japanese expansion through the Philippines and south east Asia. A few more steps and you’re in a jungle listening to the experiences of young men, frightened by the uncertainty of their situation and their fierce enemy who seems at home in the alien like jungles.
D-Day and the battle across France follows. The airborne invasion and the storming of the Normandy beaches as well as the invasion through Italy brings the visitor into the European Theater of the war. From the breakout to the Bulge, to Germany’s surrender, the war in Europe is documented in detail.
Finally, you will follow the Navy and Marines as they close their grasp around the Japanese forces in the Pacific, and move from Iwo Jima to Okinawa and onto mainland Japan. The demise of the Japanese forces and the atomic bombings are presented to the visitor through video and static display.
Along with the stories from the service men who lived the battles, you’ll see countless displays of weapons, uniforms, supplies, and other artifacts from both forces. In the main entrance a Douglass C-47 Skytrain hangs over the gallery along with a British Submarine Spitfire. You’ll also see landing craft used during the invasions along with other items like howitzers and a German 88mm anti-aircraft gun. The Museum also offer a PT-Boat experience on the Mississippi River and a U-Boat experience where visitors can descend into the bowels of WWII submarine.
The Museum is made up of four buildings and is currently under expansion, adding a fifth building. The complex is massive and ever changing. If you have visited in the past it is probably a good idea to revisit, because the experience will be very different from what it was a few years ago. You can breeze through in a couple of hours, but to get the full experience you may want to plan to make a full day of it, and that may still not be enough time to see everything. Weekends are crowded, so weekdays are your best bet. WWII Veterans get in free and all other veterans and students with ID’s get in for half price.
I wish I had more time to spend there as I’m sure I missed a lot. I will revisit one day, on a weekday, when I’m not so pressed for time. If you are a military buff or a history buff then you simply cannot miss this experience!