This story was originally published in the Chicago Tribune Prime Time senior living section.
Visitors to the nation’s capital might wonder why there is no museum memorializing World War II. That’s because it’s located in New Orleans. The National WWII museum claims to be the No. 1 attraction there and the second-highest rated museum in the country among Trip Advisor users.
According to its mission, The National WWII 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.
The ultra-modern, totally interactive museum is really a campus that spans two full city blocks. It provides visitors with an immersive experience of every aspect of WWII, from GI life to the home front, to equipment, vehicles, weapons, artifacts and more.
Visitors literally receive dog tags and an individual profile, then embark on a journey beyond our shores where they can follow in their character’s footsteps in realistic settings.
The dog tags are fitted with a microchip that allows visitors to scan and save particular items of interest that they can view later online.
Worth a visit or two
If you’ve not visited lately, it’s worth a return trip because the museum was greatly expanded in 2014 and 2015, with plans for a whole lot more, says President & CEO Stephen J. Watson.
Watson advises allowing at least three to four hours at minimum to take it all in.“Many people spend the day here,” he says. “We have a full-service restaurant, a soda shop and an entertainment venue recreating a wartime canteen that has a dinner theater at night. In 2019, there will be a new conference center and hotel adjacent to the campus.”
So why did the museum end up in New Orleans? It all goes back to industrialist Andrew Higgins and his role in D-Day. Higgins was the New Orleans boat builder who invented and built the amphibious landing craft that brought GIs ashore on D-Day. Higgins’ innovation inspired the creation of The National D-Day Museum in 2000, a public-private undertaking. That museum soon expanded into The National WWII Museum.
A visit to the museum is meant to be life-changing and often is, Watson says. This goes for younger folks who are unfamiliar with WWII history as well as for veterans who actually fought in the war.
Richard Duchossois, the 96-year-old Chicago businessman best known for his ownership of Arlington Park racecourse among other business ventures, can tell you why you should go.As a board member, Duchossois has contributed his time, money and even an oral history of his own experience in five European campaigns in WWII. Serving in the army, he attained the rank of Major and was awarded a Purple Heart and the Bronze Star.
“This museum gives you a better understanding of why America is America,” he says.
“When you get there it is so exciting for me or anyone who has been in the service to see exactly what the GIs had to do — as well as everybody who was behind them. When you get home, you start thinking about the fact that it was like a team playing together.
Particularly in these political times, everyone should visit this museum because it is about unity.”The underlying message that resonates with Duchossois is simple: “Freedom isn’t free,” he says.
What you’ll see
Here is a quick run-down of what you’ll find at the museum:
The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion: Start your visit in the Museum’s original pavilion, which features the institution’s newest permanent exhibit that tells the story of the war experienced on the Home Front. The building also includes macro-artifacts, special temporary exhibits, and the L.W. “Pete” Kent Train Car Experience — the perfect place to begin your journey into the WWII story.
Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters: Follow in the footsteps of the citizen soldier in 360-degree displays that take visitors through key settings in WWII. The galleries serve as an immersive timeline and provide a service member’s view of the war including oral histories.
Solomon Victory Theater: See, hear, and feel the epic story of WWII in the exclusive 4D experience “Beyond All Boundaries,” narrated by Tom Hanks. (4D means that the seats vibrate when a tank drives by, and “snow” falls in the winter scenes, Watson says.)
U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center: Stand beside ground-level tanks and trucks to view WWII airplanes — or brave sky-high catwalks for an up-close look. Exhibits describe the history and production of war machines.
John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion: Get an up-close view at some of the museum’s extensive collection of macro-artifacts, and learn how science, technology, engineering, and math helped solve some of WWII’s toughest problems.
Visit nationalww2museum.org for more information.