Originally opened as the D-Day Museum in 2000, the National World War II Museum in New Orleans has expanded in the last decade to include interactive exhibits titled “The Road to Berlin” and “The Road to Tokyo.” Boeing Corporation contributed significantly to the US Freedom Pavilion which features bombers and fighters from the war hanging in its massive atrium. My father-in-law, Michael Amditis, wanted to visit the museum so we flew down to New Orleans for the weekend. Mike served in the Marines during World War II and saw action in the Pacific at first in the Aleutians and then in the Marianas Islands – Tinian, Saipan and Guam.
This is the second interactive Museum I have visited after the Newseum in Washington DC. Mixing video, pictures, staging and interactive stations you are immersed in the places and events of history. This is a great way for anyone to learn about the heroism of the soldiers who fought in the war. TripAdvisor has rated it as New Orleans top attraction and the #11 museum IN THE WORLD!
Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters
We spend parts of two days in the museum and honestly you could spend two full days there without seeing everything. Part of the reason is the extensive use of video. The exhibits about Europe (Road to Berlin) and the Pacific (Road to Tokyo) are a sequence of rooms each of which featured artifacts and staging modeled after the place where the action occurred. In addition each had individual stations where you could touch screens to see maps of the action, read brief descriptions of battles and events and see videos and photos of the veterans who were there. The first day we went through the Pacific exhibit.
There were rooms devoted to the major battles such as Guadalcanal, Midway and Okinawa. The Marianas campaign which Mike participated in was a part of the island hopping strategy of the US. Rather than attacking the major Japanese bases, the US took lightly defended islands nearby and disrupted the supplies and transport of the Japanese. We listened to the recorded testimony of Marines who were in the same area as Mike was. The next day we went through the Road to Berlin exhibit. Highlights included Tom Brokaw’s film about D-Day.
4-D Film Experience: Beyond All Borders
Tom Hanks narrated and produced this experience which lasts about 40 minutes. It is presented hourly. Before the film you see an introduction about what lead to the war. Then you enter the theater with a gigantic curved screen much like an IMAX. Props such as an old console radio, a guard tower for a concentration camp, the nose of a bomber rise from the stage floor and come down from the ceiling and mix with the film. The theater seats rumble and shake when you become the pilot of a plane or a soldier on a battlefield. Snow falls from above. Translucent screens give a stunning 3-D effect as you walk through the jungles of Guadalcanal. Small screens rise from the stage telling you whose words you are hearing from FDR to generals to foot soldiers who participated in the action. And Tom Hanks narration blends it all into a heroic story. Honestly, it was so intense I was a little worried about Mike, but he thought it was great.
US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
The main attraction is the planes which hang in a massive room and can be viewed from the floor but also from walkways above and below. The planes are originals and each has a story. We didn’t listen to all of these. But we did watch the story about the B17E “My Gal Sal” and about the general history of the Corsair, the Marine fighter plane. Again there were interactive maps and narration about each plan which helped you learn about the large planes without having to read long plaques.
On the second floor of the building there are stations where you can hear dozens of two to three minute recordings of veterans testimony about their experience. And on the first floor there is an interactive experience called USS Tang: The Final Mission. You enter a mock up of the submarine and take an assigned position. Mike and I were at the radar station. As you listen to the communication between the captain and staff regarding the action, a film of what is happening above is displayed on the ceiling. The USS Tang was the most successful submarine of World War II. It sailed for about 10 months in the Pacific, sinking 33 Japanese ships before being sunk in its final mission. Nine sailors survived and were taken prisoner by the Japanese, making them the only submarine sinking survivors in history.
The US World War II Museum is rated as one of the top museums in the country and I can see why. It is a great experience. The second day we were there there were lots of school kids and they were not bored!
Be sure to set aside at least 4 hours for the Museum. If you don’t you will be sorry.
World War II Veterans get in free. Mike was given a lanyard which let everyone know that he was there. And dozens of staff and other visitors shook his hand thanking him for his service.
The price for the museum is $26 per person with reduced rates for seniors, students and veterans. There is an additional $5 charged for the Beyond all Borders film experience and for the USS Tang Final Mission. It’s worth every penny. You can return the next day for only $6.
Each visitor is given a dog tag which can be used to collect items of interest. We didn’t use this, but it allows you to save parts of the experience which you can look at again on the museum website.
While the museum is accessible, many of the doors would not open when you push the button to open them. The volunteer staff was very nice and tried to be helpful. However, they were not well-informed and were not able to give good directions. Hopefully, they will correct these minor inconveniences.