As I mentioned yesterday, the highlight of my recent trip to New Orleans was my visit (with my son Jack) to the greatly expanded World War II Museum. I have visited the museum repeatedly since it was first opened. As someone who continues to study and write on military history, this museum has been a joy to watch expand and improve through the years. It is now the greatest military museum for the greatest generation. It is easily on par with the great museums of Europe like Musée de l’Armée at the Les Invalides in Paris. It should be a point of pride for all Americans in its expanding and unique collection of artifacts and weaponry from World War II. Moreover, it is expanding even further and is now composed of multiple buildings and soon will be joined by The Higgins Hotel & Conference Center along with the massive Bollinger Canopy of Peace that will cover all of the buildings. The result will certainly be a truly unparalleled facility committed to military history.
The National WWII Museum was once known as the National D-Day Museum but quickly exceeded that narrow focus as its acquired more and more material and weaponry as well as the expansion of its campus not far from the French quarter and the banks of the Mississippi. Since its founding on June 6, 2000, the museum gradually added huge buildings to the original Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, including the Solomon Victory Theater, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, and the Campaigns of Courage pavilion. It will soon add the Liberation Pavilion.
Your first impression of the museum is overwhelming as you enter the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion and look up at a Supermarine Spitfire and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain. You will then see the LCVP, or “Higgins boat,” which were built in Louisiana.
My personal favorite item is the German 88 — in my view one of the five most impressive weapons of the war. Lethal for tanks, personnel, and aircraft, this verstile weapon caused havoc among allied forces throughout the war. Technically listed as a 8.8 cm Flak 18/36/37/41 or German Flugzeugabwehrkanone (the origin of the term “Flak”), the 88 could be moved easily and be deployed by a good team in only two and a half minutes.
Jack and I began our tour with the award-winning 4-D film, Beyond All Boundaries, is in the Solomon Victory Theater. It is an amazing experience as real weaponry rises from the stage and environmental changes connect you to the scenes unfolding before you. Tom Hanks does an incredible job as a narrator.
The largest building is currently The Boeing Center, which features B-17E Flying Fortress bomber, a B-25J Mitchell bomber, an SBD-3 Dauntless, a TBF Avenger, a P-51C Mustang, Corsair F4U-4, as well as various smaller pieces and extensive displays.
One of the most intense experience was the program on the final mission of the USS Tang. You are given the identification card of an actual crew member upon entering and you take that person’s station as the final battle of the Tang plays out in the interactive control room. I was fortunate enough to receive the id card for Jesse Da Silva at the torpedo firing control station.
The Tang is one of the most interesting and tragic stories in World War II. It was a Balao-class submarine launched in 1943. It would have a short but glorious career with 33 ships and 116,454 tons sunk by the sub. It was sunk by its own torpedo off China in the Taiwan Strait in October 1944. It was the final torpedo that they had after sinking various ships. The torpedo malfunctioned and did a circular pattern that struck the Tang. Only nine men survived, including Da Silva. The mission featured the only use of the Momsen lung to escape a sunken submarine. It was a powerful story presented in an equally powerful interactive display.
The Road to Berlin and Road to Tokyo collections are amazing, including Messerschmitt Bf 109 that hangs in the building.
From a watch worn by Col. Tibbets on the Enola Gay to material from Kamikaze pilots to rare weaponry, the collection is nothing short of breathtaking. You can even (as we did) stop by the soda shop for a root beer float to make the most of the interactive experience!
If there is one drawback, it is the price for entrance and particular shows. However, that money is going to create something that all Americans point to with justified pride.
This is military history done in the most thoughtful, respectful, and advanced way possible. The World War II Museum has reached its stride and it is not slowing down. You can easily spend the entire day at the museum and this alone is worth a trip to New Orleans. If you have not visited the museum (or you visited more than two years ago as I did), this is an experience that is second to none awaiting you along the banks of the Mississippi.