Dog Tag Experience at The National WWII Museum in
New Orleans lets you register to follow the story of
one person's experience during the war years,
stopping at various dog tag stations to dig deeper
into the history of a specific time -- and person --
in the war.
the darkness of the theater, the numbers appear. They come
at you, really, daring you to absorb them:
are the number of dead, by country, in World War II. A
total of 65 million, more than all other wars to that
get a sobering taste of submarine warfare from the feature
"Final Mission: The USS Tang Experience."
All Boundaries," the much-praised film that is a
centerpiece of the National World War II Museum in New
Orleans, slaps you into awareness. Awareness of a reality
that, as the "Greatest Generation" veterans slip
away, we are in danger of forgetting.
movie, narrated by Tom Hanks, its executive producer, is
in "4-D." The 3-D is accomplished without
needing those special glasses, and the fourth D reaches
into the audience — wind blows, the theater’s seats
shake, smoke billows. The movie like the museum wants to
engage all generations; that’s why you need that extra
"D" these days.
as the film proceeds (it takes us through the Pacific
Theater and Africa in addition to Hitler’s march through
Europe), the actual events upstage any theatrical booms
bigness is difficult to wrap your mind around. But in one
section on the brutal Battle of Saipan, when just the
center screen is illuminated, with shots of the
consequences of war — a woman jumping off a cliff to
commit suicide, a GI giving his canteen to a child and a
GI holding a tattered Imperial Japan flag amid ruins —
there is an image of a shivering Japanese girl, maybe 5,
and all alone. It is just a quick image, a blink in the
spectrum of this devastation.
you see her shiver. You can feel it.
this is what will move you. Individuals. The stories of
individuals, of each person, each one of the ones that
make up the 65 million dead — along with those who
survived, of course. The stories bridge the gap of time
and place. And one hopes they will lead to understanding.
Remembering. Incorporating the lessons of war into the
minds of generations that followed.
is exactly the mission of the museum, what Stephen
Ambrose, the historian and writer, had in mind when he
began gathering support for it. Ambrose, a longtime
professor of history at the University of New Orleans,
wrote not only biographies of Dwight D. Eisenhower and
Richard Nixon, but historical best-sellers, including
"Band of Brothers." When he founded the
Eisenhower Center at the university in 1989, its mission
was to study the consequences of war. So his first project
was collecting oral histories from World War II veterans
about their experiences. He collected their words and also
thousands of artifacts from veterans as he interviewed
this formed the foundation of the museum, which he saw as
a place that would reflect "his deep regard for our
nation’s citizen soldiers, the workers on the home front
and the sacrifices and hardships they endured to achieve
victory," according to its president. Ambrose got a
lot of heavy hitters to help support the museum — Hanks,
Steven Spielberg and state and federal governments. It
opened in 2000, and in 2003, Congress designated the
museum as "America’s National World War II
Museum." Ambrose, however, died in 2002, so he never
knew of the extra import that would be given to the museum
its one original building, the museum has expanded to
three and is planning more. Currently exhibitions are
organized in three main pavilions around central themes of
Louisiana Memorial Pavilion showcases the large artifacts
of the war and exhibitions about D-Day, the home front and
the Pacific. Here you’ll find the Solomon Victory
Theater, which shows "Beyond All Boundaries";
also the Stage Door Canteen, where the music and
entertainment of the generation come to life.
John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion is where staff and
volunteers restore artifacts in public view. Make sure you
stop by the American Sector Restaurant and Soda Shop —
atmospheric and friendly, with old-fashioned tunes and USO
U.S. Freedom Pavilion, the most recent addition, features
exhibitions and interactive experiences that illuminate
the story of a country mobilizing for war. At its heart is
the Campaigns of Courage section, with its new Road to
Berlin: European Theater Galleries.
a lot to see in this museum — truly, you need at least
half a day, or consider breaking up your visit into two
days (an extra $6 for second-day admission), so you have
time to digest it all. But there are two other special
features of the museum (well, at least two) not to miss.
Mission: The USS Tang Submarine Experience" requires
buying a supplementary ticket, but it’s worth the $5.
You will get an interactive experience of being aboard the
most successful submarine in World War II, boarding as it
sets off on its fifth (and final) war patrol on Oct. 25,
1944. You’re assigned a workstation down in the control
room — I never did figure out how to work my various
wheels and dials, but it soon didn’t matter. Above us
through a glass window, we could see the prow of a
Japanese warship and hear the buzzing of alarms and the
shouting of instructions. I stood looking up, mouth open,
helpless, along with my fellow sub mates — a dad and his
son, grandparents and their little girl, a young Asian
couple with a little boy — as we began to understand we
were under attack. We were gaining an understanding what
the "final" in the title of the experience
actually meant. I had no idea — as the men on Oct. 25,
1944, had no idea. But for them it was real.
other feature to watch out for at the museum is "Dog
Tag Experience," which allows you to follow one
person’s story through the war. When you pay for your
ticket, you receive a dog tag that you can then register
at a kiosk in the Campaigns of Courage section of the
museum. You "follow" a real person in the museum
database: Whenever you notice a dog tag station at various
points throughout the exhibition, you can access
additional information about the person you’re following
and his or her experiences at that point in time.
didn’t have enough time to learn all about my dog-tag
person, Augustus Hamilton of the 358th Fighter Group; he
enlisted the day after Pearl Harbor was attacked. I felt
bad that I couldn’t stay with him, but I had doomed
myself from the outset to run out of time because, well,
there are stories everywhere.
moment I entered the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, I was
waylaid. After gasping at the enormous planes suspended
from the ceiling, I noticed a familiar-looking craft to my
left. It was, I learned from the signage, a Higgins Boat,
a replica of one used for the D-Day landing in Normandy.
It also explained one reason the museum is in New Orleans:
When the military in the late 1930s began developing small
boats that could carry troops from ships to open beaches,
they eventually discovered Andrew Jackson Higgins of New
Orleans, who had been manufacturing shallow-water work
boats to support oil and gas exploration in the Louisiana
bayous. Higgins adapted his designs for the military’s
specifications; he and his 30,000 workers went on to make
every landing craft used in the war.
next to the Higgins display was a long metal table, and
near the far end sat two men, one sporting military
medals, the other with a gray, unruly beard. Behind the
man with the medals was a sign: "I was there! Meet
Forrest Villarrubia, USMC, WWII veteran. Pacific
men were veterans, willing to answer questions, or welcome
other veterans, to the museum. On the table beside them
was a photo of a man who had just died. I asked them about
was an Army paratrooper who landed behind enemy lines
early on D-Day to capture and hold a bridge to keep
Germans from sending reinforcements to Utah Beach. He was
94 when he died, Villarrubia said. He had logged 15,000
hours as a volunteer at the museum.
didn’t tell me that Blakey had been one of the legions
of veterans who had suffered from post-traumatic stress
disorder. It was something you didn’t talk about at the
time. Blakey was haunted by what he saw behind enemy lines
and was only finally able to drive away the ghosts when he
became a volunteer. Sharing his stories. Talking about the
war, in all its aspects, helped him come to terms with the
his death, there was a memorial service for Blakey. Gordon
"Nick" Muller, president and CEO of the National
WWII Museum, gave the closing remarks.
gave his spirit and memories to millions of
visitors," Muller said. "To all of us in this
room, Tom Blakey was the very heart and soul of this
thought about 15,000 hours of telling stories. I thought
about 94 years of living. I thought about 65 million
people dying. I hadn’t even begun to explore the place,
but already I was grateful for the opportunity it provided
to learn the stories of individuals, as many as I — and
the million other visitors — could.
their memories, and what made them the Greatest
Generation, might live on.
WORLD WAR II MUSEUM
945 Magazine St., New Orleans. The entrance is on Andrew
Higgins Drive. The museum’s parking lot is on Magazine
Street and charges $10 for seven hours.
9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. Closed Mardi Gras Day,
Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
MUCH: $23; seniors 65-plus, $20; students and military,
$14. WWII veterans admitted free.
to "Beyond All Boundaries" and "The Final
Mission" both require an additional $5 entry ticket,
and times are reserved. You can also purchase a second-day
entry for $6.
special all-day Behind the Lines tour of the museum
includes a visit to parts of the collection not on view to
the general public; access to a Sherman Tank; lunch with a
museum curator in the private dining rooms at the museum;
and more. Limited to 11 guests. Prices from $345 per
person or $650 for a couple. Reserve on the website or
call 877-813-3329 ext. 257.
INFO: 877-813-3329, nationalww2museum.org
The museum is fully accessible; a limited number of
wheelchairs are provided at no charge. Assisted Listening
Devices are available for "Beyond All
Boundaries," ask at the visitor services desk in the
Solomon Victory Theater. Sign language interpretation is
also available for the film, if you email firstname.lastname@example.org
at least 48 hours before your arrival.
World War II was felt, you can find a way to recall it.
There are vast battlefields (throughout Normandy, for
instance), and small private homes (Anne Frank House in
Amsterdam) and places where soldiers trained (Camp Toccoa,
Ga., linked to the "Band of Brothers") and died
(Iwo Jima). Here are just a few of the more official
museums that you can visit.
Cove, Fall River, Mass. — Near the Natick museum is the
world’s largest exhibition of historic naval ships, with
a battleship, destroyer, submarine, PT boats and more.
Sleepovers for kids. Open daily. battleshipcove.org.
New Jersey, Camden — America’s largest and
most-decorated battleship is berthed on the Camden
waterfront on the Delaware River. Overnights offered. Open
daily April 1 to Oct. 31; closed Jan. 1 to Feb. 6, open
weekends only the rest of the year — plus special
holiday openings. Info: battleshipnewjersey.org.
Museum of World War II, Natick, Mass. — A privately
funded museum 20 minutes from Boston with one of the world’s
most comprehensive collections of World War II
memorabilia. The museum is, however, small, and visiting
is limited to control crowds (and accidents). Reserve
ahead for a visit, Tuesday through Saturday, by emailing
email@example.com. Info: museumofworld
Museum of the Pacific War, Fredericksburg, Texas —
Dedicated exclusively to telling the story of the Pacific
and Asiatic theaters. The 6-acre campus includes a
Memorial Courtyard, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the
Nimitz Museum, where Adm. Chester Nimitz spent much of his
boyhood, and the 33,000-square foot George H.W. Bush
Gallery with 900 artifacts, machinery, vehicles and more.
Two blocks east of the main campus, the Pacific Combat
Zone, a unique 3-acre indoor/outdoor exhibition featuring
restored military vehicles and weaponry displayed in
replicated docks, entrenchments and beachheads. Combat
re-enactments are scheduled throughout the year. Info:
USS Arizona Memorial, Hawaii — The new $62 million Pearl
Harbor Visitor Center at the World War II Valor in the
Pacific National Monument features two new world-class
museums, as well as outdoor panels and panoramic shoreline
views, Also visit the Pacific Aviation Museum, which
occupies surviving World War II-era hangars that still
bear the scars of the Pearl Harbor attack. See aircraft,
like a Japanese Zero, an F4F Wildcat, B-25 Mitchell
Bomber, F-14 Tomcat and F-15 Eagle. Veteran docents help
bring the time and the history to life. Info:
War Museum, London — The museum covers conflicts from
World War I to the present and has five locations: IWM
London; IWM North in Trafford, Greater Manchester; IWM
Duxford near Cambridge; the Churchill War Rooms in
Whitehall, London; and the historic ship HMS Belfast,
moored in the Pool of London on the Thames. Info:
Peace Memorial Park and Museum — The museum is within
this moving, memorial-filled park. Note that part of the
museum is closed for renovation until 2016. Info: