National WWII MuseumUpdated: June 5, 2021
The National WWII Museum in New Orleans was created to preserve the legacy of America’s involvement in World War Two. Originally conceived as a museum to commemorate D-Day, the facility opened on June 6, 2000–the 50th anniversary of the historic D-Day invasion of Normandy.
The New Orleans location of the museum was significant as the area was home to factories responsible for the manufacture and testing of Higgins boats, which were used during World War 2 for amphibious assault such as the D-Day invasion. New Orleans was also the home of history writer Stephen Ambrose, who wrote a book on D-Day
But the D-Day Museum would expand its horizons quickly. By 2003, Congress would designate the facility as the official National WW2 Museum, and it would become designated as a Smithsonian Institution-affiliated site.
From D-Day To WWII
Since D-Day was the original focus of the museum, it had plenty of material preserving the American legacy in Normandy and elsewhere in Europe.
But when the museum became a way of preserving the broader American legacy associated with the war, it was clear that exhibits and displays addressing the war in the Pacific would also be necessary.
Upon expansion, the facility added many more displays and other attractions commemorating amphibious invasions in the Pacific–it was the start of a great effort to add more detail to the American WW2 story presented there.
Other improvements included the opening of a variety of new pavilion displays, etc. They include the Solomon Victory Theater, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion, and the Campaigns of Courage pavilion.
In the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, visitors will find static displays of vintage WW2 aircraft including Supermarine Spitfire, C-47 Skytrain, and a Higgins boat.
Growing Bigger And Better
In 2013, The National WWII Museum opened the doors to the then-brand-new US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which houses a collection including a B-17E Flying Fortress bomber, a P-51D Mustang, Corsair F4U-4 and others.
Airpower isn’t the only focus of the center, there is also an interactive submarine exhibit detailing the final mission of the submarine USS Tang
The center became a reality thanks to $15 million donated by Boeing with a DoD grant of $20 million. But that wasn’t the only expansion happening at the time–come 2015 the WW2 Museum had opened two major exhibits–the “Road To Berlin” and the “Road To Tokyo”.
In 2015 the expansion work, to the tune of some $400 million, resulted in “The Road to Victory: A Vision for Future Generations.”
A visit to the museum or even the museum’s official site reveals a great amount of preservation of aircraft, boats, submarines, and artifacts from the war, but the current collection is meant to expand, which is one reason why the National WWII Museum solicits donations of wartime letters, uniform items, photography, and more.
The museum is selective about its donations but actively seeks to expand its archives of personal stories, photos, and correspondence.
The National WWII Museum may use donated artifacts for local exhibits but also for traveling programs, temporary loans to other historical preservation centers or museums, and as source material for researchers.
The National WWII Museum does not accept donations for items “that it cannot reasonably expect to use for its interpretative themes in the present or future” and those interested in making donations should know that its artifacts are not necessarily placed on permanent display. Like all museums and galleries, a portion of a collection may be on display, but never the entire collection.
There are some items the museum actively seeks to add to its collections, and many of the items mentioned above (letters, photos, personal stories, etc.) fall into that category.
There are WW2-era items the museum no longer accepts in any way including Nazi flags, Japanese swords, Nazi daggers or other edged weapons, etc. The museum does not appraise artifacts for donors.
The Mission Of The WW2 Museum Today
The official site of the WW2 Museum lists six specific goals, which include telling stories of human bravery, liberation, and tragedy associated with the war.
The museum is designed to inspire and educate through exhibits, oral histories, new media, distance education, and interactive experiences.
The official site adds that museum operations should facilitate interaction with, “diverse communities to expand their understanding of the history and meaning of America’s role in World War II and its relevance for today and for the future”. It’s also meant to serve as a must-see destination to bolster area tourism and community growth in New Orleans.
Visiting the museum is a fairly immersive experience and the official site recommends planning on a whole-day tour or a half-day tour. There are self-guided tours as well as those led by a guide.
There are even tour packages offered by the museum that feature three nights at a hotel, meals, and special access to behind-the-scenes areas at the museum. These options are offered on a limited basis for specific dates and times–visit the official site to learn what is currently offered and when.
Joe Wallace is a 13-year veteran of the United States Air Force and a former reporter for Air Force Television News