Aug 11, 2013

A sobering day in New Orleans – the National World War II Museum

After two road trips in three weeks and logging 4,000 miles traveled, I suddenly have an abundance of topics to blog about.  So, I might as well get started where I left off.  And in case you were wondering, I haven’t forgotten to finish my list of 100 All-Time Favorite Blues Songs. I plan to time the wrap-up around Springfield’s annual Blues and BBQ festival; it just seems to be an appropriate thing to do.  So onward we go …

On our first full day in New Orleans, the Young Curmudgeon and I decided to check out the National World War II Museum, which required a somewhat lengthy (but really not strenuous, unless you are averse to humidity) walk from where we were staying in the heart of the French Quarter, through the Central Business District and to the outer edge of the Warehouse District.  Still, the walk alone was a good way to explore downtown New Orleans, pass by Lafayette Square, walk to nearby Lee Circle and window shop at the many storefronts and restaurants along the way. 

We prepared for the walk with a shot of café au lait and a good dose of powdered sugar that coated our beignets from the Café du Monde.

He got his smile from me.  

Mmmm ... beignets ... 

Packing heat at Cafe du Monde ... I bet he didn't wait long for a table.  
The National World War II Museum is located between Camp and Magazine Streets on Andrew Higgins Blvd.  Why Andrew Higgins?  He just happens to be the guy who designed the boats that made the D-Day invasion possible.  And since he was a New Orleans native, you quickly understand why the museum, which originally opened as the National D-Day Museum, is located in New Orleans in the first place. 

The Higgins boat, which made the D-Day invasion possible.  Leave it to a guy with experience patrolling the Louisiana swamps to come up with  the perfect boat for amphibious landings in shallow water.
In addition to the name change a few years back to acknowledge the museum’s broader scope, the museum is in the middle of an impressive expansion.  The original building from when I first visited the museum 12 year ago still houses a majority of the galleries and exhibits detailing the war from start to finish.     

A second building next door, the Kushner Restoration Pavilion, houses a 1940s-themed restaurant and soda shop and the Stage Door Canteen, which hosts live entertainment/dinner shows reminiscent of the Big Band era.  But the pavilion’s real draw is the 4-D movie “Beyond All Boundaries” which is narrated by Tom Hanks.  It’s worth the extra admission and hour of your time to check out.  I usually don’t get into special effects, but the combination of CGI, sound effects and artificial environments created for the film really puts you in the action. 

Beyond that is the Freedom Pavilion, the newest building of the National World War II Museum complex, which just opened in January 2013.  Boeing has its name attached to it, and with good reason as they were one of several companies that contributed aircraft to the war effort.   

A North American P-51 Mustang, among others.
The Freedom Pavilion is at least four stories high and immensely spacious, and the way they figured out how to display all the aircraft in their “Warbirds” gallery is quite impressive.  You walk across several bridges at various levels to see each plane from a more up close and personal vantage point.  You may want to stay on the ground if you’re afraid of heights, though.   

At the ground level are many more “Vehicles of War” (you can also see some of these when you enter the main building).  From jeeps to tanks to ambulances, you get an appreciation for what kept the war effort moving on the ground. 

The jeep is nice, but I liked the caricature on the fuselage behind it better.
My only disappointment with the museum was the special exhibit “Final Mission:  The U.S.S. Tang Experience.”  For an extra admission price, the exhibit attempts to put you on-board the war’s most successful submarine for its final patrol.  You’re assigned a station as you enter, so you can feel more like you have an actual part in the mission.  Overall, though, the exhibit came off as confusing and difficult to follow.  But maybe that’s part of the point.  The recreation of what it must have been like on a submarine is done quite well, and it must have been very hard in real life to figure out what was going on in the middle of battle.  Still, if you are running short on time, you can skip this part. 

All in all, the National World War II Museum is well worth the admission price (I paid $22 each for the museum with an extra $5 each for the 4-D movie and the U.S.S. Tang recreation).  Do yourself a favor and allow at least a half-day to see it all.  And if you’re a real history or war buff, you won’t have a problem spending the entire day here.  Plus, if you don’t make it through everything, you can purchase a second day pass for just $6.  I don’t want to come across as being overly patriotic, but it’s something every American will appreciate, as the museum does an outstanding job as a whole in capturing the entire World War II experience.   

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