Today is the 73rd Anniversary of DDay. Any solider or military personnel enlisted during WWII would have a minimum age of 90 years. The children born today and all subsequent generations will no longer hear first-hand accounts of the war. Considered to be the most devastating war in human history, why is remembering the horrific events so important? Or at least that is how I felt before visiting the National WW II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. New Orleans is a magical city. The architecture, music, and the local people exude an atmosphere of colonial American history. At every turn, there are tales and hauntings from the past perpetuated by the people who inhabit the festive city. Most of us visit to revel in the mystique and to dine on the amazing creole cuisine. So, why is the National World War II Museum in New Orleans? After an astonishing visit, Cody and I asked this question, as did everyone we communicated with about our experience. One man pointed me in the right direction, my father's best friend Dako who is an engineer and from Bulgaria. The People's Republic of Bulgaria existed from 1946-1990, when the Bulgarian Communist Party ruled as an ally of Russia during the Cold War. Bulgaria was behind the fabled Iron Curtain. Dako came to America over 30 years ago and worked with my father in engineering. When I spoke to Dako about my visit to the WWII museum, he revealed his sincere interest in the war explaining, "When I came to America it was the first time I could read the actual history of the war and not the established facts of the Bulgarian government." "Do you know why the museum is in New Orleans?" "Well, probably because Louisiana largely contributed to boat building during World War II."
In the entry hall of the National WWII Museum is a LCVP, Land Craft Vehicle Personnel or Higgins Boat. LCVP's were used to storm the beaches of Normandy. Throughout the war, amphibious crafts made ship to shore operations possible for the U.S. and its allies in the Pacific and Europe. Louisiana local, Andrew Jackson Higgins, created 20,000 amphibious boats employing 25,000 workers of all races and gender at 7 plants in New Orleans. General Eisenhower is quoted, "Higgins won the war for us."[/caption] On September 25, 2003 the United States Congress awarded the museum the designation of "America's National World War II Museum." The museum is located in downtown New Orleans on 6 acres housing five massive pavilions containing historical exhibits of military and war artifacts including first person accounts during the war, while volunteer restored aircraft soar high above in the rafters. The depth and breadth of the Second World War experience on display immerses the viewer into another time and place as each gallery focuses on specific territories and military tactics bringing to life the terrain. Participants walk the roads through jungles, mountains, beaches, and oceans where soldiers’ fought for freedom. Along the rubble path, military vehicles, weapons, gear, uniforms and other issued items fill the halls, but most impressive are the personal items and letters home to family and friends about the day-to-day lives of the men and women in battle. Reading the emotive words of a solider in a letter to his mother conveys the belief of fighting for freedom against a true enemy. Or studying Anne Frank's diary entry from D Day on June 6, 1944 relates the earnest hope for victory:
"Is this really the beginning of the long-awaited liberation? The liberation we've all talked so much about, which still seems too good, too much of a fairy tale to ever come true? Will this year, 1944, bring us victory? We don't know yet. But where there's hope, there's life. It fills us with fresh courage and makes us strong again."To visit the National World War II Museum, you do not need to be a military historian or war enthusiast but a person seeking to understand a shared American and global experience of fighting against real oppressors of humanity. Although, the tragic bombing of Pearl Harbor in Hawaii by the Japanese propelled the United States into the war, most of the liberation efforts were for citizens of other countries. In a letter to his son John, General Dwight D Eisenhower wrote, "No other war in history has so definitely lined up the forces of arbitrary oppression and dictatorship against those of human rights and individual liberty."
US Shaw during the attack on Pearl Harbor. By U.S. Navy (photo 80-G-16871), Naval Historical Center photo NH 86118
On December 8, 1941, the day after Pearl Harbor, Congress voted almost unanimously to declare war on Japan. Jeanette Rankin from Montana who was a declared pacifist cast the only vote opposing America’s entry into the war. From 1939 to 1945, U.S. military personnel grew from 334, 473 to over 12 million. My father's friend pointed out that in 4 years the U.S. was not only able to produce a world wide army but engineer and manufacture weapons, tanks, airplanes, and ships carrying supplies around the globe and win a war on three fronts, Europe, North Africa and the Asia Pacific rim. People everywhere experienced the loss of loved ones by either tyrannous acts or fighting for freedom.
Two bottles warped by the Nagasaki blast of the atom bomb. Collected by William A Stover, an eighteen-year-old aboard the LST 585 wrote in a letter to his father, "Yesterday I went ashore in Nagasaki. A bunch of us went to the ruins to hunt for souvenirs. I'm sending a few pieces home that I picked up. There were some skeletons around, but when you touched them they just crumbled to ashes."
In today's world it is hard to know who is helping humanity and who is hiding heinous acts. We stand divided by our beliefs. Only 75 years ago, nations rallied together, united to support justice on far off shores. In remembering the collective efforts of the mass of individuals during World War II, we open our hearts and minds realizing that we are all one people trying to live free wherever we may be. A visit to the National World War II Museum demonstrates the value of human life and the sacrifices we are willing to make to protect our rights and individual liberties. The museum is open daily from 9 am to 5 pm, closing on major holidays including Mardi Gras Day. Admission varies from $16.50 for military up to $36.00 for museum exhibits and a ticket to the theater shows. All WWII veterans receive free entry. Do not miss the outdoor Victory Gardens and the American Sector Restaurant & Bar serving produce from the volunteer maintained vegetable gardens. Plan on a few hours for the exhibits to a full day including lunch and a movie. If you are not able to visit, the museum's online archives of World War II are accessible here.
*Headline photograph is a painting entitled This is Sad Sack Calling Charlie Blue by Tom Lea who documented the war on location for Life magazine. The special exhibition runs until January 1, 2017.
**All historical information is referenced from the museum experience.