Another one of the items I made sure to go out of my way to do while on my trip in New Orleans in April 2018 was the National WWII Museum right there in the city, often cited as the best WWII museum in the country.
According to their website, the National WWII Museum offers a “compelling blend of sweeping narrative and poignant personal detail, The National WWII Museum features immersive exhibits, multimedia experiences, and an expansive collection of artifacts and first-person oral histories, taking visitors inside the story of the war that changed the world.”
Emphasis theirs because obviously, WWII absolutely changed the world. Millions of deaths, soldiers and civilians alike (estimates indicate about 75 million people, which was three percent of the world’s population at the time, which is staggering to consider), the Holocaust, and the first use of atomic bombs on two Japanese cities, which ushered in the Nuclear Age and the Cold War.
The thing is, between growing up in the American education system and the plethora of WWII-themed films and television shows, maybe you think you know everything about WWII, but I would reckon a guess that you do not unless you’re a WWII scholar. Because there are so many theaters of war that occurred and battles that you may have never delved much into while in school and it’s certainly never appeared in a Hollywood film or television show.
Speaking for myself, I don’t know much about the Pacific Theater of War or the Russian side of things. And while I know more about the European Theater of War, I don’t know much about how it encompassed the Middle East or Africa. There’s a really great exhibit at the museum called The Road to Tokyo I found helpful to that end.
“One cannot go to war and come back normal.” – Richard Proulx, infantryman, US Army.
Plus, I just mentioned 75 million deaths, the Holocaust and two nuclear bombs, but it’s another story to see and feel those deaths up close through exhibits and artifacts and the voices while at the museum in New Orleans. That’s what this museum offered.
For example, the story of Doris “Dorie” Miller, who during the attack on Pearl Harbor, as a black man serving in a segregated Navy, ignored his captain’s orders to abandon him and returned fire on the invading Japanese planes. And when you consider that a lot of people serving in all theaters of war were 17, 18, 19, 20 year old kids? It’s extraordinary the valor on display like Miller’s.
And time continues to pass and become a distant echo, as only 325,475 WWII veterans in America are alive as of 2020, compared to the 16 million who served. And the bigger lessons about the Holocaust continue to fade as those survivors die off as well. So, informative museums like this one are vital to being a standing, living and breathing reminder of what occurred within living memory of people today. History, including WWII, feels long ago, but again, it’s within living memory of people today. That’s astonishing to truly reflect upon.
Also, on a less serious note, I just enjoy the evolution of military history and the weapons and gear used throughout wars, even the drastic changes and advancements on that front in one generation from WWI to WWII.
“My dear little sister, In a way I’m glad I didn’t get a chance to see your little home before I left. For it serves as a symbol something small and wonderful to protect and fight for. I have all the faith and confidence in the world that I’ll be back. Until then …
All my love from somewhere in England,
If you’re ever in New Orleans or near there, I highly recommend spending an afternoon soaking up this necessary history.