We left the island at the end of January for our long-awaited trip. After spending time with family in Houston, we headed east toward Florida.
Our first stop was in New Orleans.
We’ve been to NOLA before. The last time we were suffering from museum burn out and skipped the National World War II museum. Over the course of the years, we’d seen many museums and tributes to WWII – most notable at the Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library – so we didn’t feel we were missing out.
This year, however, we came specifically to see the museum. It is sobering. It is inspiring. It is something everyone should see.
Tom Brokaw famously named the generation that fought World War II, “The Greatest Generation.” One would be hard pressed to find a more fitting title after spending a few hours reading the history and viewing the memorabilia.
The mission statement for the museum sums it up: “The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today—so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.”
The museum doesn’t sugar coat the atrocities and sacrifices of the war. It also gives a pretty balanced account of the discrimination as well as heroic service of many black, Hispanic, Asian, and native American soldiers.
There is also a display highlighting the women of World War II — from those near the frontlines serving as nurses to the women working the assembly lines in factories at home.
Overall 350,000 American women served in uniform and many served at home working in factories building aircraft and tanks needed for the war. One factory, the Willow Run assembly plant was producing one B-24 plane per hour by mid-1944. Nearly half of all the B-24s but in 1944 came from this one factory.
“The contribution of the women of America, whether on the farm or in the factory or in uniform, to D-Day was a sine qua non of the invasion effort.” – General Eisenhower
Perhaps one of the reasons the museum was so moving for us was our personal connections. Cathy’s father served aboard the submarine USS Muskallunge during the war, and her uncles all served as well. Jeff’s uncle served as a radio operator in the 16th Armored Division. Other friends served, including Gil Ferguson who fought in the battle of Tarawa – one of the bloodiest fights in the war. We also have a dear friend who lived in one of the Japanese internment camps when he was a child.
The fear that gripped America and the world was very real. And the bravery, daring and commitment of the greatest generation is inspiring.
It’s well worth a trip to New Orleans for this museum.