With 2019 marking the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings the contributions of the Greatest Generation can be experienced at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
The museum, which opened on June 6, 2000, chronicles the story of the American GI during the Second World War. It features galleries devoted to D-Day, the war at home, and the war in the Pacific through artifacts, personal tales, and even cutting-edge technology.
When it opened as the “National D-Day Museum,” it focused on the amphibious invasion of Normandy. But why in New Orleans? The city or its attractions are not usually associated with WWII. Known more for its food, music, and nightlife, the “Big Easy” does have a connection to history. While some will think of it as the site of the Battle of New Orleans at the end of the War of 1812 or even as the first major occupied southern city during the American Civil War, WWII doesn’t readily come up when talking about New Orleans.
However, the city does have a strong link to the Second World War, and most notably, the Normandy invasion. The Higgins Boats, which were vital to the D-Day operations, were designed, built, and tested in New Orleans by Higgins Industries. This bit of history was the crucial when determining a home for the proposed museum.
Moreover, New Orleans was the home of noted historian Stephen Ambrose, who had spearheaded efforts to see the building of the museum. With such ties, New Orleans seemed an ideal spot.
Located in the Central Business District, the National World War II Museum highlights the sacrifices and contributions made by the United States during the Second World War. While the original emphasis was specifically on the D-Day landings and the Battle of Normandy, it was clear from almost the beginning that the museum would not be limited to just this one event. Instead the museum’s focus expanded to cover America’s role in the Second World War.
In 2003 the museum was designated by the U.S. Congress as “America’s National World War II Museum.” The mission statement now addresses the American experience in World War II. It maintains a lasting affiliation with the Smithsonian Institution.
The Museum also endured tragedy, as it — like much of the city — was affected by Hurricane Katrina, which ravaged New Orleans in the fall of 2005. As a result, the Museum was actually closed for more than two months. When it did re-open, it proclaimed “We Have Returned” — evoking General Douglas MacArthur’s vow and eventual return to the Philippines.
Visiting the National World War II Museum is akin to stepping back in time. The main hall is filled with a collection of WWII-era vehicles including an Army Jeep and half-track. Several aircraft hang from the ceiling including a Supermarine Spitfire, Messerschmitt Bf 109, and a Douglas C-47 Skytrain — the latter being the main transport aircraft that was used to deliver paratroopers to Normandy on D-Day.
The main attraction in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion building is, of course, the reproduction of an LCVP — the Landing Craft Vehicle Personnel — or Higgins boat. It was this type of craft, built in New Orleans, that carried the thousands of Allied soldiers to the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. More than 100 volunteers, including former employees of A.J. Higgins, Inc, the New Orleans shipbuilding company, utilized original WWII plans to recreate the full-scale replica.
The museum takes great pride in presenting items that have come directly from WWII veterans. This offers a greater tie to the past. Of course, as with many museums, only a fraction of the total collection and holdings are on display at any given time. The Museum rotates artifacts on display to ensure that repeat visitors find something new and exciting.
The Museum collects artifacts from all branches of the services as well as from all ranks. It truly tells the very personal experience of the American GI. The rotating exhibits demonstrate that while WWII preserved our nation’s freedom, the fight must continue.
945 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70130
Hours: Friday 9:00 am–5:00 pm
Closed major holidays
Phone: (504) 528-1944 • www.nationalww2museum.org/
Museum admission is $28 for adults; $24 for seniors ages 65-80; $18 for students or military with ID. WWII veterans are admitted free.