Why New Orleans Is Home to the National WWII Museum

The National WWII Museum will celebrate its 21st birthday this June 6, 2021. The museum originated in 2000, on the 56th anniversary of D-Day as the D-Day Museum. However, by 2003, Congress dubbed it the National WWII Museum, making it the official WWII Museum of America. It is also a Smithsonian Institution affiliated museum, which allows it to share collections and artifacts with various Smithsonian Institutions. 

Why Is the National WWII Museum in New Orleans?

The museum was created to showcase the amphibious invasion in Normandy, focusing on the Higgins boats used in the attack. New Orleans was chosen as the museum’s site because the Higgins boats were developed in New Orleans by Higgins Industries. Plus, NOLA resident, war historian, author, and University of New Orleans history professor Stephen Ambrose pushed for the creation of a WWII Museum. All of these elements came together to make New Orleans a natural fit for the home of the National WWII Museum.

New Orleans During WWII

During WWII, New Orleans flourished. The Great Depression had hit the city hard with soaring unemployment rates, but WWII brought industry back to the city. Higgins Industries was one of the many plants that provided individuals in New Orleans with jobs. During the war, more than 30,000 New Orleanians were employed by Higgins Industries, working to craft the Higgins boats used during the amphibious Normandy invasion. 

New Orleans drew in many visitors during WWII, most of them servicemen. Many were stationed at the various camps in the city, so New Orleans welcomed them with open arms, dances, bars, and even a program that offered servicemen the chance to eat Sunday dinner at the home of a native New Orleanian. 

The National WWII Museum Today

Today, The WWII Museum welcomes around 700,000 visitors annually. In 2017, it broke its record for yearly visitors receiving over 706,000 people through its doors. In March of 2018, the museum welcomed a staggering 100,592 individuals in one month! 

The museum sits on six acres of land and comprises five different pavilions that house its various exhibits. It has evolved into a space telling the story of America in WWII through oral histories, collections, exhibits, and multimedia experiences. 

Visitors will encounter thousands of artifacts while on tour through the WWII Museum. There are actually 250,000 artifacts at the museum, though many are kept safe in storage for research. A wide variety of the oral histories and photographs on display in the museum are also available for viewing through its Digital Collection online. There is even an original Higgins boat on-site, though volunteers have restored it based on original blueprints and some original parts. 

Solomon Victory Theater

One of the staples of the WWII Museum is its Solomon Victory Theater. Every day, the theater screens Beyond All Boundaries, a “4D journey through the war that changed the world.” This film is only shown in the WWII Museum and was both produced and narrated by Tom Hanks. It depicts the battles of WWII in 4D, using vibrating seats, effects, and various lighting and sound techniques to create an immersive viewing experience. 

Final Mission: USS Tang

The museum also features Final Mission: USS Tang Submarine Experience, another interactive experience for visitors. Visitors board the “USS Tang,” reliving its last battle in WWII. The experience accommodates 27 visitors at a time, each of which is given a name of an actual crewmember from the USS Tang and certain tasks to perform throughout the battle. By the end, visitors learn whether or not their crew member perished in the battle or survived after Japanese captivity. 

Additional Pavillions at the National WWII Museum

Visitors can also enjoy the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the Campaigns of Courage, the Hall of Democracy, and the US Freedoms Pavilion. Each pavilion features highly unique exhibits and artifacts based on oral histories, photographs, and other primary sources detailing WWII. The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion is the museum’s original pavilion, and its atrium features the Higgins boat. 

The Campaigns of Courage pavilion explores the stories and experiences of service members abroad during WWII, focusing on Tokyo and Berlin. The Hall of Democracy is the museum’s educational outreach center and includes an extensive research library. The US Freedoms Pavilion displays actual tanks and planes from WWII so that visitors can walk right alongside them. 

Food and Entertainment

Inside the museum, visitors can also enjoy a meal in the American Sector. Tourists and NOLA residents alike can even enjoy the American Sector without paying for admission to the museum. There is even a bar menu featuring beers, wines, and cocktails. 

Visitors can also enjoy the musical performance stylings of the 1940s inside BB’s Stage Door Canteen. There is a Wartime Piano Happy Hour and performances by the Victory Belles, a vocal trio singing songs of the 1940s. Not only do the Victory Belles perform at the WWII Museum, but they also travel around the world to serenade those at different venues, events, and special occasions in three-part harmony. There is simply no shortage of things to do, see, and enjoy at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans. You could easily plan to spend a few days exploring everything it has to offer. When you’re ready to visit this impressive museum, stay in one of our comfortable French Quarter boutique hotels to truly discover all of the charms of the Big Easy.

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