Did you know that one of the largest World War II museums is located in New Orleans?
Before we visited New Orleans, we had never heard of the National WWII Museum before. A coworker recommended it to me and I’m glad he did.
I’m a history buff so it’s easy to sell me on a World War II museum. Katie isn’t the type to sit through a History Channel documentary and then choose to watch five more. It turns out, you don’t need to be a history buff to enjoy the museum.
The National WWII Museum
As the name suggests, the museum focuses on the American experience in World War II. If you’re looking for something that approaches it from all sides, don’t look for that here.
The museum is split into several buildings. The first is the original museum building, the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion. It’s where you buy your tickets and check out my favorite exhibit there, the Arsenal of Democracy.
The Solomon Victory Theater is where they house a 4D movie as well as an interactive submarine crew experience.
The third building, and one of the better ones, houses exhibits that follow a timeline of the American theaters of war: The Road to Berlin and The Road to Tokyo.
Next up is the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. This is where they house the tanks, trucks, and planes.
Finally, there is the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion. This is described by the museum as a space to learn how “STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) helped solve some of World War II’s toughest problems.”
The Arsenal of Democracy
We started off our tour in the main building in the Arsenal of Democracy exhibit. From the museum’s website:
“Allied victory was an epic undertaking fueled by stateside industry, ingenuity, and the labor of millions of patriotic Americans. Through multimedia and interactive displays, and drawing on artifacts and oral histories from the Museum’s extensive collections, The Arsenal of Democracy creates countless opportunities for visitors to make personal connections with the men and women who helped win the war.”
This was a fascinating exhibit tracking the rise of the American economy and military from practically nothing to a world superpower. Before the war, we had a poor excuse for a military and weren’t equipped to get into a war if it came to us.
Once WWII began, we started ramping up our industry to help out Britain, and grew our peacetime army.
This exhibit approaches the Homefront experience for all different groups of people. The typical white male experience that history tends to focus on, the reception of African-Americans in the military and how it contrasted with their rights at home, Asian-American internment, and women’s role in industry while men were overseas and how it got the Women’s Movement of the 60s and 70s rolling.
We allotted ourselves about three and a half hours to see the museum. We weren’t even finished with this exhibit by the time the museum closed so we ended up buying a second-day extension so we could go back and see everything else.
The Road to Berlin
This exhibit follows the timeline of the American experience in the European Theater of the war. All of the major battles are addressed.
It goes from North Africa, to Italy, leading up to the fall of Hitler. It was done really well, and is probably the other main exhibit all visitors would be interested in seeing.
The Road to Tokyo
While the Road to Berlin is probably traditionally the most interesting of the two exhibits, the Road to Tokyo is another must.
Personally, I was a little disappointed by this exhibit. While it addressed the insane amount of casualties suffered during all of the super long battles, it felt like it didn’t get the attention that the Road to Berlin received.
The Road to Berlin was set up in a clear line and easy to follow. The Road to Tokyo had open rooms and didn’t direct the visitor along as clearly.
Most people don’t know that much about what Japan was up to before they attacked the United States at Pearl Harbor. The museum briefly mentions Imperial Japan’s every-growing hold over the Asian continent but, for an audience that knows little about it, they should expand on it some more.
Katie was surprised to learn that the Japanese at the time viewed Emperor Hirohito as a deity, and their devotion to him and willingness to die for him was at the intensity that it was.
The exhibit doesn’t make the Imperial Japanese army out to be as much of a “bad guy” as its parallel exhibit does for the Nazis. Both armies committed unspeakable atrocities on their conquered foes.
The Pacific Theater is more difficult to teach in a way that sticks with people. The majority of that war consisted of island hopping to various islands scattered throughout the Pacific Ocean. There’s no clear direction, nor do those islands mean much to the casual learner.
It didn’t have the same heroic liberation of Nazi-occupied allies and fanfare that the European War had.
In my opinion, the Pacific Theater was more of an American war than the European Theater.
Growing up, I knew a lot more veterans that fought against the Japanese than those that fought against the Germans, so I am surprised that the museum didn’t give it the same focus as the Road to Berlin.
Beyond All Boundaries
With our second-day extension, we decided to buy a ticket to view the Tom Hank’s produced movie, Beyond All Boundaries.
The movie is basically an overview of the war narrated by Tom Hanks. It does a good job of summarizing the war as it moved along, and does a lot of globe jumping between both sides of the war.
The 4D aspect is because there are moments where the theater fills with fake smoke, or flashing lights and rumbling seats.
From the website:
Elements of Beyond All Boundaries may aggravate certain medical conditions. These elements include loud noises, flashing lights, fog effects, and sudden chair movements. Stationary seating is available.
It’s not the most informative video, but it presents the facts in an interesting way.
The Boeing Center
The Boeing Center sounded really cool. We could see the actual vehicles from the war!
It turns out, the main floor only had two vehicles in it, and a lot of unused open space. You can take a staircase or elevator up to walkways that criss-cross around the building to get some up-close views of some of the airplanes they have in the building. That was pretty cool to see.
Overall though, it seems like this building has a lot of wasted space.
John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion
Finally, there is the STEM focus.
It’s not another exhibit where you walk around and read about the tons of amazing scientific and technical advancements WWII helped usher in.
Instead, there’s a few more vehicles there, with descriptions about their scientific advancements, and a few interactive things for children.
If you have kids, it’s worth a stop, but if you don’t, you’ll be okay not stopping in.
I know I had a lot of gripes about the museum. The Road to Tokyo, the Boeing Center, and the Restoration Pavilion had a lot of wasted potential. The museum also doesn’t have the most upfront guide for what to see first or where to go.
Despite that, we loved this museum and want you to love it too! Because of that, my recommendation is to only check out the Arsenal of Democracy exhibit and the two “Road” exhibits. They are the more traditional “exhibit” set-ups and are loaded with information.
You can leave there confident that you were well informed about the American experience in a war that completely reshaped our history and left us as the top global power for the rest of the century.
After spending several hours in the museum, you’ll probably be hungry. Check out a few places we ate at during our trip.
The museum is located at 945 Magazine Street, New Orleans.
Hours: Open daily 9am-5pm
General Admission: $27 adults, $23.50 seniors, $17.50 students/military/children. $6 second-day pass (requires general admission purchase). Free for WWII veterans.
The Beyond All Boundaries and Final Mission submarine attractions are each $6 in addition to your general admission ticket.