I’ve put off writing about the National WWII Museum in New Orleans for several months for several reasons. The main reason is that I was ultimately disappointed by this huge attraction. Upon leaving, I wrote in my notes “exhausting but worthy”. Yes, I’m glad I saw it. But last night I couldn’t recall a single thing I saw there, including Beyond All Boundaries.
I’m in the minority here. The AAA gives the National WWII Museum a gem. TripAdvisor rated it the #3 museum in the United States when it gave out its 2015 Travelers’ Choice Awards. Last year it was #4. Only the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City and the Art Institute of Chicago were ranked higher. Some sources say it’s the #1 attraction in New Orleans.
The past. The National WWII Museum, a Smithsonian affiliate, was dedicated and opened in the year 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. It’s founder was writer/historian Stephen Ambrose. It’s in New Orleans because this city was home to Higgins Industries. Dwight Eisenhower said, “If Higgins had not designed and built those LCVPs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different.” This small company’s contribution to our WWII victory was incalculable because their boats allowed the United States to mount amphibious invasions. Higgins’ boats not only took soldiers to the action, they also delivered jeeps and put tanks directly on beaches. Eisenhower called Andrew Jackson Higgins “the man who won the war for us”.
The present. From a narrow focus on D-Day, this museum expanded to tell the story of World War II in several pavilions. It’s focused on gigantism. I still have the plastic dogtag I was given during the Train Car Experience in which my seat shook to simulate a moving train. Aboard, I was invited to access personal stories with the tag. One brochure boasted about The National WWII Museum’s 304 virtual student field trips and said it has the largest member base of any museum in the United States. Perhaps if I had 2+ years to absorb the 7,200 oral histories it has collected instead of 4 hours to see as much as I could, I’d have a very different impression. Beyond All Boundaries says it all for me. This 4-D extravaganza of a movie attempted to overwhelm the audience like an ultra superheroes blockbuster with 9 projectors, 27 speakers, special effect snow falls, etc. It was narrated by Tom Hanks and used the voices of about 30 famous actors. It promised to spellbind, but I was glad when it was over.
The future. The National World War II Museum is frothing about its capital campaign called The Road to Victory etc. This will allow The National WWII Museum to tell “the entire story of the American Experience in World War II”. When completed in 2017, $325 million will have been spent to quadruple its size. The Liberation Pavilion opens in late 2017. Visitors to it will be inundated with information about the postwar years that will connect them, it assures, to our country’s future. Is that even possible?