One of the top-rate museums in the nation is the World War II museum located in the warehouse district of New Orleans. It is a large, industrial-looking series of buildings from the outside, but on the inside, a great deal of care and craftsmanship is on display to preserve the American angle on that grand and terrible war.
The Road to Tokyo
On the top level, you can explore the Pacific theater. It starts with some key players for that war and then immediately thrusts you into the hull of a ship. Each room in each different stage is a recreation of some sort of military vehicle interior or environment associated with that part of the war. For example, for the section that covered the island hopping portion of the war is themed as a tropical island, complete with fake sand, palm trees, and military supply crates strewn about. Going through the history of the Pacific theater was very intense, which I think is a good way to summarize the entire museum. The one thing I did notice was the lack of attention to the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima. I was really surprised that they were just a small footnote for the “End of the War” section of the trail. There was also no mention of the firebombings of Tokyo. Very peculiar.
The Road to Berlin
On the bottom level, you can explore the European theater. This had some of the most impressive set pieces and artifacts out there: You get a nice overview of what happened in Africa as well at the very start, complete with desert scenes and old jeeps with rusted wheels. You move then through Europe: the storming of Normandy beach, the cold push through Hürtgen Woods, and finally, the capture of Berlin. It was overwhelming the tragedy of that war, and the environment captures that bleakness quite well in the museum: Dimly lit walkways with brightly lit pieces and movies that show highlights from major battles. The only thing I found strange, again, was the exclusion of the fire bombings carried out by the allies, particularly the bombing of Dresden. The only mention of the city was a small city sign and the number of miles and kilometers to reach it.
The cool thing about the museum is that at the very start, you can get a plastic card known as a dog tag to carry with you. Once activated, you can select the story of a specific servicemember or have one randomly assigned to you. As you walk through the museum, you can tap your dog tags on various displays to access pieces of your soldier’s story, digital artifacts, and testimonials and oral histories that have been gathered through the years. It’s a bit like a scavenger hunt, and I really was into it. The only problem is that there is just an overwhelming amount of information that it might take an entire day to navigate just one of the Roads. Also, the constant gunfire and bombing noises, the graphic videos (particularly haunting were the suicides on Okinawa and the bombed shores of Normandy), and the crowdedness of the museum was very stressful. By the end, my heart was sunk and I felt emotionally shaken. It is a powerful experience but one that might be experienced in small doses over a couple of days.