NEW ORLEANS - My chair shakes and the floor beneath it begins to sway. A chilling wind swirls around me and out of nowhere snowflakes start falling. My spine tingles at the sound of gunfire and loud explosions. I look up and the nose of a B52 Bomber drops from the steel sky above. The rumbling of large tanks makes me shutter with excitement. Then suddenly, there’s a blinding flash of light and all goes quiet.
I’ve just experienced World War II – in 4D.
Welcome to The National WWII Museum, the most exciting storehouse of history ever built, where visitors get a front row seat into the “war that changed the world” through a series of stunning exhibitions and the innovative 4D movie produced and narrated by Academy Award-winning actor Tom Hanks.
The 40-minute movie, entitled Beyond All Boundaries, is just one of the many highlights visitors experience when they tour the unique military museum, which has access to some treasured relics from WWII thanks to its affiliation with the world renowned Smithsonian Institute in Washington.
Left: The Boeing pavilion is very entertaining. Right: Heavy guns remind us of fierce WWII battles.
The enlightening movie – there’s also an eight-minute pre-show film– stirs emotions with some rare and compelling battle footage and human accounts – letters sent back home by soldiers and read by actors - that showcase the horrors of World War II and the carnage inflicted on the world by Japan and Germany, which resulted in over 60 million lives being lost.
The intriguing movie is presented from an American viewpoint and the 4D effects come in the form of physical structures - props like the above mentioned B52 Bomber nose cone and Nazi guard towers, among them – appearing on stage to add depth to the film playing behind them.
The sensations created by the shaking theatre chairs, cold air and falling snow are chilling reminders of the brutal conditions endured by Allied soldiers during the European campaign.
The film takes a “no holds barred” approach to the facts and some disturbing images do appear on screen. The film brings back horrific memories, especially for WWII veterans in the crowd - I could hear the elderly gentleman sitting directly behind me sobbing as pictures of the D-Day landing appeared.
Left: Vintage WWII jeeps dot the museum. Middle: Visitors are guided around the giant WWII museum complex by informative displays. Right: Pinup pictures are what GIs kept to remind them of the girls back home.
The film traces events that sparked World War II, from the invasion of Poland by Hitler’s Nazi army and Japan’s brutal attack on China, to the bombing of Pearl Harbor and America’s entry into the War. It concludes with Hitler’s suicide and the flash of light - the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima that led to Japan’s surrender.
America’s National WWII Museum has grown from a single building that opened 10 years ago to a multi-pavilion complex that includes the state-of-the-art Solomon Victory Theatre, the Campaigns of Courage building, the U.S. Freedom Pavilion, the John E. Kushner Restoration building and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, which looks out on Andrew Higgins Drive, named in honour of the man who is responsible for the museum being placed in New Orleans in the first place.
Higgins, you see, was the producer of the flat bottom boat which he designed to work in the swamps of Louisiana and were later modified to become landing craft that were used so effectively to ferry troops to the beaches of France in the D-Day Landing.
Dwight Eisenhower, the Allied commander at the time who later became U.S. president, was later quoted as saying that Higgins’ boats were “what won the war for the Allies.”
Left: Giant aircraft hang from steel skies. Right: Visitors are entertained with films and photos from WWII and the 4-D main movie is touching for everyone.
Every building at the National WWII Museum has some fascinating displays – my favourites were the Road to Berlin exhibition which chronicles the Nazi’s last stand battle against the rapidly advancing U.S. Army in Belgium’s Arden Forest; and the war planes that hang from the rafters in the Freedom Pavilion, which is sponsored by the Boeing corporation.
Youngsters are intrigued by the interactive displays, especially the one where you use “Dog Tags” - you get them when you enter - to hear the stories of veterans who were part of the European and Pacific campaigns.
To truly appreciate all this amazing museum has to offer, visitors should set aside at least four hours to tour it.
In the Freedom Pavilion, visitors can view the vintage aircraft from fourth floor catwalks and also enjoy a submarine experience in the USS Tang display – very cool.
In the Kushner Restoration Pavilion, you can see the Higgins’ boats, dubbed the PT-305 during WWII, being brought back to their original glory days.
Left: There are many WWII planes on display. Right: The museum is constantly being expanded.
The museum’s gift shop has lots of toy aircraft and military mementoes so you’ll remember the experience long after your visit, and the American Sector Restaurant and Bar has far better grub than the WWII soldiers were supplied.
The museum is constantly being expanded to present even more displays and exhibitions.
The National WWII Museum has been voted the No. 1 museum in the United States and the sixth best in the world and after one visit, you’ll know why.
The National WWII Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. It’s closed Christmas Eve and Day Mardi Gras Day and Thanksgiving. The main entrance is located on Andrew Higgins Drive in the Warehouse District of New Orleans. There’s an additional charge to watch the movie Beyond All Boundaries but it’s well worth the few extra dollars. For more information on the museum, go to www.nationalww2museum.or. For tourist information on New Orleans, go to www.neworleanscvb.com / Air Canada offers daily service to New Orleans from Toronto. Go to www.aircanada.com for details.