From the homefront to the battlefield, The National World War II Museum engages visitors of all ages throughout their three buildings and many hands-on, interactive exhibits.
“We are the official World War II Museum for the United States, and that’s a big responsibility with a lot of stories to tell,” says Kacey Hill, director of communications.
With such a wealth of information to digest it’s easy for any first-time visitor to feel overwhelmed. That is why both Hill and museum curator Kimberly Guise advise visitors to take some time to research their experience and plan accordingly.
“Visitors should choose their own adventure based on their own connection to the war – maybe their father or relative was involved in certain aspects – and then focus on those areas first before exploring the rest of what the museum has to offer,” advises Hill.
Guise recommends visitors download the free “National WWII Museum Guide” app onto their smart phones. The app not only helps you navigate your way around the museum, it also suggests itineraries depending on how much time you have. It gives you access to listing of events, oral history, video content and descriptions and images of the exhibits.
Visitors can explore the permanent exhibits of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which displays fully restored Warbirds, U.S.-made aircraft and vehicles of war, including the M4 Sherman tank; gain greater insight into what it was like in the water in the USS Tang Submarine Experience; or put your morals and ethics to the test in the interactive “What Would You Do?.”
After viewing all the beautifully restored aircraft and vehicles, visitors can see how it’s done at the Kushner Restoration Pavilion. With glass exterior walls, visitors have a permanent behind the scene view of the current multi-year restoration project, the Higgins Industries PT boat, PT-305.
“The PT boat is a highlight for me as it is one of most spectacular artifacts,” says Guise. “We have one tour at noon daily, which is roughly an hour long.”
The Louisiana Memorial Pavilion features short films, galleries filled with artifacts, photographs and maps depicting D-Day and what it was like on the battlefield. Closer to home, Hill recommends starting a visit with the museum’s new Train Car Experience.
Inside the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion is the special exhibit gallery, which is currently featuring “From Barbed Wire to Battlefields: Japanese American Experience in WWII,” on display until Oct. 12.
“The ‘Japanese American Experiences’ exhibit has some fantastic artifacts. We don’t have a wealth of them in our own collection, so we have borrowed from a range of places, including 16 pieces from the Smithsonian collection,” says Guise.
Over 33,000 Japanese Americans fought for the U.S., while the very nation they were defending put Americans with Japanese ancestry – men, women and children – behind barbed wire in 10 War Relocation Centers. The exhibit features oral histories, photographs and artifacts of what life was like for Japanese Americans on the home front and the battlefield.
Showing exclusively at the museum is Beyond all Boundaries, a 4D film narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks, showing daily on the hour starting at 10 a.m. in the Solomon Victory Theater. The film gives first-person accounts mixed with special effects and animation, providing viewers with an overview of the war.
“Beyond all Boundaries is under an hour long, and it gives you an overview of the war and conveys the global conflict on many fronts,” says Hill.
In the Malcolm Forbes Theater, Price for Peace a documentary on American youth and how they dealt with being thrust into war and D-Day Remembered are two 45-minute short films that run daily.; film times are available on the museum’s website.
Get hands on and interactive at the museum
For greater depth, visitors can take a variety of tours offered both daily and weekly. Some tours provide an in-depth look at certain aspects of the museum, while others provide a general overview of the museum in its entirety. Additionally, every month there’s a listing of lectures and discussions on a diverse range of topics themed around current exhibits in which the public are welcome to participate. The museum’s website’s “What’s On” page lists specific times, dates and topics.
Visitors can get an understanding of what infantrymen had to wear and carry at White Glove Wednesdays. Held every Wednesday, from 9 a.m. to noon, visitors can pick up and try on a 40-pound infantryman’s backpack, as well as original and reproduction helmets, uniforms, boots, packs and other personal equipment.
Also on Wednesdays throughout the summer, the Victory Belles perform their show “Spirit of America,” featuring folk, bluegrass and patriotic-themed American songs. Visitors will also enjoy the American Sector restaurant and the Stage Door Canteen; buffet seating begins at 11:45 a.m.
Families can camp out underneath a B-17 at the museum for the Family Overnight in the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. This overnight adventure is for families with children aged 7 to 12 years. Campers can participate in scavenger hunts, teamwork challenges and experience a USO show.
Families must pre-register for the Family Overnight, offered this month on Sat., July 19 at 6:30 p.m. to Sun., July 20 at 7 a.m.
On the third Saturday of every month from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m., the Living History Corps, the museum’s World War II reenactors, wear uniforms and carry equipment of both the Allied and Axis forces and tell stories and share their knowledge of the day-to-day lives of the military men and women.
If you are a game master of any board or miniature game simulating a historic American military action, then join in the battles at the museum. The new “Heat of Battle VIII” will be played out at the museum from August 8 to 10.
The National World War II Museum
945 Magazine St. (Entrance is on Andrew Higgins Drive), 528-1944
General Admission starts at $22. Discounts for seniors, students and military personnel. Free for WWII veterans. Second day tickets available for $6.
Open 7 days a week, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Visit NationalWW2Museum.org for more information.