“When I come back, I’m gonna marry you, kid,” Earl told Lucille the last time he dropped her off at home before he shipped out for the second time. It was around 1944 and he was one of the 16.1 million soldiers who would fight in World War II. My grandparents truly were part of the greatest generation and each experience I have learning the history and sacrifices they made, I feel more and more connected to and thankful for them.

Recently, I was honored with the opportunity to partake in a once-in-a-lifetime experience offered by The National WWII Museum. The PT-305 boat ride experience gives visitors a true step back in time. The PT-305 is the only fully restored and fully-operational WWII PT (patrol torpedo) boat in existence. The museum offers guests the opportunity to experience the same ride and practice route these boats took when testing its speed and agility on Lake Pontchartrain before leaving on active duty.

I had seen the 1940s Andrew Higgins-created boat a few months ago during the museum’s annual “Air, Sea and Land” show. I was in awe of its size, but had no sense of all the additional information I would learn as I boarded the vessel one Friday morning.

Though fully-restored to its former glory, the PT-305 sports some new rider-friendly additions that were not available for its original 44 man crew during its 77 patrols, two invasions and three sunken vessels. As the boat took off and I sat on the nice cushioned seats, next to the safety railings, I could not have imagined being a sailor on top of that boat with no railing and definitely no cushioned seats. The boat reached 30 knots (around 35 mph) and the idea of a sailor taking a wrong step or getting too close to the edge and falling into the water, some waiting for hours before being rescued, was something I couldn’t even comprehend.

Though these boats were known for speed – sometimes getting up to 45 knots – and stealth-like qualities, the ride was not a quiet one. You’re sitting right above the engine and it roars as you glide over the lake. One of my favorite aspects, and a way to block out the noise of the boat, is the option of listening to the history and soldier’s stories that are available through headphones given out before the ride.

Listening to the audio is not required, but having a WWII sailor’s voice in your ear as you’re taking the same path they did is truly something special. The ride is about 45 minutes in total and is just the perfect amount of time. You get to listen to the story, as well as live in the moment and think about those who served on this boat.

My generation, and those to follow, all benefit from the sacrifice these men and women made so many years ago. As the privilege to speak with WWII soldiers in person lessens as the years go on, opportunities like this boat ride give us the ability to connect on a different level.

It also, personally, gives me the opportunity to connect to a grandfather and WWII soldier I was never able to meet. Earl came back from the war, married Lucille like he declared, and had six beautiful children – one of which is my mother. My grandfather died before I was born and I was never able to hear his stories. The WWII Museum, is forever honoring the memory of The Greatest Generation, and that’s something we should all experience.

Rides are available most Fridays and Saturdays throughout the year. Visit PT305.org to book your ride.