We were in New Orleans for Remembrance Day, the 11th of November ( in the USA they call it Veteran’s Day) so we decided to go to the National World War II Museum.
New Orleans may seem a strange place to put a museum dedicated to war – it is after all the home of jazz, creole cooking and good times.
But for many US servicemen and women in WWII the Port of New Orleans was the last bit of the USA they saw before sailing to the theatres of conflict. If and when they returned home, New Orleans was the place they returned to.
The National World War II Museum, New Orleans
Inside the very modern main building of the museum there are two exhibitions – each dedicated to the fighting in Europe and the fighting in The Pacific. Both sections are incredibly detailed with artefacts, interactive sound and video displays and photographs that show the true brutality of the war.
In 2012, I travelled to Normandy with my mate Jim to check out the D-Day beaches, one of which his Grandfather landed on as a British infantryman. It was a fascinating trip and as I walked through the exhibit devoted to that feat of arms on the 6th of June 1944, I recognised many of the places I had been in the black and white photographs displayed on the walls.
Dozens of members of my family died in the Pacific war so that area was particularly hard to stomach. It ends with a fascinating exploration of how and why the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan. It leaves you reeling at the thought of so much death, savagery and destruction.
I felt the exhibits lacked a lot of context though.
They told the American side of the story and very seldom mentioned the allies that also fought. I thought this was a real let down because it leaves visitors with the impression that America won the war almost single handed when this is not the truth at all.
I can understand that it is an American museum, telling American stories. But the Imperial War Museum in London manages to tell the story of every conflict it displays from every angle and leaves visitors far better informed.
Remembering those who fought for our freedom
That said, we witnessed a beautiful piece of military honour when a moments’ silence was held at 11am.
Veterans from across the USA had gathered in the main hall of the museum and a Marine Honour Guard carried the Star Spangled Banner in as the national anthem was sung. The veterans stood at attention, saluted the flag and remembered their fallen comrades.
The more the years pass by fewer and fewer veterans of WWII attend the service and our links to the past are fading. The work of museums like The National World War II Museum is very important in preserving their memory and the harsh lessons that conflict taught the world.