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The National WWII Museum Celebrates 15 Years of Honoring and Preserving the Stories of the Greatest Generation

NEW ORLEANS (June 2, 2015) — On June 6, 2015, The National WWII Museum will simultaneously commemorate the 71st anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy and the 15th anniversary of its opening as The National D-Day Museum in 2000. After receiving Congressional designation to become America's WWII Museum in 2004, the institution launched a major campaign in order to expand into a world-class educational institution that preserves the stories of the Greatest Generation, while benefiting and inspiring future generations.

Museum president and CEO Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller recalls the "daunting challenge" of creating a national institution based on the dream of Stephen E. Ambrose, Mueller's longtime colleague at the University of New Orleans. "He had a deep understanding of the need to tell the stories of the many men and women who put their lives on the line in that war," Mueller said of his friend and fellow historian. "Steve founded The National D-Day Museum not only to bring these stories to life, but to make clear that we, as a country, owe our freedom to these servicemembers of the WWII generation."

On June 6, 2000, Ambrose's original vision came to life—The National D-Day Museum opened its doors in the city of New Orleans, the very place Andrew Higgins designed, built and tested the landing craft that were vital to the war's many D-Day invasions. Ambrose passed away before Congress designated the institution the official National WWII Museum, but the Museum's programs and exhibits attracted a wide audience—and the future looked bright. Unfortunately, disaster struck in the form of Hurricane Katina the following year. While the Museum was spared flooding, the city of New Orleans faced devastation, with dim prospects for attracting tourists who sustain cultural institutions. The Museum's future suddenly seemed in doubt.

Due to bleak conditions in New Orleans, Mueller asked the Museum's national board to hold an emergency fly-in meeting in Dallas, Texas. "We had to act fast," said Mueller. "We made some tough decisions—the Museum was forced to cut staff and we had to reevaluate the feasibility of the expansion campaign without any funding source aside from a national member base and some generous donors. Through this effort, the board made the courageous decision to eliminate some of the planned pavilions and preserve the campaign for a National WWII Museum, even if it would take longer to build."

The board directed its chief executive to reopen the Museum as soon as possible, tapping the strength and resilience of the same American spirit that made victory possible during the war. "We reopened in December 2005, and Museum Trustees committed to develop a national education outreach program," said Mueller. "We were all determined to take the WWII story into classrooms and universities through distance learning technologies while the Museum and the city recovered and rebuilt."

Government resources and leadership at all levels helped spur the Museum's recovery. The institution secured state and federal contributions along with private help to sustain the Road to Victory Capital Campaign, which would ultimately set a fundraising goal of $325 million. The Museum gained momentum with the opening of The Solomon Victory Theater Complex in 2009, which features Beyond All Boundaries, a 4D journey through World War II narrated by executive producer Tom Hanks.

In 2011, the John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion opened its doors, giving the public a permanent, behind-the-scenes view of the restoration and preservation of priceless WWII macro artifacts. A $20 million grant from Congress combined with a $15 million gift from The Boeing Company, led to the opening of The US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center in 2013. The US Freedom Pavilion tells the story of Americans at war–on land, in the air and at sea–through exhibits, images and experiences that engage the senses, the mind and the heart. In 2014, the first phase of Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters, which explores how the war was won, opened with Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries. Completion of the second phase is set for this December with the launch of Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries.

New galleries, innovative education programs and online access to digitized archival materials—including oral histories gathered from veterans around the country—work together in advancing the Museum's vital mission. "The expanded Museum is not simply a display of artifacts—we are creating a series of engrossing multi-media exhibits that allow visitors to experience the story of World War II as never before," Mueller said. "Through advanced technology, immersive environments and personal artifacts, we enable visitors of all ages to explore the American journey through the war years, whether on the Home Front or the front lines of battle."

Since 2004, the Museum has raised $245 million of the $325 million needed to complete the Road to Victory Capital Expansion. When finished in 2018, the project will have quadrupled the size of the original D-Day Museum, adding state-of-the-art programs and exhibits, as well as collections, conservation and education spaces. The expansion will include building the Liberation Pavilion, which will explore legacy of the war and fruits of victory, as well as the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, an iconic architectural structure made possible by a recent gift of $20 million from longtime Museum Trustee and former Board Chairman Boysie Bollinger.

The gift by Boysie Bollinger and wife Joy ranked among top donations in the country to a non-profit organization in 2015, and represents the largest private gift ever received by the Museum. The Canopy, which Bollinger calls "the crowning glory" of the Museum's expansion, will symbolize the hope and promise of freedom unleashed by Allied victory and the end of World War II hostilities. Additional future projects include development of the Hall of Democracy pavilion to house outreach, education and research initiatives, as well as a stand-alone hotel and conference center for visiting students, teachers and scholars.

Today the Museum receives nearly 600,000 visitors annually—quite a leap from 67,603 recorded in the year following Hurricane Katrina. The institution is rated among the world's top museums by TripAdvisor users and maintains a national membership of more than 130,000, the largest of any US museum.

"Steve would be stunned, but not surprised to see the scope and popularity of the Museum on its 15th anniversary," said Mueller. "He always believed Americans could achieve anything when, as everyone always said during the most trying times of World War II, 'We're all in this together.'"

The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American experience in the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America's National WWII Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage, and sacrifice of the men and women who served on the battlefront and the Home Front. For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or on Facebook.


Commemorating the 71st Anniversary of D-Day and The National WWII Museum's 15th Anniversary

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Higgins Boat Tours – Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
Throughout the day, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Visitors will be afforded the extremely rare opportunity to board the Museum LCVP, or Higgins Boat, as Museum staff members explain the craft's role in the D-Day invasion.

D-Day Remembered – Louisiana Memorial Pavilion: Forbes Theater
Throughout the day, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Experience the news of D-Day as those on the Home Front did through newsreels and film footage of the day.

Hands-On History – Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
Throughout the day, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Curators will exhibit uniforms and equipment used by American and German soldiers during World War II. Visitors will be able to hold and try on original and replica helmets, uniforms, boots, packs and other personal equipment.

Oral History Showcase: Stories of D-Day Veterans – H. Mortimer Favrot Orientation Center
Throughout the day, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Hear first-person accounts of the day with video oral histories from D-Day veterans via the Museum's collection.

Living History Corps and Artifacts from the War in Europe – Battle Barksdale Parade Ground
Throughout the day, 9:00 am – 5:00 pm

Museum artifacts will be on display as WWII reenactors wearing the uniforms and carrying the equipment of both the Allied and Axis forces share their knowledge about the daily lives of military men and women and the broader lessons of World War II.

D-Day Briefings – Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
10:00 am and 2:00 pm

Museum historian Tommy Lofton will report on the action at Normandy 10:00 am and 2:00pm, allowing visitors to follow the progress of the Allies.

Military Band Performance – US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
10:30 am – 11:00 am

USMC Band New Orleans Brass Quintet will perform a selection of anthems, patriotic songs and marching music.

D-Day Ceremony and Museum Anniversary Celebration – US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
11:00 am – 12:00 noon

Ceremony commemorating the 71st anniversary of D-Day and reflections from President Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller, PhD, as the Museum celebrates a milestone anniversary.

The National WWII Museum's 15th Anniversary – Louisiana Memorial Pavilion
12:00 noon

Join us and enjoy a piece of cake after our Victory Belles sing "Happy Birthday."

 

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