At The National WWII Museum, we have always looked to our collections and galleries to find sources of inspiration and leadership: from everyday citizens doing their part on the battlefront and the Home Front to help defeat a common enemy, to frontline leaders making tough decisions and personal sacrifices in the face of unprecedented challenges.
Over the past couple of weeks, it’s become clear that our mission is more important now than ever. We have relevant stories and lessons to share as we all grapple with the reality of the COVID-19 pandemic and its devastating effects.
Like many organizations, we were preparing for a busy spring when we made the difficult but necessary decision to temporarily close the Museum to protect the health and wellbeing of our visitors, staff, and volunteers. Prior to our closure on March 13th, we were ready to welcome hundreds of school field trips and hundreds of thousands of visitors during what is typically our busiest season of the year. Our Educational Travel team was making final preparations to embark on 20 tours to WWII battlefields in Italy, Japan, the Philippines, and France to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the end of the war. Our new Higgins Hotel & Conference Center had just risen to the No. 1 hotel in New Orleans on TripAdvisor and was gearing up for an active spring hosting Museum visitors from across the country. And we had arranged with our partners to bring hundreds of WWII veterans, Home Front workers, and Holocaust survivors to New Orleans over the next few months to participate in our 75th anniversary commemorations.
While our exhibits are now closed, our work must continue. We have an important responsibility to provide historical insights on the challenges we’re all facing today. Through the inspiring stories of the WWII generation, we can help others understand how Americans once before responded to sudden, drastic changes to society and the economy; how manufacturers retooled production to meet the country’s new demands; and how citizens of all ages put aside their differences to make personal sacrifices to help protect the wellbeing of others.
To live up to our mission, the Museum’s team of educators, curators, and historians is significantly ramping up its outreach to audiences across the country, especially students, teachers, and parents who are now facing significant adjustments to online learning from home:
- Our WWII Media and Education Center is answering questions and providing critical support to students, teachers, and parents through an email hotline, along with an Online Teacher Resources digital library linking to curriculum guides, webinars, Electronic Field Trips, hands-on activities, and more. Last week alone, our Museum educators engaged more than 250 classrooms and nearly 6,000 students from early childhood through high school via Microsoft FlipGrid, and those efforts are just beginning.
- Live webinars geared toward students and teachers are being posted every Thursday and Friday, and the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy will host weekly live sessions with a Museum curator or historian, beginning on Wednesday, March 25 with Rob Citino, PhD, Executive Director of the Institute, discussing how the US dealt with the “new normal” after the Pearl Harbor attacks.
- Oral histories remain our most precious assets, and over the past few months, we’ve published hundreds of hours of new content online that is sure to bring inspiration and hope to our viewers. Visit ww2online.org to hear firsthand perspectives from members of the WWII generation.
- In addition to our Service on Celluloid podcast providing historical commentary on WWII films, the Museum will soon launch a new 9-part podcast series on President Truman called To The Best of My Ability, which explores what happens in the wake of President Roosevelt’s death as one of history’s most unexpected leaders is faced with tragedies, triumphs, and difficult decisions in the midst of World War II. The first episode officially launches May 8.
- In addition to publishing new original content, our teams are sharing stream-on-demand lectures and conference sessions, articles, videos, oral histories, and more on social media, our website, and via email.
- Museum staff are also providing historical context to media outlets reporting on how our country has come together before in challenging times. Last week, for instance, Dr. Citino was quoted in the USA Today story “When will coronavirus end? What wartime and human kindness can tell us about what happens next.”
And this is only the start of our digital efforts to bring the Museum to your home over the next several months. Expect to hear more from us in the coming weeks as we launch exciting new programs and online initiatives.
Over the last several days, I’ve heard from many supporters and friends across the country who are curious to learn more about the impact that the COVID-19 pandemic is having on the Museum’s operations. In addition to the closure of our Museum galleries, all staff have been instructed to work from home as we do our part to help curb community spread of the virus. Essential security and engineering staff will remain on site to keep the campus secure and functioning properly during the closure, but all others have been asked to continue their work remotely and stay healthy.
Thanks to your support, the leadership of our Board of Trustees, and the dedication of our staff and volunteers, the Museum is fortunately in a strong financial position to address our short-term critical needs. At this point, we have been able to keep all of our staff employed and paid, providing reassurance to our dedicated employees during these uncertain times.
However, this is an unprecedented crisis, and as you may know, the Museum is a private nonprofit and therefore largely relies on admission sales, Memberships, and other donations to support its operations. With the severity of the outbreak growing each day, we are preparing for significant financial challenges as the Museum faces the possibility of an extended closure and what will likely be a slow return to normal operations.
To help address these needs, our Board Chairman and WWII veteran Paul Hilliard has established a COVID-19 Response Fund and personally made the first donation.
I fully realize that this pandemic is affecting everyone in various ways, but, if you can help support our efforts during this important time, your contribution would be greatly appreciated. In the months ahead, the Response Fund will provide critical resources to ensure that the Museum is able to continue serving students, teachers, and parents when they need us most; make it possible to take care of our talented staff who work daily to preserve the stories of the WWII generation; keep our campus safe, secure, and functioning properly during the closure; and ultimately prepare the Museum for a strong reopening when it is safe to do so.
I also encourage you to join us in doing your part to combat COVID-19. Just as Americans of all ages contributed to WWII victory from the Home Front, every small individual action -- including staying home, frequently washing your hands, and offering to pick up groceries for your high-risk neighbors -- will help slow the spread of the virus. I also want to sincerely thank all those on the front lines of this pandemic -- our health care professionals, first responders, and all those performing essential functions to ensure that we are taken care of during these difficult times. My deepest appreciation to all of you for carrying on the legacy of service.
Together, we will get through this. I truly believe that our Museum’s mission and culture represent the best of our country in a time of crisis. Over the past 20 years, we have built this Museum thanks to your generous support, and with your ongoing commitment, I have no doubt that The National WWII Museum will emerge from this crisis as one of the nation’s leaders in helping rebuild the economy and reminding us all that the American spirit born in World War II continues to endure today.
We’re all in this together,
Stephen J. Watson
President & CEO