NEW ORLEANS (December 8, 2014) — Just 70 years ago the fate of the world hung by a thread. America was fighting a two-front war against Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan. Titanic battles, on a scale never seen before or since, blazed across two vast oceans and three huge continents. Our fear was great. Our anxiety real. Our victory was far from certain. If we won, we would preserve our freedom.
“But if we fail,” Winston Churchill warned in 1940 when Britain faced Hitler alone, “then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age.”
“The stakes really were that high,” says Dr. Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, President and CEO of The National WWII Museum. “The gigantic struggle from 1939 to 1945 was one on which civilization and the future depended.”
Now the story of that struggle unfolds inside the new Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters pavilion opening December 13, 2014 at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans. Assembled for the first time in one space is the epic story of America's citizen soldiers on the battlefields. Visitors will discover how the war that changed the world was fought and won through the words and deeds of the participants themselves—those called the Greatest Generation.
They knew what was at stake. Many paid for it in blood. More than 416,000 Americans died in combat during WWII, and Campaigns of Courage conveys the anguish of their sacrifice and the courage behind their valor with a narrative sweep and power made all the more compelling because it is real.
Covering warfronts from North Africa to the South Pacific to the heart of Germany, Campaigns of Courage will employ digital technology, personal stories, iconic artifacts and immersive environments to explore how average Americans rose to vanquish their foes in the most important event of the 20th century.
Designed to be the heart of the visitor experience, the 32,000-square-foot pavilion will house two main exhibits. Opening December 13, 2014, Road to Berlin: European Theater Galleries will present the larger context of the European Front, detailing what preceded and followed the climactic D-Day landing at Normandy. The second exhibit, Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries, will open in December 2015.
Inside Road to Berlin, visitors will encounter an eye-level perspective of the war through immersive environments such as recreations of Tunisian deserts, Norman hedgerows and Belgian forests. Innovative uses of technology will also play a key role in telling the story of the how Axis forces were vanquished. For instance, in the Air War interactive exhibit, visitors will be able to experience individual bombing runs, gaining a better understanding of the importance of American aerial might.
“Campaigns of Courage will take visitors into the minds of the generals and leaders on both sides,” Mueller says. “They will understand exactly how we secured the Atlantic and Pacific sea lanes, mobilized American industry, achieved control of the air, planned and executed amphibious landings and harnessed powerful new technologies for the wartime effort. It will be an unforgettable experience.”
Personal artifacts throughout the galleries will reveal the war’s human side. Most poignant among them will be a display inspired by the post D-Day observations of war correspondent Ernie Pyle. A recreation of a section of Omaha Beach is littered with actual items left behind by soldiers who never made it past the shoreline, including bars of soap, unopened cigarette boxes and helmets from soldiers on both sides of the fight. Other artifacts, such as diaries, will become more accessible than ever through touch-screen technology. The combined result will be both highly educational and deeply emotional.
The Campaigns of Courage pavilion will also debut one of the Museum’s most impactful interactive elements to date. The Dog Tag Experience begins in a recreated train station where Museum visitors will be issued a digitally-enabled dog tag resembling those given to new GIs. Each will contain a unique identification chip and the opportunity to unlock the story of an actual war participant. Kiosks located throughout the pavilion will highlight pivotal moments of the war through the eyes of these 29 individuals. Visitors will become emotionally invested in their individual’s story as they learn about both routine and dramatic wartime experiences—and find whether or not their service member returned home to loved ones.
“Personal narratives embody the human dimension of the exhibits inside Campaigns of Courage and, through the use of technology, bring to life the story of WWII,” Mueller said. “The digital dog tags bring home the courage and sacrifice of the war’s participants in a powerful way by connecting visitors to the journey of real servicemen and women. And, after leaving us, guests can go online to continue their exploration and discover even more. It’s history that will follow you home.”
Opening in December 2015, Road to Tokyo: Pacific Theater Galleries will trace the path that led from Pearl Harbor to Tokyo Bay by way of New Guinea and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Burma and the islands of the Pacific. Exhibits will explore the evolving strategy for fighting in the Pacific, examining the cultural differences and unimaginable range of extreme conditions that confronted troops. Throughout the galleries, artifacts large and small will connect visitors to the fierce struggle in the Pacific, including uniforms, personal effects and an authentic restoration of a P-40 Warhawk—painted with the iconic markings of the Flying Tigers.
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 www.nationalww2museum.org. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or on Facebook.