Press Release

The National WWII Museum Names Michael S. Bell Executive Director of the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy

NEW ORLEANS (March 9, 2022) The National WWII Museum in New Orleans has named Michael S. Bell, PhD (COL, USA, Ret.), as Executive Director of the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. Bell is a historian, strategist and US Army combat veteran who was commissioned in Armor following graduation from the US Military Academy at West Point. Bell joined the Museum after retiring last fall from the Department of Defense, where he had been a civilian official since retiring from the Army in 2012.

The Museum’s Jenny Craig Institute for the Study of War and Democracy is dedicated to promoting the history of World War II, the relationship between the war and America’s democratic system, and the war’s continued relevance for the world. As Executive Director, Bell leads the Institute’s team of historians and scholars in the development of research, publications, public programs, digital content and partnerships. Since its establishment in 2016, the Institute’s key initiatives have included hosting the annual International Conference on World War II among other conferences and symposia, developing and teaching online coursework through the Museum’s online master’s degree program in World War II studies with Arizona State University, partnering with the Department of Defense POW and MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) in efforts to document WWII missing-in-action cases and repatriate remains of missing service members, researching the service history of WWII veterans for their loved ones, and producing original digital content and public programs on a wide variety of WWII topics.

“As I was graduating from West Point and contemplating assignments, one of my instructors advised me to always go to a place with a mission,” said Bell. “If you are in a place with a mission, everything else will follow from that: priorities, people and resources. I am proud to now be a part of the Museum’s mission to tell the story of the American experience in World War II and what it means for all generations. The Institute has placed priority on making the war’s history and enduring legacies accessible to wide audiences, and with the incredible team of historians here at the Museum, we look forward to advancing our mission.”

After graduating from West Point, Bell was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division (Forward) in West Germany. From 1983–1986 (and again from 1998–1999), he served with the 37th Tank Battalion, which had a distinguished record during World War II. During his military career, Bell served at every level, from platoon through theater Army, as well as with US Central Command, the Joint Staff, the West Point faculty and the National Defense University. He served with regiments and divisions that all served with distinction during World War II. In addition to assignments to the 37th and 64th Armor Regiments and the 8th US Cavalry, and being attached to units such as the 1st Battalion, 16th Infantry Regiment of Omaha Beach fame, he served with the Big Red One, the 24th Infantry Division, the 1st Armored Division and the First Cavalry Division.

As a civilian faculty member at the National Defense University, he also served details to the Office of the Secretary of State and as a National Security Council Senior Director and Special Assistant to the President of the United States. Bell holds a MA and a PhD in American history from the University of Maryland College Park and a MS in national security strategy from the National Defense University, where he was a distinguished graduate of the National War College. His awards and decorations include the Distinguished Service Medal, two awards of the Defense Superior Service Medal, Bronze Star, Joint Civilian Service Commendation Award, Joint Staff Badge and Combat Action Badge.

“Mike is ideally suited to lead our team of historians in their pursuit to educate and inform audiences of all ages, in New Orleans and far beyond, about the history of World War II and its lasting legacies for America and the world today,” said Stephen J. Watson, President & CEO at The National WWII Museum. “Mike’s deep expertise, passion for WWII history and military leadership will help guide the Institute in positioning the Museum as the foremost authority on the American experience in World War II.”

The vision to create a community of scholars within the Museum dates back to the earliest formulation of the Museum’s Master Plan in 2003. The Institute for the Study of War and Democracy was launched in 2016 with the hiring of Robert M. Citino, PhD, as the Samuel Zemurray Stone Senior Historian, and the Institute moved into its new home in the Hall of Democracy in 2019. Last month, the Museum announced that the Institute would be named in honor of Jenny Craig, an innovator, business leader and trailblazer for women worldwide whose generous support will help advance the Institute’s programs, content and outreach. Having grown up during World War II with two brothers serving, Craig remains passionate about preserving the legacies of the WWII generation and the principles of liberty and democracy for which they fought. The permanent naming of the Jenny Craig Institute for the Study for War and Democracy will be formally celebrated in late March, in conjunction with Women’s History Month and with the Institute’s “Memory Wars: World War II at 75 and Beyond” virtual conference from March 24–26, 2022.

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—so that future generations will know the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum, the institution celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifices of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and served on the Home Front. For more information on TripAdvisor’s #1 New Orleans attraction, call 877-813-3329 or 504-528-1944 or visit