“Uh-oh…Dad, I think I broke it.”
I was in The Landing Beaches and D-Day Invasions of the Pacific exhibit at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA. I was at an interactive map that features the invasions of the Pacific, pushing buttons hoping to display my grandfather’s paratrooper squad. I might have been hitting the buttons too hard and too fast. I was excited! This was the first time I was exposed to an exhibit that would tell what he went through during the war and which battles he was in.
Growing up, he barely spoke about it. But he still had the habits of being in the army; taking quick showers, following a strict sleeping schedule, and (after my grandmother died) maintaining a basic diet that included coffee, meat, and potatoes. He traded the cigarettes for a pipe and cleaned the kitchen floor with ammonia. I knew he was a paratrooper stationed in the Philippines and the bombing of Pearl Harbor occurred a few weeks before his required time in the army was to finish. I also knew he was restricted from certain activities because of his color blindness. It was after he died when my dad and aunt shared information and pictures with my cousin and me.
I arrived when the museum (Student $14) opened at 10 AM. I was advised by guest services to see Beyond All Boundaries: The War that Changed the World ($5), executive produced by Tom Hanks, first because the show is the most popular attraction and there would be a long line to see it. So in true Dana fashion, I was first on line outside the Solomon Victory Theater. It was there I met Dr. Bob, a Baptist pastor from Golden Meadow, LA. He called me a “breath of fresh air” and praised that I was “doing God’s work” by teaching. He was one of the many hospitable people I met in on this trip down south.
At first, I was apprehensive of watching a 4D movie. I don’t like sudden movement. But then Tom Hanks began his narrative and everything seemed to be okay. This film that featured over 500 archival footage film clips and required over 6,000 hours of research. The pamphlet doesn’t lie when it says “You will feel the rumble of Tiger Tanks in the Kasserine Pass, steam rising from the jungles of Guadalcanal, and snow falling inside the theater during the punishing Battle of the Bulge.” There’s a 75% scale model of a B-17 nose cone and the vocal talents of Kevin Bacon, Blythe Danner, Brad Pitt, Giovanni Ribisi, Jennifer Garner, Viola Davis, and Neil Patrick Harris. When it was over, I was only able to say “wow.” Sometimes, no other words are needed.
After the show, I made my way passed Stage Door Canteen and The American Sector Restaurant, and down the glass-walled hall toward the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. I was scheduled to be at the Final Mission: USS Tang Experience ($5). This interactive experience puts visitors on the USS Tang, a submarine, on its final patrol in October 1944. As a member of the crew, 27 of us experienced the battle and discovered if we represented a US Naval officer who survived the battle but had to endure being a POW. Also in the US Freedom Pavilion, war planes are displayed from the ceiling and vehicles of the war are displayed on the ground floor. The Service and Sacrifice exhibit feature pictures of veterans, including those who became US Presidents, Supreme Court Justices, and US Senators and Representatives. Touchscreens enables visitors to read the stories of these veterans.
I probably made at least 20 phone calls to my dad while I was in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, which is where The Landing Beaches and D-Day Invasions of the Pacific exhibit is located. I inspected every photograph, artifact, and a piece of writing I could. I truly thought I would find something of my grandfather’s, even though all of his gear and all of the pictures are with my aunt. While looking at the photographs, it did not take me long to realize this would be difficult as the men were all groomed to look alike. The only thing that would differentiate my grandfather from the other men would be his piercing blue eyes, which couldn’t be seen in the black and white photographs. It is unfortunate that I was so focused on looking for him that I overlooked the actual exhibit which featured descriptions of the brutality that occurred in the Pacific theater.
I will have the opportunity to explore the exhibit again. Recently, dad was sent information about The National WWII Museum Honor Roll. Grandpa had a habit of donating his money to organizations and in turn, his name would be engraved into bricks, walls, and chairs. We figured The National WWII Museum Honor Roll would be a perfect place for his name to be engraved.
Also, our donation might cover the cost of the interactive map I possibly broke…