The National World War II Museum is a massive collection that tries to represent the vast scope of the war through the eyes of individuals. You start off on a virtual train, as a member of the military would have started their experience, and are assigned a person to follow throughout the museum. Mine is below.
Each of the rooms covers a different aspect of the war, but all try to give you a first-hand experience of what it was like to be there. It’s an immersive experience, with multimedia surroundings, artifacts, first-hand histories and personalized stories throughout.
Interactive jungle scene
You get to follow your soldier/sailor/airman/woman through the various stages of their war experience, all the while "virtually" collecting various artifacts as you read and discover what the war was like.
The museum is housed in 3 main buildings with more to come. The pavilions are designed around specific aspects of the war: the first is for special exhibits; the Campaigns for Courage: The Tokyo and Europe wars; the Boeing Pavilion for the major aircraft; and the museum shop and theater.
The Boeing Pavilion, housing WWII aircraft
We started with one of the special exhibits, Fighting the Right to Fight, which houses memorabilia of the various black and minority service people trying to get to work in the military. WWII was the first time all were allowed to fight together side by side, although not at first.
European battlefront gallery
The Campaign of Courage building’s upper floor is ‘The Road to Tokyo’, covering the Pacific part of the war effort, while the lower level houses ‘The Road to Berlin’, covering the war in Europe. Told from the perspective of Americans, it shows how the US was drawn into the war, and how the war changed that generation and all that followed. Below, model of Battle of Berlin.
The Road to Tokyo takes you from the bombing of Pearl Harbor through the battles to re-capture lost islands and territories, and ultimately to the dropping of the atomic bombs on Japan that ended the war. The various brutal battles and harrowing losses are realistically portrayed, and issues of disease and death are also presented. At the end, you feel as if you were a “fly on the tent,” watching what happened as sacrifice, courage and ingenuity won the day.
The exhibition all for the planes also houses a very nice interactive display of Medal of Honor winners, while showing uniforms and various tanks, trucks and planes. It is housed
in a very tall building that can accommodate the planes.
The museum started in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, but later was named by Congress as the WWII Museum. It’s an immense experience, over 6 acres, and best seen in at least 3-4 hours, so as not to rush (and an hour more if you plan to see any of the movies.) Pre-ordering tickets is also a good idea to avoid the long lines at the museum. There are prices based on what you want to see, and discounts for seniors, military, students and WWII veterans.
Some of the exhibits are very graphic, perhaps not fit for the very young, and of course some of the scenes show naked and destroyed humans--as you would expect from a war. Many of the 100,000+ artifacts are one of kind, collected by the founder, the historian Stephen Ambrose, who amassed them while interviewing veterans.
While shown from the perspective of the US, Axis and Allied forces are both represented with artifacts and materials. Each of the nearly 20 galleries represents an actual location to give a feel of what it might have been like. You might be in a jungle, on a beach, high up in a mountain, or in a wintry forest.
There are many oral histories, spoken by the people who experienced what they are describing. That makes the war so much more personal and meaningful than just the objects and the scene. The artifacts, uniforms, letters, and more are from the people whose stories are shown or whose personal accounts you can hear. The stories are from ordinary soldiers and not the people "running" the war.
All branches of the services are covered, including a special exhibit just for the Merchant Marines, above. So, you explore the war from the first battles in North Africa through the various battles, through Normandy and into the final stages of the battle to capture Berlin. You are housed in a Nissen hut, hearing how the war was being waged by air against the Germans. The exhibits are interactive and easy to view.
We also enjoyed seeing the multimedia film, "Beyond all Boundaries,", narrated by Tom Hanks. During the film, which shows actual footage from the war, you are suddenly exposed to the elements as if you are physically present. Your seat vibrates, you feel the wind blowing, bright searchlights shine in your eye! You truly are completely immersed in the experience, while still learning a lot about the war.
For even more images of the museum, see the 'slideshow' below!