The next piece in the National World War II Museum's $300 million expansion was put in place just in time for the 90th anniversary of Veterans Day with the Nov. 6 debut of a 70,000-square-foot building housing a "4-D" movie theater, wartime canteen and restaurant.
The museum, one of New Orleans' leading cultural institutions and the premier attraction in the city's Warehouse District, which was largely untouched by Hurricane Katrina, completed the first phase of the expansion effort with the 2007 unveiling of Discovery Hall, a children's education facility.
When the expansion is completed by 2015, the museum will have a six-acre campus that will be home to a parade ground, eight new structures adding 245,000 square feet of exhibition space and a hotel and conference center.
"The museum's expansion will be the first major cultural and tourism attraction to open in New Orleans since the city was devastated by Hurricane Katrina," said museum President and CEO Gordon H. Mueller. "It will show that New Orleans is indeed on the road to recovery and the city is open for business."
Four new pavilions will house a range of exhibitions.
The Campaigns Pavilion will be dedicated to famed military operations such as Guadalcanal and the Battle of the Bulge.
The Liberation Pavilion will document the Holocaust, prisoner of war camps, events surrounding the war's closing months in 1945 and the return of freedom to occupied countries after liberation.
The United States Freedom Pavilion will, according to museum officials, "cover all the service branches and will display large-scale land, sea and air artifacts."
The Special Exhibitions Gallery will showcase the museum's permanent collections as well as visiting exhibitions.
The National World War II Museum, which opened in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, has been recognized by Congress as the country's first official museum dedicated to the war.
WWII on screen
The main attraction at the new, $60 million building is the Solomon Victory Theater, which boasts a 120-foot-wide screen to display what's described as a four-dimensional "cinematic experience" titled "Beyond All Boundaries."
"This isn't just another World War II film," Mueller said. "Audiences will feel the tank treads rumbling across North Africa's deserts, brush snow from their cheeks during the Battle of the Bulge and flinch as anti-aircraft fire tries to bring down their B-17 on a bombing run over Nazi Germany."
The project, which took four years to complete and incorporates original war footage, digital animation and Hollywood-style special effects, was led by Oscar-winning actor Tom Hanks, who served as executive producer.
Fare of the '40s
The second component of the complex, the Stage Door Canteen, is a re-creation of the morale-building entertainment venues for servicemen and -women that were found in New York, Los Angeles and other U.S. cities during the war. Visitors can enjoy songs and jokes of the era and can partake in light snacks and drinks. On select nights, the canteen will offer dinners and live shows or musical performances.
The American Sector, a Chef John Besh Restaurant, is the third component of the complex. It serves food inspired by "the simpler fare of the 1940s" albeit with a New Orleans-style twist.
Swiftly receding memories
The Veterans Administration in Washington estimates that World War II vets are dying at the rate of 900 a day, with only 2.2 million surviving in the U.S. today.
"The National World War II Museum must collect, record and pass on their stories for the next generation," said Phil Satre, chairman of the museum's National Board of Trustees. "It's a way to honor those who have done so much to preserve our way of life, and it's our mission."
The National World War II Museum is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., except for Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.
General admission is $16 for adults; $12 for seniors ages 65 to 80; $8 for seniors 80 and older and for children ages 5 to 12; and free for children up to age 5. Tickets to the Solomon Victory Theater cost $9 for adults and $7 for children ages 5 to 12 and seniors.
For more information, call (877) 813-3329 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org.