Patriot Days

The National WWII Museum exterior

On the eve of the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the National WWII Museum ramps up with new programming that would have made the Duke salute.

Written by Jenn Thornton

John Wayne is not as celebrated for his war pictures as he is his westerns, but he suited up for a slew of them set during World War II, including “The Fighting Seabees,” “They Were Expendable,” “Sands of Iwo Jima” and “The Longest Day.” Were Wayne alive today, no doubt he would tout the National WWII Museum, which was co-founded by Stephen Ambrose, historian and author of the best-selling book Band of Brothers, which was later adapted for the much-beloved HBO TV miniseries of the same name.

John Wayne in Sands of Iwo Jima. Photo Batjac, Republic Pictures

Not surprisingly with Ambrose’s fingerprint on the place, the New Orleans-based Museum is deeply intimate and personal, if not slightly interior in a way that you don’t necessarily expect. Simply put, you’re there. Or feel like you’re there, which is entirely the point. Just as Band of Brothers—book and series alike—thrust viewers into the fighting fields in France, Holland and Germany, the Museum isn’t all glory. There’s a whole lot of guts, too, from a whole lot of people. The exhibitions are immersive, inclusive and offer a well-rounded look at all aspects of the war. In taking a wide berth, the Museum highlights not just the role of world leaders, but also the everyday men and women of the Greatest Generation.

With 300,000 square feet at its disposal, the Museum is a blazing reminder of just how great this generation of young men and women really were—how sacrificing, how full. The very best of America when she required it. As the exhibition makes clear, at that time, if you weren’t fighting the war overseas, you were fighting it at home: making tanks and planes; rationing food, silk stockings and fuel; planting victory gardens—if not physically with the troops, then nonetheless in the trenches. Simply soldiering on.

US Freedom Pavilion interior

As a bridge between homefront and battlefront, the Museum marks a departure from standard-issue gallery fare. It is exceedingly and excitingly interactive, taking visitor inside our 20th-century cataclysm via immersive exhibits and multimedia experiences designed to transport viewers to an earlier time that we are wise not to put in the rear view. Among these offerings is a 4D film narrated by Tom Hanks (one of the executive producers of HBO’s Band of Brothers), a tour aboard the most successful submarine in World War II, and ‘40s-inspired performances at the BB’s Stage Door Canteen (where it’s possible to imagine a strapping John Wayne sweeping through the doors) and the Rosie the Riveter rooftop bar with a view to make you dizzy (if the drink doesn’t do it).

Now, to mark both the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbor, the Museum is rolling out new commemorative programming—on location in New Orleans and also online—to honor the event that finally pushed America into the war along programming includes “A Swinging Christmas,” a performance with the Victory Belles, at the Stage Door Canteen, and the Pearl Harbor 80th Anniversary Commemorative Ceremony on Dec. 7. Visit nationalww2museum.org for more information (including COVID-19 protocols).

Louisiana Memorial Pavilion

Photographs courtesy of the National WWII Museum (except where noted)