VETS ARE TREA­SURED LIV­ING HIS­TORY

The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum has vol­un­teers who served in that war

Cape Coral Living - - Contents - BY KEITH DARCEY

Take a tour of The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum in New Or­leans. Cov­er­ing ev­ery as­pect of the war that changed the world, the mu­seum presents the op­por­tu­nity for Amer­i­cans to not only learn about the war, but to un­der­stand the real price of free­dom.

THE BACK­BONE OF THE NA­TIONAL WWII MU­SEUM, LO­CATED ON SIX ACRES IN DOWN­TOWN NEW OR­LEANS, IS ITS CORPS OF VOL­UN­TEERS,

who daily pro­vide visi­tors from around the world with a unique ex­pe­ri­ence. More than 400 vol­un­teers—14 of whom are World War II veter­ans—de­vote thou­sands of hours each year to wel­come and as­sist mu­seum guests. Af­ter be­ing ded­i­cated in 2000 as The Na­tional D-Day Mu­seum, it was des­ig­nated by Congress in 2004 as “Amer­ica’s Na­tional WWII Mu­seum.” Its mis­sion is to “tell 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 all gen­er­a­tions will un­der­stand the price of free­dom and be in­spired by what they learn.” And the 14 WWII veter­ans of­fer visi­tors the ex­pe­ri­ence of hear­ing first­hand ac­counts of the war. These vol­un­teers are “trea­sured liv­ing his­tory,” cap­ti­vat­ing au­di­ences with sto­ries not found in books—at a mu­seum “cel­e­brat­ing the Amer­i­can spirit, team­work, op­ti­mism, courage and sac­ri­fices of the men and women who fought on the bat­tle­front and served on the home front.” WWII veter­ans For­rest Vil­lar­ru­bia and Ben Martinez are sta­tioned at the front en­trance a few days a week and greet visi­tors—who are of all ages—as they walk through the doors. Vil­lar­ru­bia, a re­tired com­bat Marine, served in the Pa­cific Is­lands. Martinez, a re­tired com­bat Army medic, served in the Ital­ian Cam­paign. Both spend their vol­un­teer days shar­ing sto­ries, show­ing old pho­to­graphs of their ser­vice and proudly dis­play­ing the medals they earned dur­ing the war. “There’s not many of us left,” notes Vil­lar­ru­bia. “I just love be­ing here and talk­ing to the mu­seum’s visi­tors. Most of the time, they ask me where I was dur­ing the war and what I did. They seem to en­joy hear­ing my sto­ries and I re­ally look for­ward to com­ing to the mu­seum.” Elab­o­rat­ing on the mu­seum’s mis­sion is Sani­bel Is­land res­i­dent and former U.S. Rep. James A. Courter (R-NJ), who served as the mu­seum’s board chair­man from 2016 to 2018: “I was on the Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee dur­ing my en­tire 12 years in the United States Congress, re­sult­ing in my deep ap­pre­ci­a­tion for the ser­vice and sac­ri­fices made by our men

and women in uni­form over many bloody con­flicts. When asked to join the Board of Trus­tees of The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum in its early stages of de­vel­op­ment, I was hon­ored to do so.” What be­gan in a rented ware­house in the in­dus­trial zone of New Or­leans 20 years ago is now a $300 mil­lion cam­pus that spreads over more than two city blocks. The mu­seum is rec­og­nized as the “most ac­ces­si­ble and trusted source of knowl­edge on Amer­ica’s in­volve­ment in World War II,” Courter points out. World War II was per­haps the great­est con­flict in all of hu­man his­tory, a war in­volv­ing 60 coun­tries for six years, which took the lives of more than 56 mil­lion peo­ple. Yet there was a moral clar­ity to Amer­ica’s ef­forts dur­ing the en­tire con­flict. “It was a time when Amer­ica’s power seemed so unim­peach­ably right and just, when moral­ity and power were per­fectly aligned. The mu­seum has the re­spon­si­bil­ity to tell that story, Amer­ica’s con­tri­bu­tion to free­dom and democ­racy that was un­der ex­is­ten­tial as­sault, why Amer­ica fought in World War II, how we won, and what that means to­day,” Courter ex­plains. Ranked by 2017 TripAd­vi­sor Trav­el­ers’ Choice Awards as the No. 2 mu­seum in the world and No. 2 in the na­tion, it is one of the premier tourist des­ti­na­tions of all. Wel­com­ing more than 6.6 mil­lion visi­tors since open­ing its doors, the mu­seum presently spans five pav­il­ions fea­tur­ing sev­eral per­ma­nent ex­hi­bi­tions.

In­cluded are The Arse­nal of Democ­racy: The Her­man and Ge­orge R. Brown Salute to the Home Front, Richard C. Ad­ker­son & FreeportMcMoRan Foun­da­tion Road to Tokyo: Pa­cific Theater Gal­leries, The Du­chos­sois Fam­ily Road to Ber­lin: Euro­pean Theater Gal­leries and the in­sti­tu­tion’s orig­i­nal ex­hibit, The D-Day Invasion of Nor­mandy. These are all “im­mer­sive ex­hi­bi­tions that com­bine mul­ti­me­dia ex­pe­ri­ences with an ex­pan­sive col­lec­tion of ar­ti­facts and first-per­son oral his­to­ries.” Visi­tors to the mu­seum’s main cam­pus are also able to ex­pe­ri­ence Be­yond All Bound­aries, a 4-D film nar­rated by ac­tor Tom Hanks. The movie, shown daily in the in­sti­tu­tion’s Solomon Vic­tory Theater, jour­neys through the his­tory of the Euro­pean theater and the Pa­cific theater, and puts view­ers in the cen­ter of the ac­tion through cin­e­matic spe­cial ef­fects. Ad­di­tion­ally, the mu­seum is proud to of­fer visi­tors the op­por­tu­nity to step aboard his­tory on PT-305, the only fully re­stored and op­er­a­tional com­bat-vet­eran pa­trol tor­pedo boat in ex­is­tence. Af­ter a 10-year restora­tion project by mu­seum vol­un­teers, PT-305 is avail­able for new gen­er­a­tions to take a deck tour or ac­tu­ally ride along as she tears across the waves of Lake Pontchar­train, where she was first put through her paces. “When visi­tors come to the mu­seum, we cer­tainly want them to learn his­tory—dates, key bat­tles and ma­jor his­tor­i­cal mile­stones,” says Robert M. Citino, Ph.D., who holds the po­si­tion of Sa­muel Ze­mur­ray Stone Se­nior His­to­rian at the mu­seum. “At the same time, how­ever, we want them to un­der­stand that be­hind ev­ery mo­ment of the war are the per­sonal sto­ries of hero­ism, sac­ri­fice and courage.” Citino con­tin­ues, “These men and women were so young—most barely out of their teenage years—and tasked with sav­ing the world from evil tyranny in coun­tries they may not have heard of be­fore the war. We hope that peo­ple will walk out of the mu­seum not only re­flec­tive on the cost of war, but un­der­stand­ing that the ef­fort of the WWII gen­er­a­tion still in­flu­ences the world we live in to­day.” The mu­seum is cur­rently ex­pand­ing its cam­pus through a $400 mil­lion cap­i­tal cam­paign that is ex­pected to be com­pleted by 2021. Ear­lier this year, the in­sti­tu­tion broke ground on the Bollinger Canopy of Peace, “a $14 mil­lion ar­chi­tec­tural struc­ture that will unify the distinc­tive cam­pus and be­come an iconic el­e­ment on the New Or­leans sky­line.” It is sched­uled to be com­pleted by late 2018/early 2019. Ad­di­tional stages of the mu­seum’s ex­pan­sion in­clude The Hig­gins Ho­tel & Con­fer­ence Cen­ter. An el­e­gant prop­erty that is sched­uled to open in 2019, it will fea­ture 230 guest rooms and more than 18,000 square feet of con­fer­ence space to sup­port ex­pand­ing visi­ta­tion and ed­u­ca­tional pro­grams. Also set to de­but in 2019 is the Hall of Democ­racy, a pav­il­ion that will house aca­demic and out­reach pro­grams as well as ad­di­tional ex­hibit space. In 2021, the Lib­er­a­tion Pav­il­ion is sched­uled to open. It will fo­cus on end-of-war and post­war ex­pe­ri­ences, as well as the war’s mean­ing for cit­i­zens to­day.

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