VETS ARE TREA­SURED LIV­ING HIS­TORY

The Na­tional WWII Mu­seum has vol­un­teers who served in that war

Times of the Islands - - Departments - 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 IT S 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 w omen 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

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.

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.

Clock­wise from top: US Free­dom Pav­il­ion: The Boe­ing Cen­ter; Ralph E. Crump, LTJG, USNR US Mer­chant Marine Gallery; The Du­chos­sois Fam­ily Roadto Ber­lin:Euro­peanTheaterGal­leries

WWII veter­ans Ben Martinez and For­rest Vil­lar­ru­bia greet visi­tors at the mu­seum en­trance. Be­low: The Louisiana Me­mo­rial Pav­il­ion.

From top: US Free­dom Pav­il­ion: The Boe­ing Cen­ter; Cam­paigns of Courage: Euro­pean and Pa­cific The­aters

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