They are dying at a rate of 500 a day – veterans of WWII. Only 5 percent of the more than 16 million men and women who served in uniform are still alive. With their passing will end an era. In addition, the close, personal connection between the Greatest Generation and those that followed will begin to fade.
It is vitally important that the history of WWII and America’s participation in it not be lost to future generations. This country appears to be turning increasingly inward. It is important to remind our citizens, particularly the young, that there was a time, really an era, when America looked outside itself, committing the lives of its people, its treasure, its survival to defeating evil and bringing the opportunity for freedom and prosperity to much of the world. As laid out in the Atlantic Charter, the U.S.-British document that sought to inspire a global alliance of like-minded nations by defining the goals for the post-war world, the allies did not fight for narrow self-interest. What was best for the nations of the world politically and economically was also good for the two leading democracies.
The lessons from WWII are equally important to the future of this nation’s security and that of the Free World. Unlike the conflicts that followed, from Korea to Operations Iraqi and Enduring Freedom, this was America’s last declared war. We now live in a world defined by a professional class of defense leaders, the all-volunteer military and an increasingly unique defense industrial complex. It is good to provide the American people insights into how a nation at peace actually mobilizes for war and how citizens become soldiers.
As the last veteran of WWII passes on to his or her final reward, we will have to rely on museums to make the intellectual, psychological and emotional connection between the history of that period and modern Americans. Nowhere in the world is this function better accomplished than at the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana. Congress designated the facility as America’s official museum about World War II and it has been named by USA Today as the #1 Best Place to Learn U.S. Military History. Visitors flock to New Orleans for the food, music and a chance to walk the banks of the Big Muddy. So, it is significant that TripAdvisor declared the National WWII Museum to be the #1 Attraction in New Orleans.
Having visited the National WWII Museum, I can say it is truly a jewel in the Big Easy’s crown. It is a clean, open and inviting facility. It strikes the right balance between historical narratives, physical exhibits, personal stories and interactive electronic media presentations. For the hardware buff, there are exhibits of the warbirds and combat vehicles that won the war. For the devotee of battles and campaigns, there are two detailed Campaigns of Courage, the Road to Berlin and the Road to Tokyo, that provide multi-sensory immersive stories that describe the step-by-step process by which the United States and its allies crossed thousands of miles of ocean, landed on hostile beaches, liberated foreign lands, defeated three opposing nations and won the peace on two continents. The Boeing Pavilion houses exhibits and interactive displays that offer unique views of the war overseas and the activities of millions on the home front. If you are interested in the impact of the war years on popular culture and personal lives you can visit BB’s Stage Door Canteen or peruse the extensive collections of oral histories and wartime photographs.
As generations come and go, the National WWII Museum will take on even greater importance as a place of remembrance and an education center. Teaching younger Americans not merely what happened in the war, but why we went to war and the enduring importance of defending the values for which the Greatest Generation sacrificed so much, is a mission of utmost importance.
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