Consider it a history lesson wrapped inside a festival.
In fact, what was called National World War II Museum’s AirPower Expo in the first three years of its existence is now the WWII Air, Sea & Land Festival, to emphasize the auxiliary activities and demonstrations of American military firepower from World War II.
The three-day event at the Lakefront Airport and nearby South Shore Harbor — where the museum’s latest addition, PT-305, is docked — begins Friday when some 4,500 youngsters are expected on School Day.
“When we started this, our goal was to build it out to become one of the greatest World War II festivals in the country,” said Steven Watson, president and CEO of the museum. “We’re doing that.
“But, this being New Orleans, where we have so many festivals this time of year, we knew we had to have the entertainment, food, music and kids’ activities to make it a true family-friendly event. You put it all together, and we have an engaging, dynamic event that’s also living history.”
Through the museum’s partnership with the Commemorative Air Force, several vintage aircraft from the war, including a B-29 Superfortress, a B-17 Flying Fortress, a P-51 Mustang and a P-40 Warhawk, will be available for tours when they’re not engaged in flyovers.
The flyovers also feature three “Tora, Tora, Tora” aircraft, which were actually American aircraft remodeled for the 1970 movie about the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Additionally, there will be an encampment by U.S. Army re-enactors, ground vehicles from the museum, veteran meet-and-greets and tours of PT-305, for which free shuttle service will be provided.
There’s little if any mention of the horrifically high casualty rate of the war. On average, World War II took the lives of 27,000 people a day. The March 1945 firebombing of Tokyo killed more than 100,000 in the largest single-day loss of life.
But officials say the casualty rate is amply documented at the museum itself and that those whom the festival honors are among the first to point out the human cost and horror of war.
“What we’re doing here is bringing history to life in a way that’s different from the museum experience,” Watson said. “You can climb inside a Sherman tank or smell the oil burning when the planes are warming up.
“What we’re trying to do it to entertain but in a way that’s authentic and educational at the same time.”
Those entertainment activities and other services are what most festivalgoers are likely to notice.
That’s the responsibility of the Greater New Orleans Sports Foundation, which is in its second year as a partner with the museum in staging the event. It's the foundation's first foray outside sports.
“We’ve been honing our skills on doing things like this for 30 years,” said Sports Foundation president Jay Cicero. “And we were looking for a flagship event to go along with the New Orleans Bowl.
“We’ve got a fantastic partner in the World War II Museum. We share a vision of making this one of the best events in the country.”
Among the contributions of the Sports Foundation, whose recommendation it was to change the name, is a daily parade featuring not only the ground vehicles but marching units, including the 610 Stompers.
Additionally, the Kids Zone has been expanded to include photo stations and face-painting in addition to the obstacle course (minus the barbed wire faced by actual soldiers) and rock-climbing that proved to be popular last year.
Admission is free for those 12 and under.
“That sends a message that this is a family event,” Watson said. “It’s all about making it something that the entire community embraces.”
The large number of youngsters attending gives them the opportunity to interact with the veterans as well.
“They really connect,” Watson said. “To see them bonding is the most rewarding thing about the festival.
“When you consider our youngest World War II veterans are now in their 90s, five years from now there may not be opportunities like this.”
WWII Air, Sea & Land Festival
WHEN: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Friday-Sunday
WHERE: Lakefront Airport
TICKETS: $21, 12 and under free
INFO: (504) 528-1944 or airsealandfest.com