November is the month when Americans honor their veterans, so it was an appropriate moment for two pieces of good news from the National WWII Museum in New Orleans.
The first is an exhibit timed to mark the 80th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
“Infamy: Pearl Harbor Remembered,” will be on view until June 7 in the museum’s Joe W. and Dorothy D. Brown Special Exhibit Gallery.
Visitors can see a 20-inch steel fragment from the USS Arizona and a chunk of wood from the USS Oklahoma. They can also cast eyes on the flag that was being raised aboard the USS St. Louis when the Japanese assault on Hawaii began.
There is also a poster from a concert played by Elvis Presley, who was on the island filming “Blue Hawaii” and agreed to play the show to raise money for a floating monument to the Arizona.
The concert, on March 25, 1961, raised $54,000, which is nearly half a million dollars in today’s money.
Then there is the more exciting news from the museum about what’s coming next year for Veterans Day.
In 2022, the museum plans to offer a state-of-the-art sound and light show involving music, videos and pictures of G.I.’s letters home. The images will be projected onto the facades of the museum campus.
“Expressions of America,” has been in the works for four years, according to Stephen J. Watson, the museum’s president and CEO.
It will “place the museum at the forefront of immersive viewer experiences,” Watson said.
The Bob and Dolores Hope Foundation will pay for the display, which is expected to cost about $5 million. It will draw from the museum’s collection of oral histories, videos and correspondence.
The display will align with the museum’s mission to appreciate the war through the eyes of ordinary men and women who fought and contributed in other ways to the U.S. victory.
Of about 15 million who served, a quarter-million are still alive today, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs. The department estimates that 234 are dying every day.
The display “will show not only my father’s legacy but also the gifts of men and women who helped us overcome enormous odds” during the conflict, said Linda Hope, the foundation’s chair and CEO.
There will be ticketed admissions for audiences who will experience the exhibit outside at night in the Barksdale Parade Ground under the Bollinger Canopy of Peace.
Gary Sinise, the actor and friend of the museum, will be the host and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band will provide the music.
“Expressions of America” will be one of the final components of the museum, which is just over two decades old and was originally envisioned as a tribute to New Orleans’ role in providing the landing craft that made D-Day possible.
The museum’s footprint and portfolio have grown over the past two decades, and its mission is more critical than ever.
Military service was once a shared national experience. That ended when the draft was suspended in 1973.
We wouldn’t wish for a national calamity that would bring back mandatory service, but in some ways, our country would be better off — more united and more selfless — if more of us had experienced the duty, pride and sacrifice of the World War II generation.
The museum keeps their stories alive.