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Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bolt Action - A Look At The National WWII Museum

Having recently returned from my honeymoon tour of the United States, I thought I would switch gears from our usual article topics to tell you about the National WWII Museum. You might be surprised to learn that such a large and well resourced WWII museum is located in New Orleans, a city more known for great food, strong drink and loose morals. Initially called the National D-Day Museum when it opened more than ten years ago, the museum unsurprisingly focused on the lead up to, the event of, and the aftermath of the D-Day invasion. New Orleans was chosen as the location because Andrew Higgins, the inventor of the D-Day landing boats, lived there along with his company that made literally thousands of landing craft for the Allies over the course of the war. 

Since my last visit to the Museum I was shocked to see how much it had grown in the span of a decade. It still has its original D-Day exhibit and a variety of US built vehicles and planes. It also has an equally large and detailed Pacific Theatre exhibit that spans Japan's invasion of Manchuria to the dropping of the atomic bombs that ended the war. These two exhibits are huge and well informed. Every wall plate of information is detailed and easy to understand and is always accompanied by labelled photographs, diagrams and artefacts from the war. Mini-theatres appear in every couple of rooms that show videos summarising important battles and pivotal moments in the war. There are also listening points to hear first hand accounts describing what it was like to live through these important moments in history. From a Bolt Action nerd's perspective, I really enjoyed the wide collection of actual German, American and Japanese weapons and uniforms on display. I also really liked how major events and turning points were put into a historical perspective explaining why those events were so important to those involved.

Outside of these two exhibits, the museum now has much more to offer. Besides having a 40's era diner to eat in and a formal restaurant themed for more formal dining, the Museum has several large meeting and concert spaces that boast an impressive collection of (mainly allied) vehicles and ordinance. They have the obligatory Sherman tank, machine gun armed Jeep and US halftrack; as well as a German 88, an LVT, a US field ambulance, a large collection of small artillery pieces and a pile of Allied aircraft from the war.
The Museum also boasts the huge theatre space for its "Beyond All Boundaries" movie summary of WWII. It is an hour long film that spans the war beginning to end. What makes it truly impressive is that it is shown on a gigantic screen with state of the art sound in... "4D." For those of you who have seen Amazon Women on the Moon this does not mean that the movie was shown in feel around. Screens shifted and props would appear from hidden trap doors throughout the presentation to reveal everything from a concentration camp guard tower to the nose of an allied bomber to the ruined landscape of a bombed out city. These props integrated beautifully with what was going on, on the screens, and in some cases it was hard to tell when the screen ended and reality began. Viewer seats also vibrated to match certain events of the screen. My favourite seat vibration moment was when a Tiger came over a sand dune to drive over the viewer.  Another neat feature of this exhibit was that during the "Battle of the Bulge" segment, actual (theatrical) snow fell from the ceiling onto the audience.  The movie also used an impressive host of celebrity voices to read first hand accounts of the war.  All in all, despite its heavily biased US orientation, this is an excellent presentation that should not be missed.

The Museum also has a variety of short term exhibits. In July of this year they had an excellent exhibit describing the experience of Japanese Americans during the war (which also talked about the highly decorated Nisei units). There was also an interactive experience where you and nine of your friends / fellow museum patrons would man the bridge of the most successful US submarine in WWII during its last tragic mission. There was also a more permanent hall describing Allied planes and their pilots' experiences throughout the war.
At the end of these exhibits, there were a variety of very cool, themed gift shops.  There was even one shop that featured clothing and music from the era.  None of these was more impressive than the main gift shop that had a huge selection of books, posters, clothing, knick knacks, toys, collectables and toy soldiers (Mostly Flames of War but they did have a copy of Bolt Action as part of the display).

To sum up, the National WWII Museum is extremely well done and covers parts of World War 2 in impressive detail. Sure it is US centric BUT it IS the US WWII Museum. By the end of 2014 the European and Pacific exhibits are shifting to a newer, much larger home in an adjoining building. I hope that when this happens, neglected portions of the War, the Eastern Front for example, will make more of an appearance. That said, The National WWII Museum is fantastic and should be a must visit if you are anywhere near New Orleans. It is great for the historical minded gamer and for the regular Joe off the street (my wife loved it).

I could not recommend this travel location more. If you have been or have questions… come over to the forums and chime in.  

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