Once inside, is it sad that I was a little underwhelmed by their presentation of a C-47? Besides that, they had one Sherman tank and a Spitfire in the pavilion that holds the vehicle collection. That's a pretty sad assortment if you ask me. Even the Fort Bliss and Old Ironsides Museums has a T-34. Expansion suggestion #1: This place needs a tank park.
From the Home Front, visitors walk upstairs to the European Theater. Since this was previously the D-Day Museum, anyone familiar with World War II will be surprised to find that the exhibits start late in the war with preparations for the invasion of Normandy. The museum's mission statement reads that "the National WWII Museum tells 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." Very clearly, the museum strives to tell the American story of World War II, therefore all that stuff that happened before the US entered the war isn't all that relevant. They do follow the European Theater through the end of the conflict and they've added a section on the Pacific Theater, but US operations in North Africa receive almost no mention. Naturally, the museum omits the Eastern Front and all that stuff that happened before the US got involved. However much I might want them to tell the whole story of WWII, not doing so is completely in keeping with their mission statement.
So...maybe they should revise their mission statement.
Regardless of huge gaps in the narrative, they really have done some fantastic museum work. Here are some of my favorite parts:
Tim - We didn't have to read anything, we had Eric.
The museum also had a special exhibit on entitled "Deadly Medicine: Creating the Master Race," sponsored in part by the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. It's so nice to see the various private museums working together.
We had lunch after our visit at the museum's restaurant The American Sector, which had a very tasty menu offering a mix of local dishes and items reminiscent of wartime rationing. They also had a pretty nice drink list. For a snack or a quick meal, the museum also houses a Soda Shop. The Stage Door Canteen offers live entertainment at Brunch and Dinner shows. Seriously, this place offers the complete 1940s experience.
On Sunday, while part of the group went to mass, Eric and I came back to the museum to see Beyond All Boundaries, "the 4-D Experience Featuring Tom Hanks." Eric just can't say no to Tom Hanks and I was curious. It was awesome and honestly worth the extra admission cost. Eric described it as "World War II: The Ride." According to the museum's website, they're currently hiring theatre and A/V technicians. Very tempting. Our return trip also meant that we got to check out the third museum shop. The three shops overlap in their stock, but they all carry a good variety of books, DVDs, swag, toys, and clothes. It was pretty cool that they actually had dresses from Stop Staring! on sale. Even cooler? GREMLINS!!! How had nobody ever shown me Gremlins before?!?!?! To prevent you from a similar catastrophe, I offer the following: [EDIT: "Gremlins from the Kremlin" is no longer available, but here's another Bugs Bunny cartoon with a Gremlin.]
One thing that was also clear from the museum was that they have a very strong volunteer program. Members of the Youth Victory Corps (middle and high school students) were stationed throughout the galleries with artifacts that you could touch and play with. Also, the museum is taking advantage of one very important asset that won't be around forever: World War II veterans.
Right near the front entrance, this set up enables veterans to come in and volunteer to share their experience of the war. We didn't get the chance to talk to any of the volunteers while we were there, but the program offers a great opportunity for both visitors and veterans.
Overall, this museum has some great things going for it that make it well worth the visit, even though the narrative skips over some important aspects of the war. Like Africa. Or the Eastern Front. If you don't have an Eric with you, allow 2-3 hours for the exhibit galleries. If you have time, definitely check out the movie and grab a bite to eat!