By Brian Livingston / firstname.lastname@example.org
The Meridian Star
When Coleman Warner asked a group of retirees at the Lifetime Quest Center at Meridian Community College who served during World War II, Neil Robbins was among those who raised his hand.
Robbins, who was stuck in an administrative routine with the United States Army Air Corps during the war, wanted to get where the action was. His superiors gave him his wish and near the end of the war Robbins found himself as a rifleman with an Army infantry division. During the last two months of the war Allied forces were slicing through the heart of Germany and in many places meeting with stiff resistance. Robbins was wounded and held prisoner for a short time during one of these last battles.
In many respects Robbins can now follow his trek through the museum in New Orleans that up until 2003 was devoted predominately to the D-Day landings of June 6, 1944. Now known as the National World War II Museum through a congressional designation, the museum is fast becoming the go-to place to learn of America's role in changing the face of the world.
"The museum celebrates the American spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and the home front," said Warner, who is the special assistant for internal and CEO communications at the museum. "World War II was central to our history as a nation and it is a powerful story that should not be forgotten."
Thousands of WWII veterans die each day. It will not be long before their presence is gone. That is why Warner told the group it is vital to expand the museum to include everyone who served, both at home and abroad.
"The war speaks volumes about who we were as a nation then and who we are today," Warner said.
The $35 million U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center just opened this year and showcases a variety of artifacts that comprised the “big guns” of American military might. Warner said these national treasures include examples of the B-17E Flying Fortress and B-25J Mitchell bomber, as well as a SBD-3 Dauntless dive-bomber, TBM Avenger torpedo bomber, P-51D Mustang fighter and Corsair F4U-4 fighter.
The pavilion also will include a massive wall honoring WWII Medal of Honor recipients and an interactive submarine experience based on the final mission of the USS Tang. Exhibits will employ the newest digital technologies to ensure a thrilling journey into the heart of the American Spirit.
Warner said Campaigns of Courage: European & Pacific Theaters, the next pavilion for the museum, is rising on the campus now. Campaigns of Courage is scheduled to open in early 2014 and will house two gallery-filled floors, which examine the Allied campaigns around the globe.
The Liberation Pavilion — scheduled to open in 2016 — will focus on the closing months of the war and immediate post-war years and will contain an expansive special exhibits gallery. The buildings are part of the museum’s “Last Campaign” effort to raise the last $100 million needed to complete the New Orleans campus before WWII veterans pass from the scene.
One of the challenges facing Warner and the staff at the museum is how best to keep younger generations interested in the era so that all who are part of the "Greatest Generation" aren't forgotten.
"The younger generations are highly intelligent and have a need for interaction in order to keep their attention," Warner said. "It is important for us to make that connection with them. We have to get them excited about the war and what it means to us today."
Warner said the exhibits today at the museum are highly interactive, as will be the coming attractions. He said hands-on programs designed to pull the younger generation into an interactive learning experience is vital to the survival of the era.
For more information, call 877-813-3329 or (504) 528-1944 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org. Follow the museum on Twitter at WWIImuseum or visit the Facebook fan page.
For more information on MCC's Lifetime Quest Center, visit the website www.mcc.cc.ms.us/lifetimequest/.