World War II veteran and New Orleans native Ben Martinez remembers exactly where he was when he heard about the attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941: he was a 22-year-old senior at Loyola University, studying pharmaceuticals and playing in an intramural championship touch football game against the dental school. It was during the game that Mr. Martinez and his fellow students heard the news about Pearl Harbor come across the radio.
“I wanted to enlist right away,” recalled Mr. Martinez. “But the advice I got was to get my degree and then enlist.” Which is just what he did; because he “wanted to fight,” he enlisted instead of being commissioned.
Two of three of Mr. Martinez’s brothers enlisted to serve in World War II as well; his youngest brother was too young to serve until near the end of the war. The Martinez family was fortunate – all four Martinez brothers made it home. Meanwhile, Mr. Martinez’s sister, who had received her college degree, left her job in New Orleans to care for their mother who was having a hard time coming to terms that her sons were off at war. His father served as an Air Raid Warden and walked their neighborhood streets at night, eyes and ears alert on the home front.
It’s the home front that takes center stage in the new, life-size and immersive display, “The Arsenal of Democracy: The Herman and George Brown Salute to the Home Front,” which opened this June 10 at The National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
The story of how the USA became involved in World War II, and an extensive look at the war efforts on the home front, are on full, immersive display in nine galleries, featuring 400 artifacts spread throughout nearly 10,000 square feet on the second floor of the museum’s original Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.
“The launch of ‘The Arsenal of Democracy’ will mark the most significant expansion at the museum since the completion of ‘Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters,’ said Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, Ph.D., president and CEO of the museum. The “Campaigns of Courage Theaters” opened in 2014 and 2015, respectively. “In keeping with the museum’s mission to tell 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 – these new exhibit galleries will be a major landmark in fulfilling the introductory portion of that charge.”
The nine galleries that comprise “The Arsenal of Democracy” seamlessly weave historical accounts and home front stories through 62 authenticated oral histories, beginning in the first gallery, Gathering Storm. The USA story and how American citizens responded to thoughts of entering another war so soon after World War I are thoughtfully portrayed through storefronts, movie theaters, propaganda and more thought-provoking displays.
The fifth gallery in “The Arsenal of Democracy” takes visitors right into 1940s America through “War Affects Every Home.” A wagon full of scrap metal, food rations booklets and radios tuned into authentic historic programming offer glimpses and snippets of life on the home front during World War II.
Next, “United but Unequal: I Am an American” explores the very-real discrimination and prejudice during the war, including accounts of Japanese Americans who were incarcerated during the war, as well as accounts from many races who enlisted to help defend the the country that treated them as second-class citizens.
Finally, “Manufacturing Victory” takes visitors through the manufacturing prowess America exhibited throughout the war effort, supporting land, sea and air – keep an eye out for Rosie the Riveter – ending with “Manhattan Project” and the development of the atomic bomb.
When visitors finish discovering “The Arsenal of Democracy,” they are invited to continue across the same-level American Spirit Bridge and follow the story of World War II in “Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters” on the museum’s campus across the street.
The unveiling of “The Arsenal of Democracy” follows on the heels of the 73rd anniversary of D-Day, June 6, 1944. The week of the anniversary, four World War II D-Day veterans received France’s National Order of the Legion of Honor, established in 1802 by Napoléon Bonaparte, in recognition of their efforts to help free France during the war. The recipients were Private First Class Roy J. Boyter of Shreveport, Louisiana; Tech Sergeant Burnia Martin of Bogalusa, Louisiana; Staff Sergeant George E. McLean of Metairie, Louisiana; and Private First Class James M. Weller of Metairie, Louisiana.
Any visit to The National World War II Museum, no matter how short or long, is made complete by spending time with the World War II veterans who volunteer their time to share their stories and experiences with museum visitors, just like Mr. Martinez.
Oh, and as far as that intramural touch football game that he was playing back in 1941?
“The last play of the game I threw a touchdown and we won!,” exclaimed 97-year-old Ben Martinez, with a sparkle in his eye and wide smile on his face.
The National World War II Museum
945 Magazine St., New Orleans (entrance on Andrew Higgins Drive)
Opening hours are 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. seven days a week; closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving Day, Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Check the website for special features’ hours.
Rates: $26/adult, $22.50/senior (65+), $16.50/child, college student, military. World War II Veterans gain entry free of charge. Special features at additional cost.
“Fighting for the Right to Fight,” a traveling exhibit from the National World War II Museum, is making its way around the country: Dallas Holocaust Museum (August 14, 2017 – January 26, 2018), The Durham Museum (Omaha, Nebraska, February 17 – July 15, 2018), American Jazz Museum (Kansas City, Missouri, January 11 – June 21, 2019) and Oregon Historical Society (Portland, Oregon, July 13 – December 31, 2019). More dates and locations may be added.
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