Louisiana had a meaningful role in the World War II Allied victory, contributing everything from foot soldiers and commanders to training facilities for tens of thousands of personnel and behind-the-scenes innovators who ultimately affected the war’s outcome. Experience these six must-do World War II attractions.
- National World War II Museum, New Orleans. This Smithsonian-affiliated property in the city’s Central Business District is the crown jewel of World War II attractions in the U.S. It was given Congressional designation in 2003 as America’s official World War II museum. It opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum, and it still heavily focuses on the Battle of Normandy and the ultimate liberation of Europe. But subsequent expansions brought a massive Pacific Theater wing and in 2013, the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which is now the largest portion of the museum. The Pavilion houses Boeing B-17E Flying Fortress and North American B-25J Mitchell bombers and other prominent aircraft from the war. Visitors can also experience World War II through a Tom Hanks-narrated 4-D film titled Beyond All Boundaries. The theater seats literally shake when tanks emerge from the forest and begin firing shells on screen. In addition, there is an interactive submarine simulation based on the final mission of the U.S.S. Tang. The museum is located in New Orleans because of the facility’s initial focus on D-Day and the role of New Orleans-based boat builders Higgins Industries during the invasion. Andrew Higgins’ shallow hull, flat-bottom boats (originally designed to move men and equipment through Louisiana swamps for the logging and oil industries) were ideal for the 1944 landing at Normandy. American military officials—most notably Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower—credited the Higgins boats as a primary reason for D-Day’s success.
- Barksdale Global Power Museum, Bossier City. Housed at Barksdale Air Force Base, the home of the Second Bomb Wing of the Eighth Air Force, this museum tells the base’s nearly 100-year story through aircraft and memorabilia spanning the early days of military aviation, World War II, the Cold War and today’s Air Force Global Strike Command. The site’s collection includes Boeing B-17G Flying Fortress and Consolidated B-24J Liberator bombers, a North American P-51D Mustang escort fighter and other aircraft the wing has used.
- Chennault Aviation and Military Museum of Louisiana, Monroe. In 1942, Monroe was the site of Selman Field Army-Air Force Navigation School, the nation’s largest flight school. The school graduated more than 15,000 navigators, of which more than 10 percent lost their lives in combat. This museum tells the flight school’s and northeast Louisiana’s military history in one of Selman Field’s last surviving buildings. Before contributing a significant number of navigators to the military, Monroe became home to Delta Air Lines, then known as Huff Daland Dusters crop-dusting service. In 1929, Delta, which changed its name for the Mississippi River delta region it served, operated its first passenger flight from Dallas, to Jackson, Miss., with stops in Monroe and Shreveport. The museum’s namesake is General Claire Lee Chennault, the commander of World War II’s heralded Flying Tigers air unit based in China to assist with the front-line war with Japan. Chennault was a Gilbert native and made Monroe his home following the war. Chennault’s granddaughter is the museum’s curator.
- U.S.S. Kidd and Veterans Memorial, Baton Rouge. This Fletcher-class destroyer saw heavy action in virtually every major Pacific Theater naval campaign, including the invasions of the Gilbert and Marshall Islands, the Philippines and Okinawa. It survived a direct kamikaze plane hit in 1945 that killed 38 sailors, and it earned eight World War II battle stars.
- The Louisiana Maneuvers. In 1940, American military leaders saw U.S. participation in the war in Europe as inevitable, so a 400,000-soldier training exercise, overseen by notable American military officials including generals Dwight D. Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Patton, was staged in central Louisiana to prep U.S. forces for battle. The Louisiana Maneuvers story is told at sites throughout the state including the Louisiana Maneuvers and Military Museum at Camp Beauregard near Pineville, the Museum of West Louisiana in Leesville and a commemorative marker located outside downtown Alexandria’s former Hotel Bentley, the site of many overseeing officers’ headquarters.
- Regional Military Museum, Houma. This newly-opened facility commemorates the sacrifices of past, present and future military through a living history museum, where veteran-volunteers share firsthand accounts of their military experiences, the vehicles really run and the weapons really fire. See true-to-size replicas of three HAWK missile rockets sitting on a missile rocket launch, or view President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s Air Force One. Take photos in a World War II German Afrika Korps motorcycle sidecar made by BMW, or take a ride in an authentic track laying vehicle.