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Mighty Museums

Branches of the military and its veterans are honored
at these Southern attractions.

In 1938, Congress set aside an official day to remember and celebrate our nation’s military men and women. Now, every Veterans Day on Nov. 11, we honor the millions who have fought to defend our freedom.

The South’s military museums let us learn more about these heroes and their sacrifices with unforgettable experiences and exhibits. Look down the barrel of a turret gun on a battleship deck. Climb into the cockpit of a World War II-era plane. Read letters written by those who never came home. Lose yourself in an interactive movie with actual battle footage. Do it all at one of these museums; there’s no better time than now for a visit.


In Title: Visitors to Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Ala., can tour the USS Alabama, both inside and out. Battleship Memorial Park photo

Above: The National Museum of the Pacific War looks at the war in the Pacific Theater and the toll it took there. National Museum of the Pacific War photo

Below: Among the planes on display at the National Naval Aviation Museum are Navy A-4 Skyhawk jets, once flown by the legendary Blue Angels. National Naval Aviation Museum photo


Awesome Air Power

American air power has been impressive from its earliest days to the precision and prowess of our military pilots and aerial equipment today. The National Naval Aviation Museum in Pensacola, Fla., on the Naval Air Station provides an up-close-and-personal experience with many of the aircraft used in both war and peacetime by the Navy, Marines, and U.S. Coast Guard.

On exhibit are more than 150 aircraft in 350,000 square feet of space, including the rare NC-4 (first plane to cross the Atlantic) and the sleek, beautiful A-4 Skyhawk jets once flown by the Navy’s famous aerial acrobatic team, the Blue Angels.

The Blue Angels are based in Pensacola, and their scheduled practices (March through November) are open to the public. While the Blue Angels are a big draw, the museum has plenty more to offer. According to Shelley Ragsdale, the museum’s marketing director, there are several “can’t-miss” aspects.

“Be sure to visit Hangar Bay One, displaying aircraft of the post-World War II era, including presidential helicopter, Marine One, as well as unique exhibits including Women in Naval Aviation and the new Apollo space exhibit,” she said. “Other things to touch and see are thrilling 3-D and H-D flight simulators and the new Blue Angels 4-D Experience.”

The Greatest Generation

World War II engulfed almost every continent on earth in bloody battle, but after years of fighting, America and its allies were successful in thwarting the Axis powers. But the win came at great cost. Countless lives on both sides were lost, and 16 million Americans served in the war. Their willingness to work hard and risk death to protect their country earned them the title “greatest generation.”

Now, every three minutes, a U.S. veteran of this war dies. Yet their memory lives on thanks to The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, La. It tells their story in vivid detail while also giving visitors a sense of the scale and scope of the war.

The museum opened on June 6, 2000, the 66th anniversary of D-Day, as the National D-Day Museum with only a single building. As it grew in size and popularity, it expanded its mission and changed its name. Today, the museum works to answer three questions: Why was the war fought? How was it won? What does it mean today?

It can easily take a full day to explore the many exhibits, but Owen Glendening, associate vice president of education and access, urges visitors to make time to see Beyond All Boundaries, a 4-D film narrated by actor Tom Hanks. “It’s a moving, impactful film that’s really a must-see,” he said.

While the museum is already huge, the new 18,000-square-foot Campaigns of Courage pavilion will feature two additional exhibits, “The Road to Berlin,” slated to open in December, and “The Road to Tokyo,” which will open in late 2015. “They both have very compelling artifacts, but also some very interactive and experiential elements,” Glendening said.

As for the experience of the actual war, Staff Sgt. Lampton Terrell, who was in the first wave of soldiers landing on Omaha Beach in the D-Day invasion, summed it up best.

“That day [D-Day] was of monumental importance,” he said. “Without the success there, we’d all be speaking German now. This museum is equally important; it teaches people what we did and why we did it.”

More Than a Game

At Battleship Memorial Park in Mobile, Ala., you can walk around, on, and inside the massive USS Alabama battleship (680 feet from stern to stem) that played an integral role in World War II. After being decommissioned, it was slated for destruction, but preservation-minded citizens created a foundation to save the ship. In 2015, the park will celebrate its 50th anniversary.

It’s a hands-on way to gain a better understanding of how our veterans lived and fought, as Executive Director Bill Tunnell explained.

“Battleship Park is dedicated to all Alabamians and Americans who have served in every branch of the U.S. armed forces, and touring the park and the ship affords a glimpse into the lives of the men and women who have served and who still are,” he said.

Tunnell calls the park “America’s most unique military attraction.” Since opening in 1965, it has attracted more than 14 million visitors from around the world. In addition to the USS Alabama, the park has artifacts spanning the U.S. military’s last 80 years, including the USS Drum submarine (open for tours if you’re not claustrophobic), a plane like the ones flown by the Tuskegee Airmen, and more.

Tunnell believes the reactions of the park’s smallest visitors exemplify the awe and wonder we should all feel at the park.

“They come up the gangway onto the ship, and their eyes light up. I hear, ‘Wow! It is huge!’ ‘Look at that, and look at that!’ ” he said. “It’s the most amazing thing many have ever seen, and they’re excited to learn its history.”

The Far Side of the World

World War II raged on two fronts, in Europe and in the Pacific Theater. Occupying a six-acre site, the National Museum of the Pacific War in Fredericksburg, Texas, is dedicated to the latter. The museum offers a deep look at this segment of the war, highlighting not only the Allies’ victory, but the toll the war took through photo murals and multiple exhibits with thousands of artifacts.

Director of Marketing Brandon Vinyard outlined the museum’s broad perspective. “The war affected the United States, but it affected the other cultures involved as well,” he said. “We show that here.”

Artifacts include a Japanese “midget” sub that ran aground during the attack on Pearl Harbor, and a Japanese float plane, one of only three in the world and the only one currently on exhibit anywhere.

Vinyard shared his favorite part of the museum. “I love the victory gallery, a video exhibit,” he said. “It’s a great photo collage that wraps up the war. It shows the fireworks, the folks coming home, but it also shows the loss. It speaks to what the war in the Pacific was in a powerful and emotional way.”

Jennifer Kornegay is a contributor from Montgomery, Ala.

November/December 2014 Issue


For more information, contact:

The National Naval Aviation Museum, 1750 Radford Blvd., (800) 327-5002, Museum admission is free.

The National WWII Museum, 945 Magazine St.,
(504) 528-1944, Admission: $14–$23. Beyond All Boundaries film additional $5. AAA members can save $2 on adult and $1 on child or senior admissions.

Battleship Memorial Park, 2703 Battleship Parkway, (251) 433-2703, Admission: $6–$15. Active duty military, with identification, admitted for free. AAA members save $2 on adult and $1 on child admission.

The National Museum of the Pacific War, 340 E. Main St., Admission: $7–$14. World War II veterans admitted for free.

To visit these military museums, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Louisiana through the Free Travel Information form found online.

Happy Birthday!

U.S. Army veteran Lawrence Brooks of New Orleans recently celebrated his 105th birthday at The National WWII Museum, making him one of the oldest surviving veterans in the nation.

Born in 1909, Brooks served in the predominantly African-American 91st Engineer Battalion, which was stationed in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II. Read more about Brooks


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