WWII Museum Opens Capstone Liberation Pavilion

NEW ORLEANS (press release) — More than 40 WWII veterans, Holocaust survivors and home front workers participated in the Nov. 3 grand opening of the National WWII Museum’s final permanent exhibit hall, Liberation Pavilion, which explores the ongoing relevance of the war and encourages visitors to contemplate the joys, costs and meaning of liberation and freedom. Over 40 Medal of Honor Recipients and other special guests and dignitaries were also on hand for the event marking the conclusion of the New Orleans-based institution’s two-decade journey to expand its campus.

“Nearly 80 years after the end of World War II, we remain ever grateful to those Americans who sacrificed so much to secure freedom and democracy, and whose legacies are now our responsibility to carry on here at The National WWII Museum,” said Stephen J. Watson, the museum’s president and CEO. “It is an honor to welcome these men and women of the WWII generation to our campus as we celebrate the Museum’s commitment to honoring and sharing their stories. Through Liberation Pavilion, we will help visitors better understand the human cost of victory and the enduring impacts of World War II today.”

Themes of freedom, democracy and human rights prevailed throughout the morning. Rabbi Bonnie Koppell, the first female rabbi to serve in the US military, gave the invocation, followed by a tribute to the WWII generation by Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards. Gold Star Daughter and Museum Trustee Sharon Estill Taylor, PhD, spoke on the loss of her father, US Army Air Forces First Lieutenant Shannon Eugene Estill, during the war, highlighting the steep prices paid by servicemembers and their families to ensure victory. Actor, producer, director and writer Tom Hanks reflected on the historic magnitude of the Grand Opening. After a flyover by the Louisiana National Guard Bayou Militia, guests were able to tour the completed pavilion.

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The ceremony was a full-circle moment for those who attended the opening of The National D-Day Museum in 2000, including President and CEO Emeritus Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller, PhD, who helped found the Museum with his friend, fellow historian and best-selling author Stephen E. Ambrose, PhD, and led the institution until 2017.

“Twenty-three years ago, when we first opened The National D-Day Museum, Steve and I thought we had achieved our goal to preserve and honor the memory of those Americans who fought on the beaches of Normandy in 1944. The accomplishments of the past two decades extend far beyond what we could have imagined, even after we decided to broaden our mission to tell the full story of the American experience in World War II,” Mueller said. “Hundreds of thousands of Americans made the ultimate sacrifice during World War II, and millions more survived to serve as a beacon for democracy. Now, with the opening of Liberation Pavilion, we honor the legacies of the WWII generation and help visitors understand the relevance of the war today — the meaning of the freedom they secured and each generation’s duty to protect and advance it.”

As the Museum’s final permanent exhibit hall, Liberation Pavilion highlights the costs of Allied victory, how the war shaped America and how it continues to impact our lives today, as well as the ongoing postwar responsibilities to preserve freedom and to defend democracy and human rights. Two stories of exhibit space designed by Gallagher & Associates featuring first-person accounts, iconic imagery, powerful artifacts and immersive environments, along with a third-floor cinematic experience, explore the end of World War II, the Holocaust, the immediate postwar years and the war’s continuing impact. These spaces allow the Museum to tell a more complete story of the American experience in the war that changed the world and fulfill the final pillar of the institution’s mission: What does World War II mean today?

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Liberation Pavilion’s first floor, Trott Family Philanthropies In Honor of David W. Trott Finding Hope in a World Destroyed, recognizes the sacrifices of the WWII generation and explores the immense cost of war with exhibits on the Holocaust, Anne Frank, faith in wartime, and the Monuments Men and Women. Stories of both loss and liberation reveal the true horror of the conflict as victors and vanquished alike began the tough task of rebuilding their shattered world.

The second floor of Liberation Pavilion, The Goldring Family Foundation and Woldenberg Foundation Forces of Freedom at Home and Abroad (1945–Present), explores the war’s impact in the postwar period and its lasting legacies today. Exhibits examine the rebuilding efforts of a world destroyed, the war crimes trials, the emergence of the United States as a world “superpower,” movements for social change and civil rights, new technological innovations and the war’s impact on foreign policy.

The Priddy Family Foundation Freedom Theater on the third floor of Liberation Pavilion offers audiences a multimedia experience focused on what was at stake during World War II and the meaning of Allied victory. The production, developed by THG Creative, highlights how freedom almost vanished from the world in the 1930s and 1940s, efforts to protect and promote freedom during and after World War II, and how each generation has a responsibility to defend democracy, protect freedom and advance human rights. At a pivotal moment in the show, the theater audience platform itself rotates.

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In addition, the Museum officially dedicated the 24,000-square-foot Col. Battle Barksdale Parade Ground at the heart of campus, adjacent to Liberation Pavilion. Its dedication comes almost two decades after the first major donation to the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign by Donna and Jim Barksdale, then a Museum Trustee, who earmarked the funds for a future parade ground in honor of his uncle Colonel Battle Malone Barksdale (1916–2009), a US Army officer in World War II. Barksdale witnessed the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, and, in 1944, was sent to the European theater with the 635th Field Artillery Battalion. He later commanded a field artillery battalion in the Korean War. Barksdale retired in 1957 with the rank of Colonel.

“Today is a pivotal day in our institution’s history — the end of an era and the start of a new journey,” said Watson. “As we celebrate, we know that there is much more ahead: We will continue to tell the story of World War II in innovative ways, to find new ways to inspire audiences of all ages across the globe and to embrace our role as storyteller for generations to come.”

Following years of planning, ground was first broken on Liberation Pavilion in 2019. Its construction was made possible through the generous support of private donors and the State of Louisiana. The Grand Opening of Liberation Pavilion and Dedication of the Col. Battle Barksdale Parade Ground marked the successful conclusion of the $400 million Road to Victory Capital Campaign that has propelled the growth of The National WWII Museum’s campus and educational programs over the past two decades. The Museum’s D-Day to Liberation: Road to Victory Celebration included a series of private and public events to honor the WWII generation and thank the many supporters who made the campus expansion possible. During this weeklong celebration, The National WWII Museum also hosted Medal of Honor Recipients and their families in New Orleans for the 2023 Congressional Medal of Honor Society Convention, presented by Stephen G. and Regina Oswald Foundation.

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