NEW ORLEANS » A bombed-out bunker with a digital battle-mapping table and animated fighter planes soaring overhead gives an immersive look at strategic air raids over Europe during World War II.
The simulated experience takes place inside a new 32,000-square-foot pavilion opening to the public on Dec. 13 at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.
"Road to Berlin" is the first of two exhibits in the new Campaigns of Courage Pavilion. The other exhibit, "Road to Tokyo," will be added next year.
"Road to Berlin" takes visitors through the American struggle to defeat Nazis. It includes oral histories, personal artifacts, authentic film footage and animated maps and re-creations.
"It’s not all good," said Gordon "Nick" Mueller, the museum’s president and CEO, who gave the Associated Press a look at the exhibit. "We got clobbered in North Africa, and then we had to fight our way through Sicily and then into the mountains of Italy."
Artifacts include a German fighter plane suspended from the pavilion’s atrium ceiling, a typewriter and handmade radio receiver used by a young French girl to intercept and transcribe wartime broadcasts. A German staff car, an Opel, is displayed covered in artificial snow in a gallery about the Battle of the Bulge.
Sand from the beaches of Normandy is encased in glass and littered with helmets, weapons, toothbrushes, cigarette boxes and other personal items that washed ashore after the June 6, 1944, D-Day invasion.
Personal narratives can be accessed throughout the exhibit using digital dog tags, which visitors will be given when they enter the museum. Each visitor will be "paired" with a real WWII service member to follow their wartime experience.
Not all the stories are based in Europe. Some hit closer to home.
Merchant Marine Louis Marcel Taix of New Orleans was aboard a ship headed back to the U.S. when it was torpedoed by a German submarine off the coast of the Bahamas on May 15, 1942.
As crew abandoned the SS Nicarao in lifeboats, 25-year-old Taix, the ship’s chief radio operator, stayed behind to call for help and transmit the doomed vessel’s coordinates.
Taix became trapped when the radio shack collapsed as the ship sank, but his final act proved gallant. Of the 39 crewmen, 31 survived and were picked up by a tanker the following day.
"It was heroic, and I’m so proud," said 90-year-old Lorraine Taix McCaslin, Taix’s sister, who was a teenager when the Western Union telegram declaring her brother lost at sea arrived at her family’s home.
She said the inclusion of her brother’s story in the upcoming exhibit is an honor, a blessing and a gift.
"My heart is overwhelmed," she said. "To have this after all these years, it’s so important to me, important to my family. It relives what none of us should ever forget."
Stacey Plaisance, Associated Press