Arkansas Teen Honors State’s Contributions to WWII
Roy McKenzie from Prairie Grove, Arkansas won an essay contest that earned him the right to represent Arkansas at the Grand Opening of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. In preparation for this trip, each student contributed a photo essay detailing how their state helped win WWII. These photo essays also formed a physical exhibition that was on display throughout January. At the Dedication Ceremony on January 13, 2013, each student escorted a World War II veteran during the opening procession. Roy describes this experience below.
The Grand Opening. The crowning jewel to my weekend in New Orleans. As you can imagine, it was an exciting time, seeing the city, visiting the museum and other attractions, and the opening ceremony was certainly a great end to the excitement.
Getting to meet the veterans was, of course, an amazing part of the experience. Just mingling and listening to a lifetime of stories being recounted by these members of the Greatest Generation was a magical experience. There were those from all different areas and fields from the war, and yet they all were tied together by this event, this war, which truly defined much of their lives, as well as much of the United States today. Just meeting them in person hammered home to me how important these people, this generation, this war, was, to the United States and the rest of the world. I feel people don’t get to experience these kinds of intense, powerful moments of history often enough.
So, after we met and talked to the veterans, it was time for the ceremony. I felt a deep pride as I escorted my veteran, a man by the name of Harold who had fought on both Pacific and European battlefields, to his place in this historic event. But how could I not? I had contributed to this major museum, a monument to one of the most important events in history, and, in its own way, my work would be a important, if not to the people who would see it, then to me. I knew I could use this amazing opportunity in so many ways. It truly gave me a first-hand experience with creating an exhibit for a museum: gathering the information, finding a link between different facts, and combining it into an essay that showcased how my state, Arkansas, was important, an essay that was used to create the wonderful display now housed in the WWII museum. And I know that this is experience I will use for the rest of my life.
Of course, a lot of these ideas were forgotten the second we were able to step into the pavilion. How could I describe it, in a world? Amazing, possibly, or stupefying. How else would you describe this amazing place, that combines the past and the present before your eyes, bringing the years of the war seemingly into the building? I mean, the planes are hanging from the ceiling, looking as though they could take off for battle at any moment! It was a momentous experience that sent chills down my spine, and definitely one that has opened my eyes to what this war really was: not just some event you read about in in history books or watch documentaries, but a real event that changed the life of millions, and the effects of which can still be seen today.
The National WWII Museum is the Louisiana sponsor for National History Day and encourages students across the state to participate in this program that not only inspires students but is also shown to increase academic achievement across a range of subjects. The Museum thanks CenturyLink for their generous support of the students who traveled to New Orleans for the opening of the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.