7th Infantry division soldiers helping local population for eventual evacuation off island on Kwajalein in February 1944
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the last half of the Island Hopping gallery, we come upon two exhibit spaces detailing the invasions of the Marshall and Marianas Islands, which brought Allied forces one step closer to victory in the Pacific.
Marshall Islands Campaign
This exhibit will detail the major events and importance of the invasion of the Marshall Islands and Truk, including Kwajalein Island, which were critical to penetrating Japan’s “Outer Ring” of defenses. The Japanese were quick to learn how to reinforce their beach defenses, and subsequently, island invasions grew more costly to the US. Countering this, the US submarine force responded dramatically with increasing numbers and efficiency in their attacks. US subs began destroying large numbers of Japanese merchant ships, troop transports, and warships, effectively harming the enemy’s industry and war effort.
Pilots and crewman aboard a U.S. Navy carrier cheer as guns strike a smashing blow to a Japanese plane in the Marianas on 22 February 1944
In the Marianas exhibit, visitors will learn of the critical campaign in 1944 to take the Marianas Islands away from the Japanese. Key battles discussed within the exhibit including the amphibious invasion of Saipan, the destructive naval Battle of the Philippine Sea, and fighting for Guam and Tinian. The strategic value of the Marianas will be dramatically displayed, as the Americans used these islands as air bases to strike and wreak devastation through B-29 attacks directly on mainland Japan. In addition, the exhibit will document the role and success of Native American code-talkers on Saipan.
Stay tuned next week as we enter into the China-Burma-India gallery.
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the Island Hopping gallery, we come next to the Tarwara exhibit, which tell of the first major operation of Central Pacific war. The operation involved U.S. forces invading the Gilbert Islands in order to secure airstrips, with the main target being the Tarawa Atoll.
The operation consisted of airstrikes, naval bombardment, and, most remarkably, the first widespread use of the amphibious Landing Vehicle Tracked to breach coral reefs – a strategy that was not expected by Japanese. The operation, however, resulted in heavy casualties, as the US had difficulty overcoming Japanese defenses and experienced limited success with air and sea bombardment. Victory was ultimately achieved, though the high cost of the invasion stirred controversy. Tarawa was a harbinger of things to come in Central Pacific fighting.
The Island Hopping gallery within Road to Tokyo has been made possible through a generous gift by the James S. McDonnell Family Foundation and Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III.
Donor Spotlight: Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III
James and Elizabeth McDonnell have had a great interest in the Pacific Theater of World War II. In particular, Elizabeth McDonnell’s father, John M. Hall, served in the war in the U.S. Navy on an LST in the South Pacific. James’s uncle served with the U.S. Army Medical Corps, was stationed in Fiji and participated in the Okinawa campaign. James also had a first cousin who fought in the war in General Patton’s 3rd Army in Europe as well as several other relatives in the U.S. Army and Navy during WWII.
James comes from a long and proud history of military industrial production! His father, James Smith McDonnell, Jr., an American aviator and engineer, founded the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation in 1939 in St. Louis, MO. During WWII, business expanded exponentially, with around 400 employees in 1941 and more than 5,000 during peak wartime production. During the war, McDonnell Aircraft manufactured 7 million pounds of aircraft parts, including tails and engine cowlings for Boeing bombers and Douglas transports.
The McDonnells first became involved with The National WWII Museum through meeting Hugh Ambrose, son of founder Stephen Ambrose and a member of the Museum’s Institutional Advancement department. As a result of the meeting with Hugh, the McDonnells participated in the Museum’s Pacific Battles Tour in February 2011. Since that intial trip, the couple has traveled on both the Museum’s D-Day 70th Anniversary Cruise and the Masters of the Air Tour.
Aside from their participation in the Museum’s educational tours, the McDonnells chose to make a very generous gift to the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign in 2011. James states that they chose to name this gallery space because while “everyone knows about D-Day in Normandy, in the Pacific there were 126 opposed D-Days, all of which were important in winning the war against Japan.” He and Elizabeth strongly believe that the importance of World War II is a story that must be told and preserved. James states, “WWII saved the world. Its history should be preserved so that future generations will appreciate the accomplishments and sacrifices made by our troops of all services.” The National WWII Museum is thankful for James and Elizabeth McDonnell and the McDonnell Family Foundation for their outstanding role in fulfilling the Museum’s essential mission of sharing the stories of the Greatest Generation with new audiences.
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the Island Hopping gallery, which will detail the incredible amphibious landings made by Allied forces as they engaged in efforts to clear the Japanese resistance from the Aleutians, through New Guinea, and the outer rings of the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas island chains. Throughout, the exhibits will communicate both the broad strategic complexity of the island hopping campaign and the individual bravery and leadership of the service members who took part in it.
The first exhibit within the gallery is Strategic Overview, which will give a detailed overview of the major events of the post-Guadalcanal Island Hopping Campaign and the importance of the Air War in the Central Pacific. Island hopping was an innovative American military strategy in the Pacific. It created the pathway for American forces to close the vast distances of the Pacific and bring the war to Japan itself. Visitors will learn about the intelligence planning that orchestrated these island invasions and the brutal fighting and challenges which American forces met on the Road to Tokyo.
A Douglas R4D bomber on the airfield at Majuro Island, a tiny atoll near Kwajalein in the Marshalls in May 1944.
Following Strategic Overview, the New Guinea exhibit will explore the arduous battle through New Guinea’s jungles as the Allies counterattacked the Japanese and secured key points along the island’s northern coast. Initially making little progress, Australian and American forces gradually advanced with breakthroughs at Buna, Gona, and Sanananda, as well as the destruction of Japanese forces in the Battle of the Bismarck Sea. Visitors will discover the significance of New Guinea as a catalyst for the Island Hopping campaign.
Next week, we explore the remaining exhibits within the Island Hopping gallery.
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo, and through the Pacific Campaign Challenges, we come next to the Island Hoppinggallery, which will cover the major events of the Allied advance across the Central Pacific.
This gallery will feature the stories of those Americans fighting in the air, sea and land forces, who made amphibious landings in hopes of breaking the enemy, as well as stiffening Japanese resistance. When the island hopping campaign began, US forces were engaged in clearing the Japanese from the Aleutians and pushing through New Guinea under General MacArthur, before commencing operations against the outer rings of the Gilbert, Marshall, and Marianas island chains.
This gallery space will include five major exhibits: Strategic Importance, New Guinea, Tarawa, Marshall Islands Campaign, and Marianas Campaign. These exhibits will employ an array of artifacts, interactive displays, and audio visual presentations to capture visitors’ imaginations and bring the history of the war in the Pacific to life. Throughout, the exhibits will communicate both the broad strategic complexity of the island hopping campaign and the individual bravery and leadership of the service members who took part in it.
The Island Hopping gallery has been made possible through a generous gift by Mr. and Mrs. James S. McDonnell III and the James S. McDonnell Foundation.
As we continue through the Road to Tokyo and into the Pacific Campaign Challenges gallery, we come to two immersive exhibits detailing the monumental obstacles American forces had to overcome for victory in the Pacific.
Building Bases in the Pacific (Seabees)
The vast geography and logistical challenges of the Pacific War led to the creation of hundreds of airfields, supply depots, ports, barracks and more by the Navy’s Construction Battalions (CB, or “SeaBees”) as well as other service engineers. Building Bases in the Pacific will explore the lives of these critical servicemen including the complexities of their work and the obstacles that they faced. Personal accounts will feature the difficulties of life in disease ridden and hostile environments, and the importance of building positive relationships with native island populations. Construction was vital for pushing toward mainland Japan, and this exhibit will discuss the various ways in which Navy SeaBees helped lead to Allied victory in the Pacific.
An Alien World
This exhibit will explore difficulty of life in the Pacific, as well as the medical advances that were made in light of many hardships. American forces serving in the Pacific had little opportunity to escape the war. Escape was crucial for troops to mentally and physically recover from their service, though there was little that compared to the comforts of home. Some troops were allowed furloughs in Australia and New Zealand, but many were trapped in the tedium of remote island locations, never allowing them a break from their environments. An Alien World will feature various accounts and memoirs of these trying times of Pacific campaign service men and women.
Donor Spotlight: Jones Walker LLP
The Building Bases in the Pacific exhibit within Pacific Theater Challenges (Seabees) has been made possible through a generous gift by Jones Walker LLP. Bill Hines is the Managing Partner of Jones Walker and also serves on The National WWII Museum Board of Trustees.
Jones Walker has been committed to and involved in the Museum’s growth since its inception. Many Jones Walker partners have personally supported the Museum both financially and through the development of its programs. Hines became actively involved as a member of the Board in 2007, and became a member of the Executive Committee in 2013. He currently chairs the Museum’s Audit Committee.
Jones Walker was especially interested in supporting the Museum’s Road to Victory Capital Campaign due to the efforts of the Museum’s Board Chairman, Richard Adkerson, CEO of Freeport-McMoRan. Adkerson introduced the firm to the upcoming Road to Tokyo galleries. Hines states that “many of our partners and I were moved by the exhibits, and we felt inspired to support this segment of the Museum’s visionary expansion.”
A Seabee in a road grader waves as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress prepares to land on Tinian in March 1945
After the presentation, Jones Walker committed to sponsor the Building Bases in the Pacific (Seabees) exhibit. Hines says that “we were drawn to Seabees exhibit because of Richard Adkerson, whose father, J.W. Adkerson, was in the Seabees. We thought it was the perfect way to honor Richard’s father and the other noble men who fought in WWII for the cause of freedom.”
Commenting on his many years of involvement with the Museum, Hines states that President and CEO, Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller never fails to leave a lasting impact. Hines remarks that Dr. Mueller “has unparalleled knowledge about the detailed history of WWII and its importance to the world. His passion, vision, and drive for conceiving many of these exhibits and executing on the vision are great assets to our city and our country. Because of his work, our children and our grandchildren will know how important WWII is to our history as a nation. Seeing the Museum through to completion has made a great impression on me and many others at Jones Walker. “
When reminiscing of his time spent on the Museum’s Board, Hines states that he has found many of the Museum’s events both memorable and moving. One that stood out the most to him was the Grand Opening ceremonies for the Road to Berlin galleries last December. Hines states that “I found it to be one of the most inspiring and patriotic events I’ve ever attended.”
Hines believes that supporting the WWII Museum is most important in preserving our nation’s history and allowing future generations to be fully educated about the significance of WWII. He states that “it is an honor to have Jones Walker associated with such an amazing organization, and I would encourage others to consider supporting the Museum.”
The Museum is fortunate and grateful to have the support of Jones Walker, LLP in helping the Museum complete our Road to Victory Capital Campaign.
After over a week in New Orleans and Normandy, the Normandy Academy students are nearing the end of their trip. They have enjoyed perfect weather throughout with sunny skies and only one evening rain shower. Cool breezes have kept the beach visits pleasant and marked a major change from their time in New Orleans.
On Friday, June 26, the day began with a visit to Ste-Mere-Eglise, where the students heard the story of the paratoopers of the 82nd Airborne Division who liberated the town. Specifically, they learned of the heroism of Gretna, LA native John P. Ray who saved the lives of both John Steele and Ken Russel shortly after receiving a wound that would prove fatal. The students then applied their knowledge of the paratroop drop to future campaigns by discussing the lessons learned in Normandy.
Debates and discussions continued throughout the site visits. At Utah Beach, the students debated the addition of the beach through a risk/reward scenario. On Omaha, the students discussed the flight patterns of the bombing raids, and in the Falaise Gap, they debated several issues involving the French civilians who found themselves caught in the crossfire.
A powerful experience came in the evening on June 28 as the students met French Resistance members Andre Heintz and Collette Marin-Catherine. The students heard the firsthand accounts of struggling against the German occupation against a general backdrop of hardship for all French civilians. After the discussion, Heintz and Marin-Catherine joined the students for dinner at Café Mancel inside the Caen Castle.
Normandy Academy students with Mr. Dan Ombredanne at Chateau Periers.
The Normandy Academy students arrived in France after three full days of touring at the Museum. Once in France, they stopped at the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe, and Notre Dame. Now they were ready for their trip to Normandy.
Arriving in the town of Bayeux, the students were immediately impressed by the Bayeux Cathedral, first completed in the 11th century with some portions completed later The cathedral now has an impressive blend of architectural styles. It was commissioned by William the Conqueror, and it is the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry. The students were in for a surprise when they found that their hotel was just two blocks from the cathedral. After their first French meal and a good night’s rest, they awoke reading and willing to visit the Normandy battle sites.
The first day of touring brought the students to the areas around Sword Beach. The first stop was at Chateau Periers, a private home just three miles from the coast. In this chateau, Marie-Louise Osmont kept a diary of her life from the German occupation of her home in August, 1940 until the last British soldier left her home in August, 1944. Her diary gives many insights into the life of both German soldiers and French civilians under occupation. The current proprietor of the chateau, Mr. Dan Ombredanne welcomed the students to the chateau along with the town mayor to give a tour of the grounds and the interior.
Later in the day, the students visited Pegasus Bridge, the Riva Bella Tower, and the German Battery at Longues sur Mer. At each stop the students debated decisions made in the course of the battle. At Pegasus, the students debated whether the bridges along the Orne, Dives, and Merderet Rivers should be destroyed or preserved prior to the landings. At Longues sur Mer, the students discussed the length of the naval barrage—How long? When should it cease?
Still awaiting the students are visits to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Caen, and a conversation with a veteran of the French Resistance. The students will return to the United States on June 30, 2015.
Two LSTs on a beach on Guadalcanal with Henderson Field Runways in 1943
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the second half of the Guadalcanal gallery, we come to the final two exhibits that detail the visual experiences had by the Allied forces within the ruthless jungle terrain and the tactics used to secure victory.
This exhibit explores the central strategic importance of control of the Henderson Field air base to both sides in the campaign. Battles at sea and land raged around gaining ultimate possession of Henderson Field, including the Battle of Santa Cruz, the Naval Battles of Guadalcanal, and the Battle for Henderson Field. An environmental projection will project still images and historic footage related to Henderson Field with an ambient war soundtrack. As well as being a visual component to the scenic environment, the projection is meant to be a visual diary of the experiences of American troops on Guadalcanal throughout the campaign.
War Without Mercy
War Without Mercy will explore the cruel nature of the Japanese enemy and their fighting tactics in an unforgiving jungle environment. The Japanese used the ridges and foliage to their advantage, approached silently, utilized snipers in trees to slow American advances, and attacked relentlessly all through the night. These tactics, which created a frightening “jungle as a bogeyman” feeling, left many marines and soldiers feeling disconcerted and grappling within a war of nerves. Learning hard lessons, US troops responded by developing new tactics and learned to use the terrain and foliage to their own advantage.
Donor Spotlight: Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation
The War Without Mercy exhibit has been made possible through a generous gift by The Gustaf W. McIlhenny Family Foundation.
The McIlhenny family, well known in Louisiana and worldwide for the creation of the iconic Tabasco products, is steeped in military history and includes John McIlhenny who was a Rough Rider with President Teddy Roosevelt.
The Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation was formed in 1997 by Edwin “Rod” Rodriguez at the request of Gustaf W. McIlhenny. The Foundation focuses on funding institutions nationwide, though primarily in Louisiana, which promote community conservation, health and education programs that stress traditional values. The Foundation has been an advocate of The National WWII Museum dating back to 2004.
Though having been involved with the Museum for many years, Rod Rodriguez became a member of the National WWII Museum’s Board of Trustees in 2014. His father was a key player on the Home Front, working as the head of a working gang at Higgins Industries during the war. He first took his family to visit the Museum soon after the 2000 opening, having purchased bricks honoring his wife Elizabeth’s father, Douglas McIlhenny.
Walter McIlhenny, Elizabeth’s cousin, was in the first wave of Marines at Guadalcanal. He was attacked by a Japanese solider wielding a Samurai sword and struck in the head, but his helmet protected him. He survived the blow, killed his attacker and went on to serve throughout the Pacific, winning the Navy Cross for his courage. Gustaf, whose name the Foundation bears, was not in the military himself, but had three brothers who served throughout the war.
Rod believes that it is important for the Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation to support the expansion of The National WWII Museum because of its ever-growing importance as an educational institution. He said that “the older this country becomes, our next generations are not going to know the great sacrifices that were made during WWII by America,” and that this needs to be kept in the forefront of all minds. He noted that the Museum is a repository for history and must act as a learning center for the future. Now that the Museum has achieved such success, and become more acclaimed nationwide, he stated that the Foundation is determined to help further its success and statue on an international basis.
Rod recognizes that the Museum is a tremendous asset to the city of New Orleans and the state of Louisiana.
While his time with the Museum has produced many memorable moments, Rod particularly treasures the conversations he has had with the Medal of Honor recipients the Museum has highlighted over the years. Rod believes that these servicemen and women “function at another level.” They completed extraordinary feats “because they were in the situation to save their brothers…there are really no words to justify some of the things these people have done.” He mentioned specifically the presentation of Walt Ehlers’ Medal of Honor by his daughter Cathy, during the dedication ceremony of Road to Berlin last December. He states this powerful moment is hard to top.
Rod went on to note the importance of bringing his children, and now grandchildren, to the Museum in order for them to “realize the sacrifices this country has made for democracy and freedom.” He mentions that while each generation deals with these sacrifices on a different scale, the actions of the Greatest Generation should never be forgotten.
The Museum is fortunate to have the encouragement of Rod Rodriguez and The Gustaf W. McIlhenny Foundation in helping the Museum complete our Road to Victory Capital Campaign.
A CCKW truck tows an artillery piece onto a shore during amphibious training on Guadalcanal in March 1944
As we continue down the Road to Tokyo and through the Guadalcanal, we come first to two exhibits that detail why this Allied campaign signaled a pivotal point in the War in the Pacific.
The U.S. military chose Guadalcanal, in the Solomon Island chain, as their first offensive campaign in the Pacific beginning in August 1942. The Solomons represented the farthest reach of Japanese territorial control in the Pacific, and would be the first of many islands the U.S. would retake in a brutal three-year island-hopping campaign to reach the home islands and defeat Japan. This exhibit space covers the initial landings, the Battle of Savo Island, the Battle of the Tenaru River, and the Battle of the Eastern Solomons. An environmental projection will augment the text panels describing these operations with video footage and still images from the battles.
Bloody Ridge will provide an overview of the Battle for Guadalcanal through mid-October 1942. Bloody Ridge will detail the significance of the Tokyo Express, the Iron Bottom Sound, the Cactus Air Force, Edson’s Ridge, and the marine defenders as they engaged in intense warfare with tremendous dedication. The difficulty of obtaining US reinforcements and supplies (while the Japanese continued to receive both) will be emphasized, and personal items attained by soldiers based in Guadalcanal will be displayed. An environmental projection will project images and historic footage, including ambient sounds of warfare in the dense jungle background, to evoke the fierce fighting on Guadalcanal.
The Bloody Ridge exhibit within Road to Tokyo has been made possible through a generous gift from Dwight Anderson.
Donor Spotlight: Dwight Anderson
Dwight Anderson, who currently serves on the Museum’s Board of Trustees, is the Co-Founder, Principal, & Portfolio Manager of Ospraie Management, an asset management firm located in New York City. Dwight first became involved with The National WWII Museum through his long standing friendship with Board President Richard Adkerson. Dwight states that Richard’s “passion and enthusiasm in the way he described the Museum was infectious,” and sparked him to visit New Orleans.
On his very first visit to the Museum with his family, Dwight was indeed impressed by the content and substance of the Museum, backing up Richard’s glowing reviews. It was after this visit that Dwight decided to become more involved with institution and its expansion.
As a history major in college, Dwight believes in the importance of passing on the story of this monumental conflict to future generations. He noted “to be able to support an institution that was putting together all of the different elements of memorabilia [of the war] and also the multimedia presentations to instruct, teach, show people….that would really be beneficial.”
Dwight’s studies of World War II moved beyond his college days, as he has become an avid reader of World War II history. One of the first books that he read as he gained more interest in the war was “The Guadalcanal Diary,” a memoir written by war correspondent Richard Tregaskis. The stories of the months-long battle in the Pacific, and eventual Allied victory, inspired Dwight to make a capital gift to sponsor the Bloody Ridge exhibit within the Guadalcanal gallery.
However, Dwight’s connection to the war extends further than his studies. Two of Dwight’s great uncles fought in the war, and the souvenirs that his Uncle Eddie brought back, which Dwight used as toys when he was young, were physical reminders of the recent struggle.
Dwight shared that his involvement with the Museum has been very special. He remarked that hearing the veterans’ stories at the Museum — and the humor and humility that they bring to retelling often horrific circumstances — is very memorable and meaningful. He believes strongly that it is important that these stories are passed along to new, younger audiences. Dwight has demonstrated his belief that the depth and quality of the Museum is something that should be sustained, and his generous support helps ensure that it will continue.
The National WWII Museum is incredibly thankful for Mr. Dwight Anderson’s support as we continue to advance along our Road to Victory.
The Grand Opening of The National D-Day Museum on June 6, 2000.
As the National WWII Museum celebrates the 15th anniversary of its opening on June 6, 2000, it’s important to remember how far we’ve come in a short span of time. The Museum is in the midst of $325 million expansion campaign, with the goal of completing its campus while we still have members of the war generation in our midst. In the last year alone, more than 515,000 people walked through our doors and became immersed in the American WWII experience. The Museum is now listed among the most popular museums in the nation – indeed the world – by TripAdvisor users. However, its prospects weren’t always so bright. In fact, documents prepared long ago by founder Stephen Ambrose illustrate how the venture faced daunting challenges long before opening as the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans’ Warehouse District.
One such document is a March 20, 1990 communication from Ambrose to the Board of Directors of the Eisenhower Center for American Studies at the University of New Orleans. At the time, Ambrose expected to build the Museum on the New Orleans Lakefront. The renowned historian describes a meeting he had with professionals from the museum field to discuss specifics of how to bring his vision to life. Then he offers a tentative draft of the “story” the museum should tell, one that seems strikingly modest today. In part, it reads:
“The central theme of the D-Day Museum is to honor the men and women who made D-Day possible. The core idea is to build a museum that tells the biography of a day – June 6, 1944 – a day that changed history. The lesson that the museum will teach is what the American people and American democracy can accomplish when everyone pulls together. Teamwork was Dwight Eisenhower’s favorite word; it was teamwork at home and abroad that made D-Day a success.” Later, Ambrose adds, “The museum obviously cannot cover everything from this vast undertaking: perhaps the best advice we got was to aim to have visitors leave with two or three vivid impressions.”
It’s safe to say, today, that visitors leave our campus – which explores the entire American experience in the war – with more than a few vivid impressions. Happy 15th Birthday to America’s National WWII Museum!
The National WWII Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world - why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today - so that all generations will understand the price of freedom and be inspired by what they learn.