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Travel Down The “Road to Tokyo” at The National World War II Museum

The National World War II Museum’s newest permanent exhibit “Road to Tokyo” takes visitors step by step through a mesmerizing and harrowing journey.

Explore the fascinating history of the Pacific theaters of World War II at the new Road to Tokyo galleries at the National WWII Museum in downtown New Orleans

Through detailed video and audio narration, The National World War II Museum’s newest permanent exhibit, Road to Tokyo, (opening Saturday, Dec. 12, 2015) brilliantly revisits the Allied Forces’ difficult and harrowing journey into Asia and the Pacific. Important artifacts, interactive storytelling, and a meticulous set design truly transport the visitor into the Asia-Pacific theater, where the allies fought a new enemy in unknown parts of the world.

The road to Tokyo is a complicated story to tell, and there’s no better place to learn about it than at The National World War II Museum.

What began at Pearl Harbor led forces to Tokyo Bay by way of New Guinea and Southeast Asia, the Himalayas, Burma, the islands of the Pacific, China, India, and Alaska, finally ending with the culmination of the war after nuclear bombs were dropped in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. It’s a complicated story to tell, and there’s no better place to learn about it than at The National World War II Museum.

The new exhibit is immersive for the senses with ten detailed galleries that put you seemingly in the middle of the action — helming a Navy battleship, or embedded deep in the jungle at Guadalcanal — and tell the stories of those who fought and sacrificed so much while completely unprepared for the enemies and challenges that lay ahead. It’s more than a cut-and-dry version of history, and by the end of the exhibit, you’ll feel a deeper connection to those of the greatest generation who sacrificed so much so that the world could be at peace.

A Virtual Walk Down the ‘Road to Tokyo’

Explore the fascinating history of the Pacific theaters of World War II at the new Road to Tokyo galleries at the National WWII Museum in downtown New Orleans.
Immersive exhibits put you right in the middle of the action, and make the storytelling that much more real and interesting. Exhibits seamlessly integrate video and audio storytelling with artifacts in realistic environments like the recreated bridge of the USS Enterprise. The tactile experience gets you right from the beginning as you can feel the steel rivets in the floor, just as on a real battleship.
The attention to detail is part of what makes the National WWII Museum a can’t-miss attraction in New Orleans. This porthole showing the USS Ticonderoga is just one example of the many details to discover throughout the exhibit.
Get up close: more than just the uniforms, the stories behind the uniforms help illuminate a challenging part of our world’s history.
The scene shifts quickly from gallery to gallery. You’re suddenly thrust into the island palm jungles of Guadalcanal, off the northeast coast of Australia in the middle of the Pacific Ocean where the first amphibious landing of WWII occurred. Our troops were vastly underprepared for the resiliency and size of the Japanese forces, and the lengthy battle that lay ahead for them in treacherous conditions. You can feel the rocky dirt under your feet, curve your way through the jungle, as video projections with narration and wartime sounds envelop your senses all around you. This room is what the museum does best in teaching and interacting with visitors.
Interactive displays are one part of the exhibits – the Museum has undertaken the task of compiling oral and visual histories totalling many thousands of hours of the men and women who served in World War II, and those stories can be discovered through interactive kiosks rich with interactive visual and audio information. Visitors are given a dogtag and can also follow the particular story of one person throughout the exhibit by touching their unique dogtag to the kiosk, so no two visitors experiences are alike.
History definitely comes alive when there’s a real U.S. Army Air Force P-40 plane soaring just above your head in the China-Burma-India gallery at the Road to Tokyo exhibit. This room tells the stories of our second front in the Pacific: “CBI” held critical strategic importance for US forces. While nearly a dozen Japanese army divisions battled US forces on Pacific islands and at sea, a staggering 40 more were tied up in the Sino-Japanese War in China where our troops were facing nearly insurmountable odds.
The last room in the Road to Tokyo exhibit is one of the most minimal rooms in terms of artifacts and visual and audio information, but it’s probably the most important as it illuminates the stories of those who dropped the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki and all the lives affected by the devastation those bombs wrought. It’s particularly solemn experience, and one that is still lingering profoundly with me right now.
One of the priceless historical documents of the war is the flight log of Paul Tibbets, the pilot of the B-29 bomber “Enola Gay,” which dropped “Little Boy” – the atomic bomb – on Hiroshima. This seemingly innocuous quotidian document is an important part of our world’s history.
These bottles were warped by the powerful blast at Nagasaki, and are just several of many items that explain the complicated and important history of our world during WWII.
The brand-new American Spirit Bridge links the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion and the Campaigns of Courage building, providing a seamless and all-weather easy access to all the buildings on the National WWII Museum’s campus. It’s part of the ambitious expansion plans of the museum, which has opened several major new exhibits in the past several years, culminating with the Road to Tokyo, and continuing on with several major new exhibits and buildings being constructed in the immediate near future, making the National WWII Museum among the must-see experiences in New Orleans.
What began as the D-Day Museum 15 years ago has now grown into the National WWII Museum, one of the cultural centerpieces of New Orleans, with more than a half a million visitors per year. The museum will be expanding with a new Liberation pavilion and a Hall of Democracy pavilion to help complete the storytelling of the entire WWII experience. In addition to a new parking garage structure currently being built and meeting/conference and hotel facilities being planned, the museum will be ambitiously expanding in the next few years to take this already world-class attraction to new heights.

Photos by Paul Broussard

Paul Broussard is a native New Orleanian, photographer, writer, and culture junkie. He regularly photographs for Visit New Orleans, Zatarain’s, and other great New Orleans brands, and his photography and writings have appeared in several national and international publications including Bon Appetit magazine and The Times-Picayune. He is the co-host of the long-running Stage & Screen radio on WTUL 91.5 FM.

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