My grandfather was a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne Division Parachute Infantry. The airborne divisions – two American and one British – dropped behind the landing beaches in the hours before dawn of D-Day. Over 20,000 men – the largest airborne force ever assembled – entered Normandy by glider and parachute. The 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions landed behind Utah Beach. The overall mission of the airborne divisions was to disrupt and and confuse the Germans so as to prevent a concentrated counterattack against the seaborne troops coming in at dawn, and to protect the flanks of the invasion force at Sword and Utah beaches.
Crashing into farm fields in fragile gliders, or descending in parachutes amid antiaircraft fire, the airborne troops suffered heavy casualties. My grandfather was shot in the hip on decent by parachute. In the darkness and confusion of the pre-dawn hours, many units became scattered and disorganized. Some men who landed in flooded areas drowned. Despite these difficulties, groups of soldiers managed to form up and attack the enemy.
Visiting the WW2 Museum in New Orleans I learned more about my grandfather’s role during the War. He never spoke to his children or grandchildren about his experiences during the war. I have pictures from his travels in Europe during the war and from his basic training but I only have bits and pieces of his story.
The WW2 museum is a campus with five buildings – an additional building currently under construction – filled with artifacts and oral histories about this war. Every room is filled with multimedia (print text, visual text, and video) “taking visitors inside the story of the war that changed the world.” The mission of the museum is to”tell 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.”
The museum boasts collections that include more than 250,000 artifacts and over 9,000 personal accounts supporting major exhibits and research. When you enter the museum you receive a dog tag with one individual’s story that you follow along throughout the museum at interactive stations. This personalized experiences allows users to collect artifacts, look at photographs, and read or hear the oral history of this person. I am able to log into Dogtagexperience.org after my visit to read more and study artifacts connected with his story.
The vast amount of oral histories throughout the museum “not only highlight the role of world leaders, but also the everyday men and women who found the strength and courage to accomplish the extraordinary.” The museum covers Japanese Internment, Racism in the military, the road to Tokyo, the road to Berlin, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, and more. There were rooms that showcased the arsenal of the military used to fight and win the war. The Manhattan Project was presented as part of the “The Arsenal of Democracy” exhibit.
The resources the museum provides for educators includes distance learning, school visits, and educator resources. Two opportunities are worth exploring if you cover WW2 in your classroom.
Operation Footlocker allows teachers to rent a locker of WW2 artifacts. This unique hands-on opportunity allows teachers and students to explore the history and lessons of World War II by analyzing WWII artifacts. These traveling trunks are designed to supplement WWII education in the classroom.
Each footlocker comes loaded with about 15 actual artifacts from World War II (not reproductions!). Of course, no weapons or ammunition are included. But there are ration books, V-mail letters, dog tags, sand from the beaches of Normandy and Iwo Jima, wartime magazines, a high school yearbook from the early 1940s, and many other artifacts, both commonplace and surprising. Footlockers come complete with white cotton gloves for handling the artifacts and a teacher’s manual that describes each object and contains directions for conducting artifact “reading” sessions. The cost of the locker rental is $75 for a weekly rental.
The Summer Teacher Institute offers an intensive weeklong seminar at The National WWII Museum in New Orleans and a weeklong excursion to a World War II-related destination. Each year’s institute focuses on a different aspect of the war, employing a rich array of curriculum tools and primary sources to help bring the war to life in the classroom. The 2019 Summer Teacher Institute focuses on liberation and the legacy of the war, connecting events like the Holocaust, the Nuremberg trials, the Marshall Plan, and the founding of the United Nations to the world of today and in the summer of 2020 these teachers are going to Munich to continue their studies. Note, there is no cost for the Summer Institutes. Participants will receive free lodging, a travel stipend, seminar materials, and most meals free of charge.
Additionally, there are lesson plans and artifacts that teachers can utilize for their classroom. This museum is a treasure trove for all in person and online. It has helped me to reflect on what I have covered in my WW2 unit of study and additional materials I want to bring to the forefront. I am also thinking about ways to bring the Dog Tag Experience into the classroom to connect students to the personalized stories of the war and deepen their understanding of this period in history.