Almost instantly, though, Ambrose and Mueller realized they'd made a mistake. The museum was flooded with visiting World War II vets who loved it but had done their fighting elsewhere beside Normandy and wondered why their stories couldn't be told. And a couple of them, U.S. Senators Ted Stevens (R-Alaska, who served in the war's China-Burma-India theater) and Daniel Inouye (D-Hawaii, who lost an arm fighting in Italy), were in a position to help get government money for a broader museum.
The museum has already added a vast, labyrinthine section on the island-hopping war in the Pacific, including a copy of President Roosevelt's address to Congress the day after the Japanese sneak attack on Pearl Harbor, complete with his handwritten corrections: ". a date which will live in world history infamy ."
The World War II generation, which initially fueled the museum's popularity, is steadily vanishing; even the era's teenagers are now in their 80s. But that hasn't dimmed the museum's attraction: April, with nearly 45,000 visitors, was its busiest month ever. Mueller doesn't believe that's going to change, because World War II isn't really history: Its effects on American attitudes on race and gender and the political boundaries it redrew are still evolving.
"Every day in the newspaper, you see why World War II is still relevant," he says. "We're still trying to deal with people of different cultures and races and religions around the world. The 9/11 attacks brought that to the forefront. The Arab Spring brought it back up - the end of the monarchies in the Middle East is the end of a process that began in 1945. World War II is still with us today, and it's going to be for a long, long time."
IF YOU GO:
WHERE: 945 Magazine St. (entrance at Andrew Higgins Drive), New Orleans.
HOURS: 9 a.m.-5 p.m. daily. Closed Mardi Gras Day, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve and Christmas.
ADMISSION: $21; $18 ages 65-79; $12 (ages 5-12 and 80 and up and students and active or retired military and spouse with ID); free for military in uniform. Show-only and museum-and-show tickets available $5-$23. Parking $6 at adjacent visitor lot on Camp Street.
INFORMATION: 504-528-1944, http://www.nationalww2museum.org
DINING & ENTERTAINMENT: The main museum building contains a counter-service cafe with oversized hot dogs, sandwiches and what it bills as "homemade" Spam. Unless you're ravenously hungry and in a hurry, save your appetite for the full-scale restaurant, The American Sector, across Andrew Higgins Drive. The restaurant has a huge bar flanked by banquettes graced with glamorous black-and-white portraits of wartime USO stars. The gourmet dishes, including lobster pot pie, are devised by chef John Besh. The restaurant is in the building that houses the theater for the Tom Hanks produced-and-narrated 4-D film "Beyond All Boundaries" (screened 10 a.m.-4 p.m. daily, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; tickets range from $5 for kids 4 and under to $14).
In this same annex is The Stage Door Canteen with 1940s-style live entertainment and a bountiful, tasty, buffet prepared by Besh and his staff. Entertainment includes a lunchtime revue of popular World War II tunes and patriotic songs by young women impersonating the Andrews Sisters and other USO entertainers of the era; a Sunday buffet brunch and show; and the Friday-Saturday dinner show "Jump Jive and Wail! The Music of Louis Prima," playing through Nov. 24. Tickets $30 to $60. Information: 504-528-1943 or http://www.stagedoorcanteen.org.
Glenn Garvin: ggarvin@MiamiHerald.com