NEW ORLEANS (BRPROUD) – Louisiana has a particular advantage when it comes to the history of the nation. With the National WWII Museum in New Orleans, people from all walks of life can observe the conflict up close. As the generation living in the war goes away, the younger generations need to remember what happened.
This year marks the 80th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Since the attack, a lifetime has passed.
Now, with fewer people able to give their first-hand accounts of the war, museums are left to tell the story. The National WWII Museum is proud to continue to expand its exhibits and educational reach.
For Tom Czekanski, the museum is personal. His father, Alphonse, served in WWII and now his uniform is on display. Czekanski said he didn’t realize the significance of what his father experienced in Normandy and Pearl Harbor until years later.
“He was sitting in the dining hall. He got up early. He was a corporal and there was a table for the NCOs and they were drinking their coffee when Japanese planes flew over… the barracks, ”Czekanski said. “I remember him saying that there were several men in his company who were killed while they were still asleep.”
Czekanski’s aunts and uncles also served during the war, which prompted him to enlist in the reserve. He was in active service in the 1980s.
The museum highlights the American experience during World War II, from battles fought by soldiers to how families handled changes in their country.
“I think the biggest story that goes through is that the people of WWII were average individuals like you and I are today,” Czekanski said. “We tell the story not as much as the generals and the grand strategies, but with the individual.”
He said the museum’s goal is to show the facts of history and allow younger people to reflect on the tragedy of war and how the country came together in difficult times.
“It is essential that Americans remember that at some point in our history we all came together. We put politics aside and we have all come together for the greater good of the country and the world, ”Czekanski said.
As the state recovers from the pandemic, more and more school visits are coming through the doors. The museum also provides online resources for teachers to better help them teach about war.
What started as a small collection to recognize Andrew Jackson Higgins, a native of New Orleans, for his efforts in the war by creating Higgins Boats, is now a federally recognized institution.
“When we first opened we were seeing a lot more veterans and veterans often came with their families and children and grandchildren and visited the museum,” Czekanski said. “They would learn what their grandparents did in the war. Over time, there are fewer and fewer veterans able to travel.
The museum has been expanding for decades. A new exhibition on the Holocaust and the liberation of the concentration camps is currently under construction.
Every day for twenty years, Czekanski walks through the doors of the museum and walks past his father’s uniform. For him, keeping the museum’s mission alive is an honor, celebrating those he has met along the way.
“The hardest part of this job is that these people all die, but it’s an honor for me to be able to work here and make sure their story is told,” Czekanski said.