Experience the French Quarter but don't miss the World War II Museum
Ahh, New Orleans. The French Quarter, Bourbon Street, jazz and Mardi Gras. More than any other American city, New Orleans thrives on its past. And, there’s a lot of past to thrive on: It was founded by the French, then ceded to the Spanish, then gloriously re-ceded to the French, who held it for three years before Napoleon sold one quarter of what would become the Continental U.S. to Thomas Jefferson for $15 million – the equivalent of a week’s parking in downtown New Orleans today.
It has been said (by me) that New Orleans is a lot like Charleston in need of a power-washing. To be fair, most visitors to New Orleans never get to see the city during the day, or when sober. It is night time when New Orleans comes alive, so there’s really no need for a deep clean. Night time is also when Sue and I are safely back in our RV. And, if it is past 7:30, Sue is sleeping, only she calls it “reading” because 7:30 is far, far too early for even Sue to be sleeping.
So, for Sue, me and our dog, Iggy, a daytime tour of the Big Easy it was. We, and every other tourist who was awake by noon, gathered in the French Quarter. Being that Sue and I are history buffs, we listened in as a fellow tourist and amateur tour guide explained that the second-story porches in the French Quarter were built so the occupants could step outside and promote their “business.” Apparently, every house in sight was, at some point, a brothel, although it is rumored that fewer than half are today.
Music is the soul of New Orleans. Not only does music spill out from the hundreds of French Quarter bars, full bands perform on the streets. Yes, full bands. On the street. With trombones, and saxophones, and banjos, and guitars and clarinets. This isn’t Tracy Chapman playing her guitar in the Boston subway as commuters pass by. This is Tracy Chapman and her six-piece Dixieland Jazz band taking up a parking space on the corner of Royal and Dumaine. With rates exceeding $25 per hour, they need to clear $200 a day in tips just to hold off the meter maid.
As we walked toward Café du Monde for our mandatory coffee and beignets, Iggy licked what appeared to be a gold-painted statue that was laying prone upon the street, thus initiating a most-uncomfortable conversation. It may be old school, but we are of the mind that “statues” are to be seen and not heard. With no prompting from either Sue or me, this statue gave our dog a treat, then assailed us with the story of the time he rescued an injured baby pelican by luring it in with a can of sardines. One wonders, were the sardine offerings from tourists who hadn’t any cash about them? Or, had the statue carried the sardines with him that day from his home at statue park? Dog treat or no, these questions were left unanswered because when a statue breaks the fourth wall and engages his audience, we do not indulge his lack of artistic integrity, we keep on walking.
There is far more to New Orleans than the French Quarter. A rain day led us to a find even better than the Mob Museum in Las Vegas: The National World War II Museum. What we thought would be a quick three-hour tour grew into six hours and the sincere wish that we could have returned for another day.
I am the son of a World War II veteran who graduated high school early, joined the Army and was wounded three times during the Battle of the Bulge. Once the European Theater of War wound down, my father was slated to join the Pacific Theater for the planned invasion into Japan.
No one museum can accurately tell the story of World War II from all perspectives, which include extreme sacrifice for many and extreme injustice for others, but this museum tells more of the story than any I have visited.
Prior to Pearl Harbor, public sentiment was largely against our direct involvement in Europe’s and Asia’s wars. In the late 1930s, Charles Lindbergh was not only America’s greatest celebrity, but an outspoken isolationist. Adolph Hitler had many admirers right here in America, including industrial and political leaders of the day.
The end of the war, with the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, has become more controversial over time. There is, however, a very good chance that neither my brother, four sisters or any of their children and grandchildren, along with millions of other descendants of World War II soldiers, would be here had we not ended the war with Japan prior to an invasion.
We are nearly all related to someone who served during World War II. If you find yourself in New Orleans, go ahead and visit the French Quarter at night, when it is somewhat presentable, but take a full day or two and visit the National World War II Museum to experience the division, the unity and the resolve it took America and its Allies to win World War II.