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Every D-Day

National WWII Museum, New Orleans

tomhanks[1]How did Tom Hanks become the baby boomer go-to guy for WWII?

Was it Saving Private Ryan, or Band of Brothers?

Both good guesses if you haven’t seen him in New Orleans.

After his acting job introducing the big show there, he is THE go-to guy.

You know him as a film actor, but what he does on this particular bit of film makes him an all-American actor.

Or you may think he’s not acting, and be right.

Buy a ticket to the 4-D movie at the museum and see for yourself.

To get there, take a streetcar from the French Quarter. Tell the conductor you’re going to the Duece, the WWII museum; he’ll tell you the right ticket to buy.

He turns right off the Mississippi into the center of about six lanes going both ways and stops every few streets.

Get off at Magazine Street and jump on the bus to the museum. It might be your first time, but it feels part of your life when you sit with others who ride the same bus every day.

Since this is a National WWII Museum movie in the Museum Theater, you might expect a certain level of theatrical comfort. That notion goes away when you get called for showtime.

You and your group file into a rectangular room with multiple screens high on the long wall showing bad world conditions before the war. The seating stretches in three long rows of hard benches facing the screens.

Tom appears on screen to explain D-Day, every D-Day.

He stands at attention while he talks, his hands cupped at his sides with his thumb knuckles resting on his trouser seams. It’s a small gesture that anyone in the service gets corrected on when they do it wrong.

General Alexander Haig said commanders built their armies from the thumb knuckle rule.

Tom gets it right, painfully so. His face looks like he’s been holding his breath, or squatting four hundred pounds. The guy looks like he might pop a neck vein before a forehead vein.

Your butt hurts and you don’t care while Tom Hanks fires you up for war.

Just when you settle on the bench for the rest of the show, Tom leaves the room and so do you.

The exit door leads to a spectacular blood red theater and rocking luxury seats. More than one customer sits down and says, “I could go to sleep right now.”

From most reports that’s not what the guys riding the Higgins Boats said on D-Day.

You’re wondering about 4-D? Don’t worry, someone dressed in Nazi gear won’t jump up and slap you. No groups in leg wrappings and fixed bayonets will bonsai charge your chair.

But you will see a huge bomber fly right at you in 3-D.

Just when it’s too close, a nose cone drops out of the ceiling and fits right onto the bomber with a gunner shooting over the crowd.

You will see battleships firing gun towers.

When one gets too close, a prop gun tower rises out of the stage and into place on the 3-D ship and starts strafing Japanese planes.

The seats shake and the sound system puts you in the battle. Check the crowd for anyone flashing back to their war, or anyone more startled than you.

This is when it dawns on all former airmen, soldiers, sailors, and Marines, and their wives.

This is the war you’d jump into. You would be one of the millions in uniform, more likely one of the wounded or dead.

Your uniform puts you in the picture and it’s hard to get out. You walk into an exhibit where one small soldier figure represents 10,000 dead soldiers. There’s a whole shelf of those guys in their country’s colors.

You’d be one of the figures, one of the ten thousand they represent.

WWII left a deep mark on everyone in it, and the new world it created. If you’ve worn the uniform of the United States of America, you’ve seen the mark.

It’s on the Range Master at the hand grenade range who never leaves base. It’s on the platoon captain who went to Vietnam first as an enlisted man, then an officer.

The mark is on the people you see in uniform today. This is their war, but your’s too. Treat the uniformed services now with the same respect you have for your service time.

Give it to them when an airline woman holds a mic while you wait for take-off on your next airplane trip, and she asks former service members to raise their hand.

Raise your hand.

Look around for anyone in uniform and shake their hand.

Reach out and share the moment.

Do it like Tom Hanks on every D-Day.

Let ’em know they’re not alone.

Be a boomer with heart.

About David Gillaspie

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