For folks from around these parts, it’s no secret the start of mud season signals a coming exodus, a time to hit the beach. From Cabo to the Keys, pictures of families reveling in the sunshine were a common theme on social media. When reports of 9 inches of new snow came in, we questioned momentarily our decision to join the troops following the sun, knowing springtime in Summit has much to offer. Still, tickets already were in hand so we set off to visit friends who recently have made their home on the Emerald beaches of the Florida panhandle. Their choice of locale was easy to understand when we took in the miles of sugary white beach that stretched far into the horizon.
Although the beach was the destination, airfares heading South don’t hit bargain-basement rates during spring break. We therefore dutifully began the search for spots to land that were nearby, but not necessarily next door. With the fanfare of Mardi Gras over we found flights to the Crescent City on the cheap. It sounded interesting as we had not visited New Orleans since it had risen from ravages of Hurricane Katrina.
We also recognized that not all things New Orleans are considered kid friendly, so we started polling friends from the area for ideas about what to see in the city. Not surprisingly, jazz and jambalaya came highly recommended, but I was intrigued when one dad said he had a hard time extracting his kids from the National World War II Museum. While we won’t necessarily shy away from a museum if it appears, say suddenly in a walkway in front of us, museum visits while on vacation are not teen chart toppers. But the recommendation was so heartfelt we wanted to check it out.
The modern steel gray buildings that rose up out of the warehouse district are a stark contrast to the quaint garden district and the electricity of the French Quarter. When we entered we noted the museum had no shortage of volunteers, primarily older gentlemen who I suspected had lived through what we would only view. Our first stop was a four-dimensional showing of “Beyond all Boundaries,” a documentary narrated by Tom Hanks with all the side effects of a Disney ride. The rumbling seats emulated a ride on a bomber and the snow gently falling from the ceiling chilled us as if we were on the Russian front, ultimately telling a story of our nation’s resilience that left the packed theater speechless. Nor were the exhibits sterile replicas of war machinery, or combat clothing. Instead, the entire museum was filled with personal accounts of the war, recorded by veterans whose stories of battles and bravery should not be forgotten. When I looked at the glass case that displayed the uniform of a young soldier, the jacket dirty and torn, and pants that seemed far too small for a full-grown man, I realized I was looking at an entire generation, where boys and girls clamored to fight for our freedom, most only a few years older than our daughters. The buildings are more a memorial than a museum, housing the collective memory of a generation that each year dwindles in number.
Our oldest was intrigued by the mottos of our military branches. So often these days we talk about core values with kids. Seeing the words “integrity first, service before self and excellence in all we do” next to the uniform donated by the family of a young Air Force pilot who never returned from the war made real the fact there are people who live, and die, by their core beliefs. We heard the firsthand recorded accounts of Marines who exited boats at Normandy to land on a beach they only wanted to forget — but through it all they remained faithful. As the stories unfolded I commented to my husband that it was a quirk of fate that my pop, a newly minted marine during D-Day, was not part of the wave of young men who saw a beach just one time. And in my mind’s eye, the pure white sand beaches we played on just the day before were stained by a shadow, and I recognized the beaches we enjoy today are a byproduct of that long-ago beach from hell, and the stories of the greatest generation, now housed in a stark gray building in the heart of New Orleans.
“This We’ll Defend,” reads the motto of the U.S. Army.
Cindy Bargell is a mom and attorney who lives near Silverthorne with her husband and two daughters.