NEW ORLEANS (Reuters) - One of the largest museums to commemorate the events and sacrifices of World War Two will open a new pavilion on Saturday as it races to complete a sprawling $350 million complex before the remaining veterans of the war are gone.
Hundreds of veterans, politicians, business leaders and invited guests are expected to attend the opening ceremony. NBC television newsman Tom Brokaw, the author of the book "The Greatest Generation," will serve as emcee.
Gordon "Nick" Mueller, president and chief executive of the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, said the long-range goal of the museum is to educate younger people about the global war that ended in 1945.
"It has always been our mission to teach younger generations about the significant sacrifices made during the war that helped secure the freedoms they enjoy today," Mueller said.
The U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center will feature what Mueller calls the "big guns" of the war, including a B-17E Flying Fortress and B-25J Mitchell bomber, suspended in a four-story gallery above a floor display that includes an M4 Sherman tank and other artillery.
Visitors will get close views of the fighter planes and bombers via catwalks on several levels of the pavilion.
Another exhibit, which commemorates the final mission of the USS Tang submarine that sank more than 30 enemy ships before being hit by one of its own torpedoes, will give visitors a simulated submarine combat experience.
ELITE FIGHTER PILOTS ON COMBAT MISSIONS
New York City veteran Roscoe Brown will be taking part in the opening ceremony but what he is really looking forward to is seeing the P-51D Mustang fighter. The museum has painted the plane to look exactly like the one he piloted through 68 combat missions in 1944-45.
"The Mustang was a very well-designed plane. It made good sharp turns, climbed high, and had good visibility," Brown said about the aircraft that were featured in the 2012 movie "Red Tails."
Brown, 90, was a member of the famous Tuskegee Airmen, an air squadron based in Tuskegee, Alabama, and worked as a consultant on the film. The squadron was comprised entirely of African Americans, who up until 1941 had not been allowed to fly for the U.S. military.
As commander of the 100th Fighter Squadron of the 332nd Fighter Group, Brown led 15 other pilots who escorted the Flying Fortress and Liberator bombers on missions across Europe.
In March 1945, Brown joined an elite group of fighter pilots when he shot down a German ME-262 jet over Berlin. The ME-262 was the first jet ever used in combat, and its speed made it a tough target.
"I was flying above the bombers and he came up under them," Brown said, recalling how he targeted the jet. "I had to do an acrobatic manoeuvre to get into his blind spot, then I pulled the trigger and got him right in the midsection."
Brown became one of only 15 pilots to score a hit on the prized German jet.
MORE EXPANSIONS PLANNED
The new pavilion stands within a complex of buildings that comprise the museum, which opened in 2000 and occupies more than a square block in New Orleans' Warehouse District.
A "Service and Sacrifice" exhibit begins with a video greeting by U.S. Senator Daniel Inouye of Hawaii, a World War Two veteran and Medal of Honor recipient who died in December.
From the original building, founded as the National D-Day Museum, the complex has expanded to include the Solomon Victory Theater, which features the 4-D film "Beyond All Boundaries" produced by actor Tom Hanks, a live performance bistro featuring 1940s shows, and the American Sector Restaurant.
In 2003 Congress designated the complex the National World War II Museum, and the new pavilion later received a $20 million government grant and a $15 million gift from Boeing Co, which produced some 19,000 wartime aircraft.
Mueller said the new pavilion shows that the nation was able to create large-scale manufacturing processes that produced a massive array of weaponry within a short time.
"Hitler and the Japanese believed there was no way possible that the United States could develop this kind of manufacturing capacity to increase our industrial output so fast," Mueller explained.
"But before the war ended, we were out-producing all of our enemies combined. That's a big part of how the Allies won the war."
The museum will open to the public on Sunday. Two more pavilions are slated to open within the next three years. So far more than 3 million people have visited the complex, Mueller said.