Letter: We must never forget WWII

This weekend young people from all 50 states and Washington, D.C., are traveling to New Orleans to take part in the grand opening ceremonies for The National WWII Museum’s newest building — the $35 million U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center.

Gerard Cook-Moulin, a ninth-grader from Pearl River, is representing Louisiana. He and the other teenagers won an all-expenses-paid trip to the museum for their essays on the war. They will meet curators, dignitaries and, most importantly, WWII veterans who participated in some of the events they researched. It should be an exciting day. The museum will be unveiling an immense B-17 bomber suspended in midair, several other historic aircraft, digital displays of Medal of Honor recipients and an immersive submarine experience.

Gerard and the other high school students will never forget their trip. But sadly, we as a nation are in danger of forgetting the Second World War ever happened.

As a board member of The National WWII Museum, I think it is vital that all Americans remember the achievements of what many refer to as the Greatest Generation. I urge you to make sure your young family members learn about the history of WWII. It was, for those who fought in it and those of us who are their descendents, the most important event of the last 100 years.

Today, there are still Americans alive who watched the attack on Pearl Harbor, who saw combat in Italy and France and who liberated Nazi concentration camps in Europe. Sadly, however, these eyewitnesses to history are leaving us. Of the 16 million who served our country during WWII, approximately 1.5 million veterans remain. There will come a day, one not too far away, when the war really will be only history — stored in the memory of a Kindle or as a video download on YouTube.

In light of this passing, The National WWII Museum has resolved to accomplish two things: The first is to complete the museum, while significant numbers of these heroes are still with us, as a way to honor their deeds and their sacrifices. Secondly, we have made our central mission one of education. We want to ensure the coming generations study every aspect of WWII. Therefore, the museum has embarked on a series of initiatives — from encouraging National History Day competitions, to hosting WWII Quiz Bowl to planting a Victory Garden — to make sure young people learn about the war.

Every Louisianian can take pride in The National WWII Museum. It has grown from a single building to a six-acre campus that has drawn millions of visitors from all over the world to our state. On Saturday, I will return to New Orleans to help dedicate the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. It’s my hope that Gerard and his friends will return here someday, too, to share with their children the story of the war that changed the world.

Kevin Reilly, trustee

National World War II Museum

Baton Rouge