kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

kayaking on Loch Leven near Glencoe, Scotland, 2018

Thursday, July 21, 2016

National World War II Museum, New Orleans

Bob and I visited the National WWII Museum on a recent trip to New Orleans. I've always said, and it is still true, I love history. But war history, not so much. And thus, I never had an interest in going to this museum. But EVERYONE who has EVER been there just raves about how wonderful it is. So, as it was really hot and a little bit rainy that Saturday, we went. And indeed, the museum is fabulous. If you're into that sort of thing.

They offer several films. We watched Beyond Boundaries, narrated by Tom Hanks. In 3D. Yikes! Bob said, along with the general consensus, that it "was very well done." And who can argue? But for me, the explosions were considerably too loud, the flashes of light too bright. I closed my eyes for much of it. But near the beginning, when they commented on the large number of recruits from various small towns around the nation, the first place they mentioned was my little hometown of Connellsville, Pa.! I felt such pride.

Primary exhibits are separated into the two war theaters -- the European and the Pacific. I strolled through relatively quickly, and spent more time on the Pacific side. Maybe because the exhibit is newer? More likely because we went there first. But I didn't want to miss the European side. I guess I hoped I would spot my grandfather in the background of a photo or video clip. He served in France. Not surprising, I couldn't find him. The exhibit seemed to focus on the fighters on the front lines. Who'd be interested in a mechanic who kept the tanks and jeeps running, possibly at times in the heat of battle. 

My grandpa. Wilbur G. Lowdermilk. He died about 15 years ago. Miss him!

I remember as a child, Grandpa spent nearly every Saturday afternoon watching war movies on television. But he never wanted to talk about it.

To be honest, I did learn a lot from visiting this museum. And isn't that the point! For examples:

  • In the Pacific Theater, only one in five soldiers who died lost their life in combat. The other four died from diseases, ie malaria.

  • Prior to WWII, the United States was not one of the top military powers in the world. We ranked 18th, behind Albania (or somewhere like that, as I recall).  That was one of the most interesting things about the U.S. war involvement, to me – the way the country rallied together, like a giant team effort, and built planes, tanks, guns, ammunition at lightning speed. Men and women dropped everything and either joined the military or the work force. Everyone had a role. Quite impressive!
  • 419,400 U.S. citizens (mostly military personnel plus a small percentage of civilians) died in WWII; a staggering number, until you consider there were over 60 million deaths worldwide. Approx. 7 million in Germany, 26 million in the Soviet Union . . . the U.S. came into the war on the late side. But probably more importantly, aside from Pearl Harbor, the war did not take place within our borders. What a difference, in terms of casualties!

This was my favorite part of the whole museum. The "I Was There!" table, manned by a WWII veteran who is available to talk with visitors and answer questions. Now THIS is history. Living history. He was there! I don't know how many veterans volunteer to do this, but at the time we were there, we met Forrest Villarubia. He's 90 years old and served in the Phillipines. I thanked him for his service and asked if I could take his photo. He said yes, for the price of a hug. It was the least I could do.

Have you been to the World War II Museum? What did you learn?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Running with the Bulls, New Orlean's Style

Bob and I went to New Orleans this weekend to attend the 10th annual San Fermin en Nueva Orleans Festival, aka the Running of the Bulls, which coincided with the event by the same name in Pamplona, Spain.

The festivities began Thursday evening with a Spanish Wine Dinner at the stately Bourbon Orleans Hotel . . . 

 . . . and was hosted by “Governor Bernardo Galvez,” a Spanish military leader and governor of colonial Louisiana from 1785-1786.

In addition to fabulous Spanish food and wines, we were entertained by the talented guitarist Daniele Spadavecchia.

There are various pre-parties and post parties associated with the festival, but the REAL party – the Running of the Bulls -- takes place early Saturday morning. Bob and I woke up at 6:00 a.m. and walked from Hotel Le Marais to the event site, The Sugar Mill, across from the Ernest N. Morial Convention Center. The party had already started.

In true quirky New Orleans style, the "bulls" are roller derby girls (especially New Orleans' own Big Easy Roller Girls) from around the country who rollerblade after the "runners" and bop the runners' butts with big plastic or foam baseball bats. At 8:00 a.m. sharp, thousands of runners took off, pursued by over 300 roller girl bulls. “Running” is a misconception. Truly it’s more like an easy stroll.

Look out!

The runners dress in traditional white pants and shirt with a red sash and bandanna. But the bull costumes steal the show. I love their creativity!

Hard to tell but it's a red dinosaur head.

An alien?

After the one mile course (hey, it’s New Orleans in July and it’s hot out there!) the party begins in earnest with more food, drinks, music, mechanical bull rides, a dunk tank, an Ernest Hemingway look-a-like contest, and more.

This event is a fundraiser for Beth's Friends Forever (a cancer victim fund) and Animal Rescue of New Orleans. Special thanks to the New Orleans Hotel Collection for being a San Fermin sponsor and hosting the Spanish Wine Dinner!