Elsewhere in the museum, exhibits mainly showcase war artifacts and memorabilia, from war planes and bombers suspended from pavilion ceilings to vintage photographs, uniforms, weapons, diaries, letters, medals and recorded testimonials from veterans. World War II veterans are on hand daily to greet visitors and share their war stories.
The museum is in the midst of a years-long $320 million expansion that, when complete in 2016, will have quadrupled its size. It opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum. The facility was later designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum and is operated as a nonprofit. Construction is under way on a new pavilion that will house exhibits on campaigns in Europe and the Pacific. The first phase, titled the “Road to Berlin,” is scheduled to open in November 2014.
The Victory Belles travel the world, and have performed at USO shows in Hawaii, Guam and Japan. Ridgdell said she believes strongly in the enduring therapeutic qualities of the era’s music. She performed this past summer for service members in Okinawa, where more than 120,000 Allied and Japanese troops died in ferocious combat as World War II neared its close in 1945.
The crowd at Okinawa last summer included many 18- and 19-year-olds. “We didn’t change anything about our show,” said Ridgdell. “We sang 1940s music, and they loved everything about it.”