Air Force Museum to open new 75th anniversary D-Day immersive display

Air Force Museum’s new D-Day exhibit puts visitors in virtual parachutes; weather impacting some festivities

It’s not often highlighted in blockbuster movies or best-selling books but if it weren’t for the Army Air Force’s role, the D-Day invasion of Normandy, France might not be the success it’s touted as 75 years later.

The National Museum of the U.S. Air Force intends to make sure the contributions of Airmen to the largest amphibious invasion are not glossed over like they are in Hollywood though, said museum curator Jeff Duford. The museum is planning a wide range of activities to celebrate the anniversary of the June 6 invasion, with several starting Monday.

“The role of the Army Air Force, I don’t think there’s any doubt that it’s been lost in public perception,” Duford said. “Ground combat is much more visceral and immediate. You see a lot of that in the Hollywood movies.”

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A new exhibit called Freedom From Above will open at 9 a.m. Monday, according to the museum. The exhibit will focus on the experiences of the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions and their missions during D-Day.

The 3,500 square-foot exhibit features “HistoPads,” touch-screen tablets that allow visitors to see 360-degree recreations of Airmen’s experiences during the invasion while also displaying previously unseen photos and film along with interactive maps and archives. Users can get a glimpse of what it was like as a paratrooper to jump out of a plane over Normandy.

Visitors who have received a preview of the exhibit described it as intuitive and said they liked the way it lets them connect with individual paratroopers, said Marie Angoulvant, an artist with Histovery, the company that helped put the experience together.

“It’s a lot less textbook-ish,” Angoulvant joked.

The new display will cost visitors $5 and will be available at the museum through the end of the year. The museum could look to use the technology being used on in the D-Day exhibit in other ways in the future at the museum, said Chuck Edmonson, marketing director of the Air Force Museum Foundation.

June 6, 1944 was the day allied forces launched a combined naval air and land attack on Nazi-occupied France. More than 13,000 paratroopers from allied countries were dropped behind enemy lines early on D-Day, which is commonly known as the turning point of World War II.

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“Without the Army Air Force, there would have been no D-Day because they needed control of the air over Normandy,” Duford said. “They essentially broke the back of the German fighter force…(Normandy) literally looked like the surface of the moon.”

Along with the new exhibit, museum visitors will be able to see movies and guest speakers Monday and on the actual anniversary when there will be a 10 a.m. wreath laying with military vehicles and a flyover by a C-47 aircraft.

Paratroopers were scheduled to jump from a C-35D aircraft called D-Day Doll, which took part in the Normandy invasion in 1944 around 10 a.m. Monday, however inclement weather forced a cancellation of that portion off the program. The plane dropped paratroopers, towed gliders, transported supplies and evacuated wounded soldiers during the invasion.

The paratroopers had hoped their demonstration Monday would pay tribute to World War II veterans as the D-Day anniversary approaches, said Retired Col. Timothy Tarris, pilot and D-Day Doll Project officer.

“It is our duty to remember those of the ‘Greatest Generation,’ and we are honored to do so,” Tarris said. “Flying D-Day Doll is not only a fitting tribute to all of the WWII veterans in attendance and the millions of people they represent, but also helps to keep their story alive and educate new generations of Americans.”

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