Tom Hanks to Give Veterans a USO-Style Tribute

At the National World War II Museum, A-list celebrities will entertain America's troops.

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By Anna Mulrine, Washington Whispers

Visitors to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans next month are in for a new "4-D, multisensory experience." Its new film, Beyond All Boundaries, to be shown in the museum's new state-of-the-art theater, aims to give viewers a "you are there" feeling, from the sensation of snowflakes during the Battle of the Bulge to the gut-churning rumble of tanks across Europe. Executive Producer Tom Hanks got involved with the museum (called the National D-Day Museum until it was designated by Congress in 2004 as the country's official World War II museum) through the late historian Stephen Ambrose, who was an adviser to the actor while he was shooting Saving Private Ryan. Ambrose didn't charge for his assistance; instead, he asked for Hanks's help with fundraising for the museum. He got it. Hanks also recruited pals Brad Pitt, Tobey Maguire, and Patricia Heaton to do voice-overs for the new documentary, which draws on oral histories and old film reels to share the saga of America's World War II vets.

"It's an epic story," says Gordon Mueller, the museum's president. "And the film tells the story on an epic scale." The film is particularly relevant as President Obama explores the military's request to send 40,000 more U.S. troops to Afghanistan, Mueller says. "We lost over 400,000 soldiers, sailors, and airmen in World War II. There were 16 million Americans in arms. Those are staggering numbers."

There are fewer than 3 million WW II veterans still alive, he adds. "And we are losing them at the rate of 900 a day. This museum will honor their story but also educate young people for 100 years to come."

Some 350 World War II vets will attend the film's debut at the new theater, which is "the largest cultural attraction opening in Louisiana since Hurricane Katrina," says Mueller. Afterward, Hanks and other actors will entertain the veterans and serve them food, the way actors used to do when they traveled with the USO. "It's relevant to the day," says Mueller, "and it connects people back to World War II."

Illustration by Ed Wexler for USN&WR.

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