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Posted on Apr 9, 2008 in Stuff We Like

Simulations Meet Reality at National WWII Museum

Gerald D. Swick

Exhibits at the National World War II Museum

The museum has been using wargames to help draw visitors and teach history.

You’re spending a pleasant Saturday afternoon wargaming with like-minded souls, pushing 20mm miniature figures around a tabletop covered with simulated terrain. At the moment, you’re desperately trying to maneuver a Sherman tank into cover before it draws the attention of a German 88mm gun sitting atop a hill. The 88 crew’s attention is focused on turning a column of tank destroyers into scrap metal at the moment, and you succeed in getting your Sherman safely behind a building.

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You heave a sigh of relief, look up from the game and there, just a few feet away from you is . . . a real Sherman tank! Not far away sits an 88, just like the one on the game table except it is life-size. Furthermore, a veteran of the Allied drive through France has walked up to your game table and is talking about his personal “memoir ’44.” Listening with rapt attention are a couple of reenactors dressed as an American grunt and a Wehrmacht Feldwebel.

No, you’re not in the Twilight Zone. You’re in New Orleans, specifically in The National World War II Museum. For over a year now, the museum has been using wargames to help draw visitors and teach history. In fact, it is now the site for an annual wargame convention, Heat of Battle, in which game tables are set up in the same area as the displays. Players can literally look up from a miniature or a cardboard playing counter and see the real vehicle or weapon it represents.

“The purpose is four-fold,” Walt Burgoyne, the museum’s Education Programs Coordinator told ArmchairGeneral.com recently.

Introducing new players to the rules“First is to teach history. Any subject is made more interesting by making a game of it. Second is to grow the hobby of historical wargaming. Hosting events at the museum, we’re able to introduce entire families to historical wargaming and, again, that helps to teach history.

“Third, we support the museum with promotions like this, and finally, we create a focal point to rebuild historical gaming in the Gulf South post-Katrina and Rita.”

When hurricanes Katrina and Rita destroyed homes, they also wiped out private game collections that had been built over decades. Burgoyne lost all of his history books and most of his games. A friend of his lost over 1,000 games.

Whenever the museum hosts a gaming event Burgoyne creates posters describing the events leading to the battle and its aftermath; the games are visual reinforcement.

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