WWII Museum adds theater, restaurant and “canteen”

Published 1:41 am Sunday, November 8, 2009

Peter Vandyke’s steps have slowed since he stormed Normandy Beach, but his 1942 Army uniform still fits and he wore it proudly as the National World War II Museum dedicated a $60 million expansion as Tom Hanks and other celebrities looked on Friday.

The museum has added a theater, a restaurant and a replica of the “Stage Door Canteens” that cheered military men during the war. Vandyke was one of hundreds of World War II veterans on hand for Friday’s ceremony along with Hanks, fellow film star Patricia Clarkson and Mickey Rooney.

“This is quite a deal,” said Vandyke, 91, of LaGrange, Ill. “It’s nice to know there’ll be something to remember when we’re all gone.”

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The new Victory Theater, Stage Door Canteen, and the American Sector restaurant make up a $60 million segment of the $300 million museum expansion to be completed by 2015. The next phase of the expansion is “The Campaigns Pavilion, which will document battles on land, sea and in the air.

The 70,000-square-foot theater is showing “Beyond All Boundaries,” a documentary about the war that was produced by Hanks.

“I’ve seen it in every mock version,” Hanks said of the 4-D production that takes viewers from Pearl Harbor to V-J Day with archival footage, animation and special effects. “To finally see it fill up the space was great.”

The American Sector restaurant, with a menu designed by Chef John Besh, will feature what he calls a “nostalgic nod to the past” and include hamburgers and Reubens as well as a gourmet twist on comfort foods such as sloppy joes and meatloaf.

Besh studied menus of the 1940s but steered away from the popular ham steaks with pineapple and spaghetti and meatballs.

“We wanted something that would appeal to people today,” Besh said.

The Stage Door Canteen was inspired by the original founded by the American Theater Wing in 1942. Unlike the original, and the copies it generated during the war, the museum canteen will feature a show that highlights World War II culture and music.

“I went to the Stage Door Canteen in France,” said John Kentzel, 84, of Diamondhead, Miss. “It was a lot of fun. There was good food and pretty girls to dance with. It did a lot to cheer us up.”

There were 350 invited World War II veterans and more than 100 active military personnel, representing all branches on Friday. They included 16 members of the Tuskegee Airmen and three veterans who were awarded Medals of Honor.

Rooney asked the crowd to observe 10 seconds of silence for “the dastardly act that took place on Ft. Hood,” where an Army psychiatrist allegedly opened fire on fellow soldiers, leaving 13 dead.

The new venues are expected to provide 250 new jobs for an estimated economic impact in the state of $50 million, $43 million for the city, during the first full year of operation.

The museum projects 300,000 visitors in 2010. Dedicated in 2000 as the D-Day Museum, the museum is now designated by Congress as the National World War II Museum.