U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, part of the National World War II Museum, under construction.

NEW ORLEANS — The Smithsonian Institution’s national tour of the Congressional Gold Medal awarded to the Nisei units of World War II will begin next month in New Orleans.

The medal, created by the U.S. Mint, was presented to the 100th Infantry Battalion, 442nd Regimental Combat Team and Military Intelligence Service at the U.S. Capitol in November 2011. During the festivities in Washington, D.C. and at subsequent regional ceremonies, Japanese American veterans or their survivors have received bronze replicas of the medal.

The purpose of the tour is to honor surviving veterans and to educate the public about a group that overcame prejudice with patriotism.

The opening of the CGM exhibit along with a national CGM launch ceremony will be held in conjunction with the unveiling of the National World War II Museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, which is expected to draw 3,000 visitors on the weekend of Jan. 12-13.

The center will include a new interactive exhibit on the Medal of Honor (including the 21 Japanese American recipients) and a state-of-the-art exhibit on the late Sens. Daniel Inouye and Spark Matsunaga of Hawaii and other congressional members who served in the military. There will also be oral history kiosks featuring 100th and 442nd veterans from across the country.

Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller, president and CEO of the museum, noted that Inouye’s death on Dec. 17 “comes just weeks before the opening of the U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center at the museum, an exhibition hall made possible in part by his strong support. Inouye played a lead role in securing a $20 million congressional grant in 2010 to support construction of this wonderful pavilion and its educational exhibits.

“Sen. Inouye recently videotaped a welcome address for the new pavilion and an oral history that holds immense value for museum visitors and researchers … Inouye and the late Ted Stevens, a senator from Alaska, also a World War II veteran, provided early support for development of the National World War II Museum, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum.

“The two senators joined other members of Congress in sponsoring a measure in 2003 that dramatically expanded the museum’s role, designating it ‘America’s World War II Museum’ with responsibility for depicting the full American experience in the pivotal military struggle of the 20th century.

“They were both tremendous forces in the realization of efforts to enlarge our mission to encompass all theaters of World War II. These men believed that our nation needed a museum of broad scope and exceptional quality to tell the American story of World War II for future generations.

“We plan to pay tribute to the leadership and friendship of these great Americans when we dedicate our new pavilion in January.”

On Jan. 12 at 1 p.m., the Congressional Gold Medal Luncheon will be held at the Astor Crowne Plaza Hotel Ballroom. Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki will be the keynote speaker and Sachi Koto, formerly of CNN, will serve as emcee. There will also be a Sansei panel and a CGM educational presentation.

On Jan. 13 at 11:15 a.m., a buffet lunch will be held at the museum’s Stage Door Canteen. There will be a performance by the Victory Belles.

Due to the number of organizations and sponsors affiliated with these two milestones, attendance is limited to 150 guests with World War II veterans given first priority. Admission to both events is $50. For more information, contact the National Veterans Network at info@nationalveteransnetwork.com.

The National World War II Museum is located at 945 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA 70130 (entrance on Andrew Higgins Drive) and can be reached at (504) 528-1944 or info@nationalww2museum.org. For more information, visit www.nationalww2museum.org.

The exhibits will be on view until Feb. 17. The other stops on the tour are the Bishop Museum in Honolulu (March 9-April 14), the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles (May 4-June 9), the De Young Museum in San Francisco (June 29-Aug. 4), the Oregon Historical Society in Portland (Aug. 24-Sept. 29), the Chicago History Museum (Oct. 19-Dec. 8), and the Houston Holocaust Museum (Dec. 21-Jan. 24).

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