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World War II was a time of death and destruction, but it was also a time when the spirit of young Americans was kept aloft by the music and dance. Radio stations played swing music as well as ballads sung by Bing Crosby, Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra and others. That era has been recreated at the newly expanded National World War II Museum in New Orleans, where it is finding a new audience among people who were born long after the war ended.
At the Stage Door Canteen, museum visitors can go back in time to the Swing Era.
The National World War II Museum's Entertainment Manager, Victoria Reed, says this theater was modeled on venues established by the entertainment industry for lonely soldiers and sailors during the war.
"The American Theater Wing, of course, had the Stage Door Canteen in New York and they were so successful there that Stage Door Canteens popped up all over the world. In Paris, there is a big picture up there of the Paris Stage Door Canteen. Of course, Bette Davis made the one in Hollywood very famous. Mickey Rooney says it was a gift. It was their way of giving back with their music and their talent," she says.
Reed says she and the young performers in the stage show have fallen in love with this music that was so special to their grandfathers and great grandfathers.
"When you think of World War II, music was such an integral part of that era. I think the songs really had a lot to do with the soldiers' lives when they went overseas - 'I'll Be Seeing You' and 'It's Been a Long, Long Time'- those songs will stay in us forever, they were so well written and they had such beautiful melody lines."
When the new museum building was dedicated on November 6, Victoria Reed and two friends were on hand, in homage to the Andrews Sisters, performing as "The Victory Belles."
The World War II veterans who were on hand loved the music and the attention from the girls.
There was also Big Band music in the main hall, to the delight of veterans like William Ray, who served in the U.S. Army in Europe as a teenager.
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"We heard all of this music then and I know many of the words because when you are overseas and they play the music, you remember the words, they mean so much to you," he says.
Some of the old vets and their wives took to the floor.
"We are not a generation that dances the way they did in the forties. One of the World War II veterans said to me 'I like to dance better than I like to eat," says Ms. Reed.
But many young people are now discovering the joys of jitterbug and swing.
Here in New Orleans there are several clubs featuring 1940s-style music and dance.
But no one appreciates three-part harmony and Big Band stylings more than the people who experienced the era firsthand, the old men and women of the World War II generation.