OREM — Olivia Baird, 14, has been interested in World War II for a while now.
She wrote a 500-word essay about the conflicts and painful events; the secret Manhattan Project research project that produced the world's first atomic bombs; and the Topaz (Utah) internment camp where thousands of Japanese-Americans were housed after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
She wrote a mini-documentary about Topaz and then another essay about what she learned from her research and analysis.
That won her an all-expense-paid trip to the National WWII Museum in New Orleans for an invitation-only grand opening of the museum's new U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center, as one of 51 Salute to Freedom award winners chosen from across the country.
A ninth-grade student at Lakeridge Junior High School, Baird said she found the pavilion, its exhibits and catwalks to be "really cool." She says she would encourage people to visit.
"There are about six different airplanes on display and lots of different levels, lots of little exhibits on submarines and such," she said. "There are interactive sections on the different military divisions. It was really cool."
She held the Utah state flag at one of the appreciation luncheons and escorted an 85-year-old war veteran — "one of the younger ones," she said.
The new nine-story, $35 million facility is dedicated to the 16 million men and women who served America in the epic battle against the Nazi regime.
The planes Baird saw included rare vintage aircraft such as an SBD Dauntless, a B-25 fuselage, a TBM Avenger and a pristine Boeing B-17E bomber that was caught in an Atlantic snowstorm and landed on an ice floe in Greenland where it stayed until its recovery and restoration for the museum.
Baird said she and her mother spent hours in the pavilion and didn't see everything she would like to have seen.
"There's, like, three different buildings to go through," she said.
Along with the exhibits are videos like "Beyond All Boundaries," a 4-D, high-tech film produced by Tom Hanks exclusively for the museum experience.
Baird has come home re-charged, with a medal and with plans to do more research into United States history.
"My next project will be on the crossing of the Delaware," she promised. She is the daughter of Bradley and Terrie Baird.
Nathan Huegen, History Day coordinator for the state of Louisiana, said, "Young Americans who visit the U.S. Freedom Pavilion will stand in awe of the industrial might of the United States during World War II. Standing eye to eye with a B-17, observing a Sherman tank and experiencing what it was like to be inside a submarine will give them an appreciation of the contributions made by all Americans during World War II."
For more information, as well as hours and ticket prices for the museum, visit nationalww2museum.org.
Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with 35 years experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.