Close your eyes. Imagine that you are in a plane filled with young men about to parachute to the ground, or you are in an army hospital surrounded by fields in Europe. It's almost impossible to imagine what it must have been like to see the invasion of D-Day during World War II.
But almost impossible doesn't mean it can't be done.
Bruno de Sa Moreira, the CEO of Histovery, was always interested in making history interactive. He has helped create 20 interactive, virtual exhibits throughout France. In 2018, his company came up with the idea to use a tablet and allow people to become interactive at the Airborne Museum in Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Normandy, France.
"But then, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day in 2019, we decided to create an exhibition that could come here to the United States," de Sa Moreira said.
The U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum, here in Cumberland County, is the second place in the U.S. to host one of de Sa Moreira's interactive exhibits.
D-Day: Freedom From Above at the U.S. Army Airborne & Special Operations Museum is designed around historic D-Day artifacts. The exhibit utilizes twelve physical panels to guide visitors through the experience, focusing on the D-Day missions of the 82nd and 101st Airborne Divisions at Sainte-Mere-Eglise, the first French town to be liberated during WWII. ASOM Curator Jimmie Hallis carefully chose the physical artifacts in the exhibit. Artifacts had to be related to D-Day and connected with the 82nd or 101st Airborne Divisions.
"I like artifacts to connect to a story, especially when that story hits close to home," Hallis said. "If I can tie it to the local community, it makes it really interesting."
One of the artifacts in the exhibit, and chosen by Hallis, is a parachutist coat and garrison cap that a Fayetteville native wore during the Normandy Invasion. Pvt. Robert W. Ryals was assigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 3rd Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment, 82nd Airborne Division. He survived combat in Normandy, Holland and the Battle of the Bulge. Ryals passed away in 2011.
The virtual exhibit provides an immersive and interactive virtual reality experience of the events. The experience offers museum visitors the chance to encounter 3-D virtual relics, unpublished photos, excerpts of exceptional archival films and animated maps. The key to the interactive exhibit is the HistoPad tablet. By using the HistoPad, visitors can scan QR codes on the physical displays.
"Basically, the idea is to transform this into a time-traveling machine. So it's going to take you in the past and help you understand what this object in front of you in the windows of the museum is about," de Sa Moreira said.
"And this is something fun to experience because it's visual. What you have is primarily images, images of the past, of the characters of the scene going on, and by clicking on details, by manipulating the objects, you get answers to your curiosity. So basically, the trick is to increase the curiosity of the visitors."
Another interesting fact about the HistoPad is that people can leave real-time reviews.
"Since the opening of the exhibition in October, one visitor out of two is rating the experience. It's a very high percentage. And the ranking they gave is extremely high. It's 4.7 out of five," de Sa Moreira said.
Admission to the ASOM is free. However, there is a $5 rental fee for the HistoPad.
ASOM staff recommend you allow about 30 minutes to tour the entire D-Day exhibit. The exhibit is open until March 2022.