Tom Hanks is still on a mission when it comes to World War II.
The star of "Saving Private Ryan," who was born in Concord, Calif. and grew up in Alameda, is serving as narrator and adviser for a documentary production as the National World War II Museum in New Orleans prepares to open new attractions amid a $300 million expansion.
Hanks, who has helped raise money for the museum from its start in the 1990s, said the goal is to create a facility that immerses visitors in every aspect of World War II, while providing a fresh tourism magnet as the city rebuilds after Hurricane Katrina.
"Anybody visiting can really have almost, if not a bachelor of arts degree in the history of World War II, like an associate of arts degree, just by spending three days and really combing the place," Hanks said in a telephone interview. "Also, New Orleans can use that type of resource that can attract people to the city, so they can come in for a few days, spend some money, help re-establish the restaurants and the neighborhoods that were hit so hard."
Among the facilities debuting Nov. 6 is the Victory Theater, featuring a 120-foot-wide screen that will run a 35-minute documentary. Narrated by Hanks, the production will use vintage film, animation, props and sensory effects such as simulated wind and snow to provide a feel for actual wartime experiences.
The museum's new features also include a canteen that will showcase musical revues inspired by USO-style productions that boosted morale of soldiers and people on the home front, plus a restaurant called the American Sector overseen by chef John Besh.
Opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum, it later was designated by Congress as the country's official World War II museum. Through federal and state funds along with private donations, organizers have raised about $90 million toward the ongoing expansion, which is scheduled to continue through 2015, said Nick Mueller, the museum's president and chief executive officer.
With Americans fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan and the worst economic crisis since the Depression, the museum is not only a lesson in history, but also a reminder of what the country can accomplish in a crisis, Mueller said.
"We hope this ongoing ramp-up to our grand opening will give us the opportunity to remind America of its great values and strengths when it's united," Mueller said. "I think what President Obama is saying today is we need that same American spirit, that same strength."
Hanks, an executive producer on the World War II miniseries "Band of Brothers" and an upcoming follow-up called "The Pacific," said the museum also preaches a future of tolerance by examining the hate and prejudice that ignited a conflict that killed 60 million people.
"If we're lucky, if we're wise, if we're smart creatures who have learned from history, those numbers will never be reached again," Hanks said. "But if we're even smarter, if we really, truly are at some other evolutionary place in the chain of human experience, nobody will lose their lives.
"We will figure out a way in which the world, all of the world, east, west, whatever society and whatever philosophy you adhere to, will understand that, OK, we all may be different, but we are all definitely equal. So therefore, we can all get along."