National WW II Museum commemorates D-Day, opens major expansion and exhibits

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Military equipment

The National WW II Museum in New Orleans brings the war to life. Among the displays are tanks, aircraft and other artifacts that actually saw combat.

Veterans of the Normandy invasion often tell the anecdote of an American veteran visiting France.  He is stopped by an imperious French immigration agent who demands his passport.

“I don’t have one,” the American replies.

“How stupid are you to think you can enter France without a passport and visa?” the agent demands.

The last time I was in France, when we landed at Normandy, we couldn’t find a Frenchman anywhere to present documents to,” replied the American.

The beaches of Normandy today are far friendlier than they were on June 6, 1944 and most Frenchmen no longer exude the attitude of the immigration agent.  American visitors to the beaches of Normandy, the American cemeteries at Utah and Omaha

Beaches find French citizens who still express gratitude for the sacrifice so many made on their behalf.

The beaches where so many died and the surrounding villages today are quaint and quintessentially French.  The food is typically French and the wine is incomparable.  And there is no lack of commemoration of what took place there.

Thousands of miles away in New Orleans, as French as any place in France, those events are remembered as well in the National World War II Museum.

While New Orleans might seem a strange location for such a museum, might it be better suited to remember the Jewish pirate Jean LaFitte or Andrew Jackson and the Battle of New Orleans, the city was a critical part in the Normandy invasion and the subsequent allied victory of the Axis forces.

The famed Higgins Boat, the landing craft that brought thousands of American and British servicemen crashing onto the Normandy beaches was developed in New Orleans by Andrew Higgins.  No less than Winston Churchill credited the craft with a major role in victory.

To commemorate the landings the Museum will have surrounding streets closed to traffic on June 6, 2014 to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the landings.  A documentary film narrated by Tom Hanks and including the voices of Gary Sinise, Brad Pitt and others will feature first-hand accounts from those who were there.

The National World War II Museum began as a simple backyard conversation and has grown into a vast, multi-building facility replete with exhibits that tell the story of the war from the personal perspective of those who lived through it.  The idea of author and historian Stephen Ambrose and Gordon “Nick” Mueller, it has grown into a world class destination.

While most people immediately think of New Orlean’s French Quarter as the city’s major attraction, Trip Advisor has called it “…the number one attraction in New Orleans.”  It is also considered the seventh top museum in the country.

The D-Day exhibit highlights the Normandy invasion and the subsequent attacks in the Pacific.  There is a C-47 aircraft used to drop paratroopers into France and a craft built to the exact specifications of the Higgins Boat.

There is also a B-17 Flying Fortress, the USS Tang submarine and even a Stage Door Canteen that offered a haven to so many troops.

On June 6 there will be a full slate of offerings at the museum that will run through the entire weekend.  Reenactors wearing the uniforms of both Allies and Axis troops will share knowledge of the day-to-day lives of those who fought the war.

The John E. Kushner Restoration Pavilion is currently restoring a WW II patrol-torpedo boat with work done by volunteers.  The patrol-torpedo boat is the famed PT Boat of the type made famous by John F. Kennedy who commanded PT-109 sunk by a Japanese destroyer.  The restoration is open to viewing by visitors.

During this commemoration visitors will be permitted to board a Higgins Boat while a curator explains the critical role the craft played in the invasion.  There will also be representatives from allied nations and musical presentations.

The museum is also sponsoring a visit and tour of Normandy to attend the official 70th anniversary commemoration of the landings at the actual locations where they took place.  The sold-out trip will feature such notable guests as journalist Tom Brokaw and WW II veterans who were there.  .

A little known fact is that while most Americans picture the French as in the immigration official mentioned above, the cemeteries with thousands of American troops are honored on a regular basis by French school children who visit to place flowers and American flags on each and every grave at Utah and Omaha beaches.

The museum has been designated by Congress as “America’s National WW II Museum” celebrating the teamwork, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who served both in combat and on the homefront.

Because of its popularity the museum is undergoing an expansion and will display far more exhibits honoring those who served.  WW II changed the world.  The museum tells the story of the American experience, why it was fought, how it was won and what it means today.