By Beth D’Addono
"The Road to Berlin” exhibit at The National WWII Museum
All photos courtesy of The National WWII Museum
June 6, 2019, will mark 75 years since the Allied Forces stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, the start of a long campaign to liberate Europe from German occupation. D-Day was the largest seaborne invasion in history, an irrefutable symbol of America’s commitment to dismantling Hitler’s relentless hate machine.
The anniversary of D-Day is always significant, but the 75th is a particularly poignant milestone, notes Dr. Robert Citino, executive director of The National WWII Museum’s Institute for the Study of War and Democracy. “This will be the last time a major D-Day anniversary is celebrated with World War II veterans still amongst us—men who were there.” According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, less than 3 percent of the 16 million Americans who served in World War II were still alive in 2018. Adds Citino, “These men are 95, 96 years old now, and they are fading away. When we get to the 100th [anniversary], there will be no surviving veterans of the event.”
U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center
Citino, author of 10 books about the German army and World War II, has no doubt that if the Allies hadn’t landed in Western Europe, we might still be at war. “All war boils down to seizing the other side’s territory. Our country was in full war production, and we had the technology to potentially beat the Germans—but potentially isn’t good enough,” says Citino, adding that the meticulous planning, vast coordination and courage that D-Day required are beyond description. The landing soldiers had more than 200 yards of beach to cover facing the teeth of German fire, with many—thousands—dying in a matter of minutes.
To commemorate the anniversary, The National WWII Museum, which opened its doors as The National D-Day Museum on June 6, 2000, is planning a comprehensive array of programming and events leading up to the anniversary, starting March 15 with an exhibit of paintings by French artist Guy de Montlaur, a D-Day veteran whose physical and psychological wounds influenced his art long before the term PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) was coined.
The actual day of the anniversary—June 6—will be marked with special guided tours of the Normandy galleries, special lectures and screenings of the Road to Berlin film, and the debut of the film Seize and Secure—The Battle La Fière. Narrated by Mark Harmon, the film is the story of the 505th Parachute Regiment and its battle to secure the La Fière bridge to allow the Allies to press inland from the beaches. Citino hopes to welcome D-Day veterans, but that depends on the health of these few remaining soldiers.
"Arsenal of Democracy” exhibit at The National WWII Museum
The $325 million museum is a vast space with a footprint covering six galleries and three city blocks. “If you just have a few hours, I’d choose one major exhibit, the ‘Road to Berlin,’ for example, and focus on that,” suggests Citino. “If you have more time, explore the ‘Road to Tokyo’ exhibit, which details the war in the Pacific, and the ‘Arsenal of Democracy’ exhibit, about efforts on the home front.” For sure, don’t miss the U.S. Freedom Pavilion, a soaring space with original World War II aircraft suspended from the ceiling, and the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, which displays a restored C-47 that dropped paratroopers over the fields of Normandy. In the same pavilion, a Higgins boat bears witness to the craft created and built in New Orleans that helped win the war halfway around the world.
A C-47 and a Higgins boat are displayed in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion.
Built by Andrew Higgins, the Higgins boats—flat-bottomed shallow-draft boats created to operate in Louisiana’s swamps and bayous—were vital to the invasion. Historian Stephen Ambrose, the author of the book D-Day, also lived in New Orleans and spearheaded the founding of the museum, which Congress designated The National WWII Museum in 2003. “What started for us as telling this one story [of D-Day] has grown into telling the comprehensive story of the war and all its theaters,” says Citino.
The 75th anniversary of D-Day is a reminder of the sacrifice, courage and commitment to freedom shown by these last remaining members of America’s Greatest Generation. The milestone also offers all Americans the opportunity to remember at what cost liberation came and salute the heroes who secured it.
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2019 edition of AAA World.
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