WWII Museum to observe 76th anniversary of D-Day on Saturday

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LCVPs (Landing Craft Vehicle, Personnel), or Higgins boats, head for Omaha Beach. Landing began at 6:30 am. Men can be seen wading ashore; their initial objective, the bluffs above the beach. Higgins boats were built in the New Orleans area. Image courtesy of National Archives, 26-G-2337

The National WWII Museum will commemorate the 76th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on Saturday, and will celebrate the 20th anniversary of its opening as The National D-Day Museum in 2000.

Following its Congressional designation as The National WWII Museum in 2004, the institution has dramatically expanded its mission along with its campus to preserve and tell the stories of all Americans who served abroad and on the Home Front during World War II, solidifying itself as one of the top-ranked cultural attractions in the world.

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The beginnings of the Museum date back to 1990, when best friends and fellow history professors at the University of New Orleans Stephen Ambrose and Nick Mueller discussed plans for a modest D-Day museum on the college campus. Ambrose envisioned a museum that would be a permanent home for the artifacts and oral histories he had collected for his forthcoming book on the Allied invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944.

The concept struggled to gain acceptance and adequate funding — until the decision was made to move the project downtown into an old storage building in the Warehouse District, close to the heart of New Orleans tourism. In addition to providing a permanent place of honor for veterans of World War II, the new location would also pay tribute to entrepreneur and boatbuilder Andrew Jackson Higgins, whose thousands of landing craft — built in New Orleans — had been credited by President Dwight Eisenhower as key to winning the war.

The expanded campus now includes the Solomon Victory Theater, featuring the Tom Hanks-narrated 4D experience Beyond All Boundaries (opened in 2009); the US Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center (2013); the Campaigns of Courage pavilion (2014-15) housing its signature Road to Tokyo and Road to Berlin exhibits; Arsenal of Democracy (2017), a major exhibit on the Home Front in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion; The Higgins Hotel & Conference Center (2019); and the Hall of Democracy pavilion (2019), which houses the Institute for the Study of War and Democracy and the innovative WWII Media and Education Center.

Despite the current obstacles brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, the museum staff is working with a great sense of urgency to complete the final phase of its capital expansion plan while WWII veterans are still able to experience what is being built in their honor. As the Museum commemorates the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II this year, less than 300,000 WWII veterans are still alive today.

The final expansion projects currently under way include the architectural centerpiece Bollinger Canopy of Peace (2020), made possible through a $20 million donation by Boysie and Joy Bollinger, and the campus capstone Liberation Pavilion (2022), focusing on the war’s legacy of freedom for America and the world.

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