DoD Honors Vets at National D-Day Museum Opening
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, May. 31, 2000 The Defense Department is taking advantage of the opening of the National D-Day Museum in New Orleans to honor World War II veterans.
Officials expect 7,000 to 15,000 World War II veterans to attend opening ceremonies June 6, the 56th anniversary of the Allied invasion of Normandy.
The museum, a private, nonprofit organization affiliated with the University of New Orleans' Eisenhower Center, will highlight all the D-Days of World War II. Officials said there were 34 opposed amphibious landings in Africa, the Mediterranean and the Pacific during the war. The museum is the brainchild of historian Stephen E. Ambrose, best-selling author of "Undaunted Courage" and "Citizen Soldiers."
"I think the D-Day events of World War II ... (are) a great way for us to focus on the contributions of what Tom Brokaw refers to as our 'greatest generation,'" said Charles Cragin, acting assistant secretary of defense for reserve affairs and the DoD coordinator of the event. "These were men who went in harm's way, demonstrated indomitable spirit and dedication, and understood they were fighting to make people free."
Cragin said Congress felt it was important for the Department of Defense to support this activity. "It's really one of the last events to recognize and honor those men and women who fought in World War II," he said. DoD will provide ceremonial and logistic support. Thousands of U.S. military and DoD civilian personnel will participate, said officials.
Events built around the museum opening begin June 3 with a World War II re-enactment and living history encampment at the Marconi Meadow in City Park. That night, a USO Show and Swing Dance is scheduled at the Fairmont Hotel.
On June 4, there is an international naval port visit. "Many of the World War II Allies will send vessels to this," Cragin said. U.S. Navy and Coast Guard vessels will also participate. The battle flags of the Army and Marine divisions that participated in the amphibious operations of World War II will pass in review for veterans June 4 at 8:30 p.m. in the Flags of Honor Ceremony in Woldenburg Park. Several military bands will participate in the ceremony.
On June 6, there will be a military parade. Organizers bill it as the largest military parade in America in 40 years. Active and reserve component soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen will march in the parade. There will be an aerial review of modern and possibly vintage aircraft, Cragin said. The parade starts at 10 a.m. on Poydras Street.
Immediately after the parade is the grand opening celebration at the New Orleans Arena. A total of 15,000 veterans and their families will attend the sold-out event. Ambrose will deliver the keynote address and Defense Secretary William S. Cohen will speak to the veterans. Film director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks are among the scheduled participants. NBC television newsman Tom Brokaw will host the event, and military bands and ceremonial units will participate.
Cragin called DoD involvement in the event appropriate. He said the U.S. military carries on the World War II veterans' heritage of bravery and dedication.
"[The military has learned the] lessons of putting country above self and of understanding teamwork is the way to accomplish missions," Cragin said. "The celebration in New Orleans with the opening of the D-Day Museum is really an opportunity for us to discuss with a larger audience of Americans those contributions and the legacy that comes from the greatest generation."
He said it is particularly appropriate that this museum is located in New Orleans. The city was the home of Andrew Jackson Higgins, the inventor of the Higgins boat. His company built 20,000 of the landing craft and made the Allied amphibious invasions of World War II possible.
"This is the landing craft personnel boats that essentially got everybody to shore during the invasions," Cragin said. "Gen. Dwight Eisenhower said they really changed the whole concept of warfare, because you really could come ashore with these amphibious boats and conduct very aggressive operations."
The National D-Day Museum is at 945 Magazine St. For more information, go to www.ddaymuseum.org.