Jun 5, 2024 - News

How New Orleans is commemorating the 80th anniversary of D-Day

Black and white photo shows soldiers getting off a boat and into the water on D-Day.

Soldiers disembark from a Higgins boat on June 6, 1944, in Normandy, France, on D-Day. Photo: Hulton Archive/Getty Images

The country's 80th anniversary observance of D-Day centers on New Orleans this week.

Why it matters: New Orleans is the birthplace of the famous Higgins boat, which carried troops onshore at the pivotal WWII battle in Normandy, France.

The big picture: The National WWII Museum, which was originally the D-Day Museum, is hosting several events Thursday and Friday to commemorate the battle that ultimately led to the defeat of Nazi Germany and to honor the veterans who participated in it.

  • Highlights include a remembrance gathering and a daylong symposium with historians discussing the challenges and victories following D-Day.

Meanwhile, St. Aug's Marching 100 band is performing in Normandy this week.

  • There are several commemorations in France, including events at the American cemeteries in Normandy and Brittany.
  • Jude Villavaso, a rising 10th grader at St. Aug, will give a keynote address in French and English, according to NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune.
Photo shows someone in a Higgins boat in Normandy.
An enthusiast wearing replica WWII military attire boards a Higgins landing craft at Utah beach in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, northwestern France, on Tuesday as part of the D-Day commemorations there. Photo by Ludovic Marin/AFP via Getty Images.

Flashback: On June 6, 1944, Allied forces invaded Normandy with more than 150,000 troops.

  • It was the "beginning of a prolonged, costly and ultimately successful campaign to liberate northwest Europe," according to the museum.
  • It ended with about 20,000 casualties on both sides.

Zoom in: Andrew Higgins designed and built the amphibious Higgins boat in New Orleans, using an integrated workforce of more than 25,000 people.

  • President Dwight D. Eisenhower called Higgins "the man who won the war for us" thanks to his namesake landing craft.
  • The boats were used in every major amphibious assault of WWII. Less than 10 original boats remain in existence, and the museum has the only fully restored, operational combat unit.
Black and white photo shows soldiers going ashore on D-Day.
American troops in a Higgins boat go ashore on one of four beaches in Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944. The landing was part of an all-out Allied assault on northern France, the beginning of a sweep through Europe that would finally defeat Nazi Germany. Photo: Hulton-Deutsch Collection/Corbis via Getty Images

Interesting tidbit: Higgins' company also was involved in the Manhattan Project, which developed the atomic bomb.

By the numbers: Less than 1% of the 16.4 million Americans who served in WWII are still alive, according to the museum.

  • There's great urgency in collecting their oral history, with about 130 WWII vets dying daily.
  • Louisiana has 1,153 surviving WWII vets as of September 2023, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

If you go: Most of the museum's commemoration events are free and some will be available virtually. D-Day and WWII veterans or their families are asked to sign up in advance.

Photo shows President Roosevelt visiting Higgins Industries in New Orleans in 1942.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt visited New Orleans in 1942 to tour Higgins Industries. Here, Andrew J. Higgins Sr. tells President Roosevelt, with the aid of models, how he turns out boats for the Navy and Army at top notch speed. Photo: Bettmann via Getty Images
Photo shows Higgins Industry building in 1942.
This is what Higgins Industries looks like in the Michoud area of New Orleans in January 1942. Photo: Buyenlarge via Getty Images
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