Wednesday, August 13, 2008
One of my favorite memories of growing up in the New Orleans area is centered around the opening of the National D-Day Museum, now known as The National World War II Museum. The local media was filled with stories about the museum, what dignitaries would attend the festivities, and the remembrances of local D-Day veterans. A huge parade was scheduled to roll through the streets of downtown New Orleans on June 8, 56 years after the Normandy invasion.
The World War II Museum was and is a source of enormous pride for New Orleanians. Although the city has excellent museums, notably The New Orleans Museum of Art, Louisiana Children's Museum, and more recently, The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, The National World War II Museum is definitely one of a kind. The museum was placed in New Orleans due to New Orleans's significant role in the D-Day invasion and due to its founder, the late Stephen Ambrose, founder of the National World War II Foundation and a history professor at the University of New Orleans.
The parade, which marched through downtown New Orleans (the largest military parade in the US in forty years), was full of slowly moving jeeps, containing elderly men in uniform. The crowds of people were applauding and cheering; the look on the men's faces was unforgettable. It was the summer, but still a workday, so office workers watched from their open windows. One memory will stay with me forever: female office workers leaned out of their window and blew the men kisses. A veteran exclaimed, "It's like I'm back in Paris!" Wonderful, wonderful memory.
If you can't get to the National World War II Museum, reading Remember D-Day: The Plan, the Invasion, Survivor Stories will introduce you to some of the oral histories and artifacts collected by the museum. National Geographic, to no one's surprise, publishes excellent and eye-catching children's nonfiction books. Ronald J. Drez (Vietnam vet and research fellow at the University of New Orleans's Eisenhower Center) is a terrific storyteller and effortlessly creates an atmosphere of drama and tension. This is a fantastic introduction to the D-Day invasion.