National D-Day Museum readies for June 6 debut

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NEW ORLEANS -- The National D-Day Museum is gearing up for its dedication and opening here June 6.

Plans include a parade of ships on June 3 (all Allied nations have been invited to send a vessel; the U.S. and France have accepted).

June 6 events will include a parade of veterans that will take place on Poydras Street, followed by ceremonies at the New Orleans' Arena, which opened in October 1999.

C.J. Roberts, the museum's chief administrative officer, said it is hoped that 10,000 will attend the arena event.

On June 6, 1944, 150,000 Allied troops took part in the D-Day invasion in Europe, the first strike of Operation Overlord, which ultimately freed France from Nazi control.

The 70,000-square-foot, $25 million museum will open on the 56th anniversary of that day in a renovated brewery in the city's warehouse district.

Roberts said the museum is on schedule: the brewery renovation was completed earlier this month, and the museum's new entrance pavilion is scheduled to be done by May.

According to its mission statement, "The National D-Day Museum celebrates the American spirit, teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who won World War II."

It also "promotes the exploration and expression of these values by future generations."

The museum is being built in New Orleans in honor of Andrew Higgins, creator of the Higgins boat, the landing craft that made the invasion possible.

More than 30,000 of the landing craft, which delivered men and supplies to the beaches on D-Day, were built in New Orleans.

The museum's founder is author, teacher and historian Stephen Ambrose, who came up with the idea for the facility in the 1960s.

Ambrose said that in a conversation he had with Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1964, the retired four-star general and former president referred to Higgins as "the man who won the war for us."

The museum includes a Higgins craft, built to the original specifications, which will be the centerpiece in the Louisiana Memorial Pavilion, the museum's entrance building.

Construction of the 22,500-square-foot pavilion, funded by the state, started last August. The pavilion will include two World War II planes overhead: an American Grumman Avenger and a British Spitfire.

Its initial exhibits will include jeeps, a tank, a half-track, German officer staff cars and sentry boxes. The pavilion will house traveling exhibits and provide space for meetings and conferences.

It also will include a museum shop, a cafe and a 110-seat theater featuring a documentary, "D-Day Remembered."

The museum's second floor exhibits will have such general themes as the the Late 1930s: the Balance of Power; the Road to War; Mobilization; the Home Front, and the Course of War.

On the third floor, the themes revolve around Operation Overlord, from strategy and plans through to the invasion of the beaches and the road to Berlin and victory.

Some 3,500 artifacts of D-Day and subsequent campaigns, the core of the museum's collection, were acquired from the Musee de la Liberation in St.-Lo, France, in 1994.

Many other artifacts were donated by veterans and their families.

All exhibits will be open on June 6 except for a second phase (included in the $25 million price tag): a 5,000-square-foot exhibition on the war in the Pacific.

"During planning, we heard from Pacific veterans who said, 'we rode Higgins boats, too,' and felt left out," said Roberts.

The Pacific exhibit, due to open in August 2001, will be housed on the second floor, adjacent to the 8,000 square feet of existing exhibits.

Roberts said that nearly all of the $25 million needed for the museum has been raised.

Of the amount, $6 million came from the federal government and $6.5 million from the state of Louisiana. Donors include 40 national and international corporations.

The museum is at 923 Magazine St., near the French Quarter and the central business district.

It will be open daily (except for certain holidays), 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Admission will be $6 (age 18 and under, $4), and group rates are available. For further information, contact the museum at (504) 527-6012; fax (504) 527-6088, or visit on the Web at www.ddaymuseum.org.

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