Sunday, June 6, 2010

D-Day 56 years later

Andrew J. Higgins with President Harry Truman

I was born nearly ten years after D-Day, June 6, 1944, but that date was stamped indelibly on my conscious as I grew up. I knew it was a turning point in the war, obviously, but I recognized it as more than just the first big push back at Hitler's stranglehold over Western Europe. It was costly in terms of human life, but the reason historians like the late Stephen Ambrose and Douglas Brinkley felt the effort succeeded was due in no small part to the influence of New Orleans and Higgins Industries, the local shipping company run by Andrew Higgins that provided the flat-bottomed landing craft that stormed the beaches like Omaha, Juno, Gold, Utah and Sword. General Dwight David Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of Allied Forces said it himself after the war. "Andrew the man who won the war for us... If Higgins had not designed and built those LCPVs, we never could have landed over an open beach. The whole strategy of the war would have been different." That's an absolutely awe-inspiring thought about the importance of Andrew Higgins and the improbable war machine that he built up during the two years following Pearl Harbor. Some have reported that Hitler called Higgins "the new Noah." Despite the devastating loss of life, it was a positive morale builder for the Allies and a realization for the Axis forces that their reign of terror over Europe would one day end. Higgins' success is the reason that the D-Day Museum was constructed in New Orleans ten years ago with great hoopla. Today, the more impressive campus has been renamed the National World War II Museum and I am proud to say it is located just off historic Lee Circle on Andrew Higgins Boulevard. Ironically, Higgins died two years before I was born, but it took several decades more for his impact on World War II to surface again. Higgins would probably shrug it off, saying something like it was his civic duty. Yet others will point to him and call him the "man who won the war for us." Just thought I'd send a little shout out to a great American and a great New Orleanian on this great American holiday of remembrance.

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