The National World War II Museum is tucked away in downtown New Orleans, on the corner of Magazine Street and Andrew Higgins Boulevard. It is just around the corner from Mother’s, where folks start queuing up for Fergies, muffulettas and plate lunches around 11 a.m., just as the breakfast crowd is leaving. If you don’t know what a muffuletta is I will teach you another time. I have bigger fish to fry today — and more important things on my mind than food.
The reason this prestigious museum — formerly known as the National D-Day Museum, is in New Orleans is the same reason the museum borders a boulevard named Andrew Higgins. Higgins, in case you are not familiar, was called “the man who won the war” by Supreme Allied Commander Dwight Eisenhower. Adolph Hitler called him “the modern Noah.”
Higgins, you see, invented a flat bottom landing craft with the propeller tunneled into the body of the boat that would enable the “Higgins boats,” as they came to be known, to transport men and mechanized vehicles, especially tanks, into the shallow waters of the islands and beaches controlled by the Germans and the Japanese, in Europe and the Pacific.
But the museum down on Magazine Street in NOLA isn’t about hardware — although they have an awful lot of it on display. The National World War II museum is about people — specifically the people, men and women, who put their lives on hold for four years to save the world. The story the museum tells reminds us that these folks, whom we are losing at an alarmingly rapid rate each day, are called “The Greatest Generation” for a reason.
Which leads me, finally, to the point of today’s pondering.
I was standing at one of the exhibits at the museum Tuesday morning. I was studying a diorama that showed what it looked like on one of the Normandy beaches on June 6, 1944. There were hundreds of model ships in the diorama and hundreds of model planes suspended from the ceiling overhead.
A school group was studying the same diorama. I suppose the history teacher stench still permeates my body, because one young lad came up to me and said, “Mister, how long did it take them to build one of them ships?”
I told him that in Brunswick, Ga., they were churning out “Liberty Ships” in just 80 days and that some of the larger ships could be built in about six months.
I knew the kid was a good student when he wanted to know more. His next question was, “How long would it take to build those ships today?”
I think he was startled by my answer. “Probably about six years,” I said.
He wanted to know why. His teacher called the group away before we could get into the discussion of what America is capable of today compared with what America was capable of in the 1940s, but a lively discussion broke out among some of the folks with whom I was traveling.
Many are of the opinion that we, the people, will always rise to whatever challenges happen to face us. They pointed out that every generation has always believed the next to be heading to hell in a hand basket. Others, me included, believe that we have become too soft in America — to indulgent and to molly coddled and too dependent to do what our parents and grandparents did.
We have too much government regulation and control, too many politicians who make every single decision based on special interests rather than the good of the nation and too many people asking not what they can do for their country, but what their country can and will do for them.
That’s just my opinion — and I hope I am wrong — but mine is the only opinion I have.
There is one thing I am certain of, however. Those young men who were snatched up out of high school and college and the American work force never blinked. They were asked to do unthinkable things to defeat an enemy that was hell bent on destroying all the principles this country was founded upon. The people left behind worked and sacrificed and pitched in every way they could. Together they saved the world. We owe them much more than we will ever be able to give them.
I spent three hours in the World War II museum. I could have spent three days. Strategically located throughout the three buildings that make up the facility are spirited men in their 80s and 90s, all standing beside pictures of clear-eyed soldiers in their teens and 20s. They are veterans and they are still volunteering for their country. They still tell their stories to a nation that desperately needs to hear them.
May God bless them.