New Orleans

WWII museum: 2 days of D-Day vets, historians

 

Associated Press

For months, 19-year-old Cpl. Roland Chaisson and his demolition squad had trained in England to invade Normandy. Twice a day they scrambled down rope ladders from troop ships to the flat landing craft called Higgins boats. They’d be setting explosives under huge, pointed steel anti-tank defenses called hedgehogs. So once ashore, they repeatedly ran and dropped to set dummy explosives while Royal Air Force machine-gunners overhead fired at targets.

Now it was June 6, 1944. Practice became bloody reality. Heavy German fire killed about half of the 18 soldiers in Chaisson’s squad before they hit the shore, he said.

Chaisson, now 89, is among D-Day veterans who will describe that day Friday and Saturday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. More than 15 hours of observances are planned Friday, the invasion’s 70th anniversary.

They open with a ceremony at “H-Hour” – 6:30 a.m. June 6, when U.S. troops began slogging toward Utah and Omaha beaches — the allies’ names for those shorelines in Normandy.

Keith Huxen, the museum’s senior director of history and research, will discuss the invasion’s importance.

He called D-Day the crucial moment on which the Allies’ ultimate success depended.

“If Nazi Germany had succeeded in pushing us back into the English Channel, there was no Plan B,” he said in an interview Monday.

Other museum buildings will open from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday. Then the first two episodes of the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers will be shown outdoors.

Both days, uniformed re-enactors will talk about the lives of military men and women. Visitors can try on replica uniform coats and vintage helmets, and watch movies about and veterans’ videotaped accounts of D-Day.

Visitors will get rare tours on the museum’s rebuilt Higgins boat.

“People will have a chance to see what it was like to be with 30 others” in the 36-by-10-foot space, said Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits.

Authors of books about D-Day and World War II will give presentations. They include John C. McManus, whose The Dead and Those About to Die: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach was published in April.

“The Big Red One” was the 1st Infantry Division, which saw about 3,000 of its 16,000 men killed, wounded or captured on D-Day. That’s where Chaisson was assigned after leaving a bank job to enlist when he was 17 — with his father’s permission, since he was underage.

McManus wrote that soldiers were upset that a bombing barrage expected to soften the way for the invasion had done almost nothing; the bombs were dropped too far inland. Chaisson, however, remembers being surprised that the sky was clear of German planes.

“Our Air Force must have done a really good job,” said Chaisson, who lives in Metairie, a New Orleans suburb. “Had there been German aircraft I don’t know if we’d have made it because they could have strafed like mad.” With their heavy packs and rifles, the troops would have been easy pickings in the waist-deep choppy water, he said.

Just jumping into the Higgins boats as they reached the top of 4- to 8-foot swells was dangerous.

“The boat next to me, one fellow got his leg crushed between the boat and the ship,” Chaisson said. “They had to pull him back onto the liberty ship.”

On the beach in Normandy, he said, training held: “You reacted the way you were supposed to. You’d hit the sand, get up and run a little bit more, hide behind one of those obstacles, put a bit of the explosive under it and fuse it and go on. It was all more or less reaction.”

Read more Just In! | Travel News stories from the Miami Herald

  •  
A woman passes by a departure board at the Philadelphia International Airport that shows that US Airways Flight 796 to Tel Aviv was canceled on Tuesday.

    Airlines scrap Israel flights over missile fear

    In a sign of increased caution about flying near combat zones, U.S. and European airlines halted flights to Israel Tuesday after a rocket landed near Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport.

  •  
 <span class="cutline_leadin">Une Bobine Cell Phone Stand Sync and Charging Cable</span>

    Gear + Gadgets

    Coiled to charge

    Having declared a moratorium on testing cellphone accessories, we made an exception for the new Une Bobine Stand, Sync and Charging Cable from FuseChicken. This 24-inch long, 1/4-inch-thick flexible metal coil has a USB plug at one end and a sturdy minimalistic cell phone dock at the other (available in models for iPhone 4/4S, 5//5S/5C, and Android phones with micro-USB ports). Coil the metal as tightly or loosely, high or low-standing as you like (depending on what seems most stable for your phone). Plug the USB end into your computer or a USB wall charger. Then slide your phone’s power port onto the Une Bobine’s Lightning — or 30-pin or micro USB — adaptor, which has a slim plastic vertical backboard to keep the phone stable. The gap between the charging unit and the backboard is just wide enough to accommodate most cellphone cases — a rarity with many docks. The device keeps steady, so you can use it as a tripod, either coiled solo or wrapped around a tree branch or other object.

  •  
Fort de Bregancon

    France: Presidents’ holiday retreat open to public

    Presidential retreat

Miami Herald

Join the
Discussion

The Miami Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere on the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

The Miami Herald uses Facebook's commenting system. You need to log in with a Facebook account in order to comment. If you have questions about commenting with your Facebook account, click here.

Have a news tip? You can send it anonymously. Click here to send us your tip - or - consider joining the Public Insight Network and become a source for The Miami Herald and el Nuevo Herald.

Hide Comments

This affects comments on all stories.

Cancel OK



  • Marketplace

Today's Circulars

  • Quick Job Search

Enter Keyword(s) Enter City Select a State Select a Category