If there is a day of somber reflection on the American calendar, it ought to be June 6. On that date in 1944, an armada of ships bore thousands of brave young men who threw themselves against the shore of Nazi-occupied France.
About 2,500 of the American boys in that host would never come home, but the hard-won victory of D-Day was the beginning of the end of the horrors of Nazi rule in western Europe.
The lessons of D-Day will never be out of style and should never be out of memory.
One is that America was not alone, fighting with Canadians and Britons, Poles and Free French, warriors of homelands too numerous to mention. All had a fundamental interest together, and that was liberty. Many died in that cause.
It’s easy to forget, also, that the operation’s commanding general, Dwight D. Eisenhower, was an American whose career will also be the subject of study: He was a coalition general, not a dictator to the units of many nationalities under his command.
Ike’s humble midwestern style of leadership was part of the story of D-Day. A young historian knew the old warrior, a former president: Stephen Ambrose’s many books included a biography of Eisenhower. It was Ambrose’s vision that there be a museum dedicated to D-Day and the memories of the thousands of participants who contributed to oral histories he and others collected.
Now, the National WWII Museum celebrates its 20th anniversary in New Orleans, although in a far from flashy fashion. The advent of a coronavirus pandemic means that, while open since Memorial Day, much access is still limited.
The museum that has brought the era of World War II to extraordinary life for this and future generations has had to endure hard times before. The devastation of 2005, when hurricanes Katrina and Rita made havoc of the entire state of Louisiana, also forced layoffs and cutbacks similar to those being endured today.
Like any other enterprise supported by the public and by donors, the museum will be toughing it out for a while. An online celebration of its 20th doesn’t do justice to what it has meant to its city and its state, but as with so many other things in life right now, that will have to do.
We have confidence in the future of the National WWII Museum, just as we do in the country that its exhibits describe, and the courage and fortitude of the nation that in 1944 made a profound difference in the history of the world.