NEW ORLEANS – For The National WWII Museum, today is not only the Normandy D-Day landings anniversary, it is also the Museum’s 11th birthday. This year, the Museum is receiving a unique gift from the Utah Beach Museum at Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France – three large segments of Nazi Germany’s infamous Atlantic Wall. Each piece measures 5.5 feet tall and 18 inches thick, the sections total 35 feet in length and weigh nearly 22 tons, all pockmarked from the fire of incoming Allied troops.
Completed in 1944, the Atlantic Wall was a series of fortifications Hitler ordered built to guard Europe’s west coast from Allied assault. Made up of mines, pillboxes, tank traps and the famous “Rommel’s asparagus,” the Atlantic Wall stretched more than 3,200 miles, presenting a formidable defense for the Allied troops charged with executing the D-Day invasion.
D-Day was the invasion of Nazi-occupied Europe. The name stands only for “D” as in “day” since the final invasion date was unknown and weather dependent. It began early on the morning of June 6, 1944, when 156,000 servicemen from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other Allied countries boarded an armada of more than 5,000 ships and Higgins landing craft that ferried them from English harbors to the beaches of France and into a hail of German gunfire.
The operation cost U.S. Forces 2,499 dead that day alone (total Allied deaths were 4,414), but D-Day marked the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. By June 11, with the beachheads firmly secured, ships had ferried more than 326,000 troops and more than 100,000 tons of equipment to France. Paris would be liberated on August 25. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
The wall segments will be removed to make way for a significant expansion to the Utah Beach Museum. The project, led by American architect Nicolas Kelemen, includes the construction of a new hangar that will house a life-size replica of a B-26 bomber, as well as a flight simulator.
The ambitious extension and renovation has received the support of several key donors in the US, including Texas Lieutenant-Governor David Dewhurst and businessman, Gene Dewhurst. The Dewhurst brothers’ father was a highly decorated pilot who led a B-26 mission over Utah Beach on June 6, 1944.
In New Orleans, The National WWII Museum will commemorate the anniversary with a full day of activities and programs including presentations by D-Day veterans Hal Baumgarten and John Pellegren.