- The Washington Times - Wednesday, June 7, 2000

NEW ORLEANS The city of New Orleans turned out en masse yesterday to honor the aging heroes of World War II, especially those who fought on the Normandy beaches on D-Day 56 years ago.

On an overcast day designated to remember the valiant efforts by the U.S. military, the occasion was the opening of the National D-Day Museum a proud new edifice officially opened yesterday afternoon.

But on the anniversary of the D-Day landing in France, the day belonged to those who had participated not only the fighting men but those at home who kept the supply lines intact.

Eight Medal of Honor winners, more politicians than Louisiana has accumulated since the wild days of Huey P. Long and a crowd estimated at more than 15,000 watched an hourlong parade and then the official ribbon-cutting.

Above the parade route, airmen in several vintage aircraft as well as those guiding the military's latest, swooped low in respect to the hundreds of World War II veterans who rode various military vehicles from the Louisiana Dome to the museum in the city's Warehouse District.

"Thank you for reminding us how special freedom is," John B. Breaux, Louisiana's senior U.S. senator, told the dignitaries. He quoted what he said was a Thomas Payne remark of two centuries ago: "Those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it."

The Democratic senator said that as people visit this museum they should be reminded "that freedom is not free. It is worth fighting for. And for those who fought, they should be remembered and they will always be honored."

"We must never forget the price that established that tenuous foothold at Normandy," said Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater.

"It is said," Mr. Slater continued, "that if truth were self-evident, there would be no need for eloquence. Today, let us say thank you for the eloquence personified by the men and women who served us in those dark and difficult times."

Defense Secretary William S. Cohen said that when folks visit the museum they should be reminded that these veterans "gave their all, their grief, for every one of us, and that is the lesson of what World War II should mean to all of us."

"That," he added, "is what is embodied in this building of stone and glass, and it is a lesson for us to remember for the future."

Many of the World War II heroes, most over 70 and many approaching 90, could not comfortably ride in the morning parade, but they lined the long route in wheelchairs or congregated curbside to wave at their comrades.

Yesterday was the culmination of a four-day opening extravaganza.

Several events allowed visiting veterans to relate their on-scene stories of D-Day and the several Pacific amphibious landings that finally culminated in victory for the Allies.

The museum, a 70,000-square-foot structure within walking distance of downtown and the city's touristy French Quarter, houses several World War II vehicles from jeeps, tanks and aircraft to memorabilia like personal diaries, maps, uniforms, medical kits, photos and newspaper clippings to on-scene radio dispatches from the battle zones.

Even a German sentry box.

"It's a proud, proud day for me to be here with you all," said Jack H. Lucas, 72, of Hattiesburg, Miss., who as a Marine Corps private on Feb. 20, 1945, saved several comrades' lives as he threw himself on a live grenade on Iwo Jima, then pulled a second grenade underneath him.

Mr. Lucas, who lied about his age (16) to get into the Marines "I knew they wanted young men, I didn't think they'd check" suffered wounds to his chest, arms, thigh, neck and chin that required months of hospitalization and several operations.

When President Harry S. Truman conferred the Medal of Honor on him after the war, he was the youngest Marine ever to receive the award and the youngest recipient since the Civil War.

Telling of his feats, Mr. Lucas was self-effacing, humble.

"I did nothing, absolutely nothing, that any of you would not have done," he told a hushed audience of several hundred, fellow veterans, dignitaries and politicians.

Several other Medal of Honor winners, Lucian Adams, Robert E. Bush, Jefferson DeBlanc, Walter D. Ehlers, Douglas Jacobson, James E. Livingston, Mitchell Paige and Herschel Williams, offered equally moving memories of their experiences that left listeners offering standing ovations amid undisguised tears.

The museum, though directed toward charting the history of all the Allied amphibious assaults, concentrated mostly on the European theater for its opener. By next year, museum leaders claim they will add space to commemorate the several Pacific invasions, like Iwo Jima, Leyte, Saipan and Tarawa.

The museum was the brain-child of Stephen Ambrose, a longtime New Orleans historian and University of New Orleans history professor.

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