- Associated Press - Saturday, December 20, 2014

COLUMBUS, Neb. (AP) - A local committee is looking for funding to build a second Andrew Jackson Higgins monument, this one at the site of the D-Day landings in France.

The group needs about $250,000 to create and install a memorial honoring the Columbus native on Utah Beach, one of five sites where Allied Forces used Higgins boats to launch an invasion of France on June 6, 1944, that started an 81-day campaign to liberate Paris from Nazi Germany.

More than 1,000 Higgins boats, also known as LCVP landing craft, were used by the Allied Forces during the Normandy landings along the beaches of northern France, which led then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower to refer to Higgins as the man who won World War II, the Columbus Telegram (https://bit.ly/1BQqOEC ) reported.

The proposed project would display statues of Allied soldiers and Higgins, as well as a replica of the landing craft and historical marker, on the sand outside the Utah Beach Museum in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, France, where an original Higgins boat is housed. The monument would resemble the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial that opened in 2001 in Pawnee Park.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry and military historian Timothy Kilvert-Jones, a retired major in the United Kingdom Army who lives near the Normandy battlefield, got the ball rolling on the Higgins project in August, when they were in Columbus to give a presentation on the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy at the American Legion Club.

“I think it would be a wonderful statement for this community to know that one of your proud sons is remembered in Normandy in perpetuity,” Kilvert-Jones said then.

Born in Columbus on Aug. 28, 1886, Higgins later moved to Omaha and built his first boat in the basement of his family’s home. He started Higgins Industries in New Orleans, eventually designing and building the landing craft used in World War II.

During his presentation, Kilvert-Jones said Higgins “made a major contribution” to Operation Overlord, which put 176,000 Allied troops supported by thousands of ships, combat aircraft and other vehicles and artillery on the ground in the first 24 hours after the D-Day landings.

The former major called for a project that places a replica of the local Higgins memorial on Utah Beach by the 70th anniversary of the end of the European Theater in May 2015.

Fortenberry, whose grandfather was killed in World War II, is currently working with French authorities to gain the necessary approval and facilitate infrastructure work needed for the project and a local volunteer committee has been tasked with raising the approximately $250,000 needed to re-create the statues and boat.

The congressman said the proposal received a positive response from the mayor of the French community that runs the Utah Beach Museum and other government officials.

“There are a lot of things that are going to have to converge quickly, but there’s excellent momentum,” said Fortenberry, whose office is coordinating a formal agreement between the museum and Columbus committee.

“It will be extraordinarily well received by the people of France,” he added.

Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz, who is leading the nine-member local committee, said the goal is to complete the project ahead of the May anniversary date.

But, he added, this means the group likely will need to have the statue molds sent to the foundry well before the fundraising goal is reached. Committee members are working on a plan to complete the project while extending the fundraising time frame to cover the costs, he said.

“To put Columbus, Nebraska, and Mr. Higgins on the beaches of Normandy, that’s just a unique opportunity,” Belitz said.


Information from: Columbus Telegram, https://www.columbustelegram.com

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