Maybe you’ve watched the movie “The Longest Day” or “Saving Private Ryan” and think you know all about June 6, 1944. Or you’ve been fortunate enough to have an aged relative who remembered it, or a good teacher who at least played you a cool DVD like “D-Day: The Lost Evidence” from the History Channel.
If so, there are probably five things you didn’t know about D-Day.
1) The Allied Forces suffered more casualties on June 6. It is estimated by the D-Day Museum in New Orleans that the Allies lost 10,000 of their forces on D-Day, including losses by Americans, Canadians and British. Additional research has shown that the casualty figures may actually be higher. Axis losses are unclear, but vary between 4,000 and 9,000 on that day, including those killed, wounded, missing or captured.
2) President Teddy Roosevelt’s eldest son died at Normandy. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who had a lengthy career in military and the politics, and had fought in both World War I and II, was the only general to be part of the landings, which he made at Utah Beach. Despite being ill and aged, he fought on, only to die of a heart attack less than a week later. His grave is at the Omaha Beach American Cemetery in Normandy.
3) A D-Day transport ship was named the Susan B. Anthony. The ship was destroyed during the D-Day invasion, along with four minesweepers, a destroyer escort, five destroyers, and nearly 50 more ships in the English Channel, according to the Navy Department Library.
4) Balloons were used to stop enemy aircraft attacks. African-American soldiers from the 320th Anti-Aircraft Barrage Balloon Battalion from the First U.S. Army Division served on D-Day (remember, the military didn’t desegregate until President Truman ordered it after WWII). Those balloons were anchored by land or sea, and were designed to frustrate enemy planes from strafing or dive bombing the Americans on the beach, according to the National Archives. And if the cables didn’t tangle the aircraft, a floating mine could blow it up.
5) A failed lumber businessman helped win D-Day. Andrew Higgins saw his lumber company understandably fail during the Great Depression. But then he developed a new business, building a type of boat that the Allies later used during amphibious landings: the Landing Craft, Vehicle, Personnel (LCVP). The man known by the moniker “the New Noah” made it possible to transport thousands of men and their equipment. By the end of World War II, over 20,000 of these were made, including revved up PT boats armed with machine guns, depth charges and torpedoes, according to Bryan Hiatt with the World War II Database.
In fact, you can find all about Higgins, D-Day, the landings, and everything else about World War II at the National World War II Museum, the only one of its kind. It’s located in New Orleans, Louisiana (I take my students there sometimes during our January trip). And the best news is that the museum is going to be expanding, covering more about the European Theater (open later this year) and the Pacific Theater (sometime in 2015) according to a director of the collections and exhibits. So make plans if you happen to be in the New Orleans area to add this spot to your trip.