New Orleans has a rich literary history--William Faulkner, Sherwood Anderson, Walker Percy, and many others called the Big Easy home or featured it in their work. And now, the city's National World War II Museum offers veterans a haven for their stories of war and sacrifice.
Over two decades ago, authors and historians Stephen Ambrose and Nick Muller originally envisioned a museum in recognition of New Orleans-based manufacturer Andrew Higgins, whose landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) boats ferried platoons onto the beaches of Normandy during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. The D-Day Museum opened in 2000 but by 2003 had outgrown its original scope, when it was redesignated the official National World War II Museum by Congress. (Note: As an independent non-profit, the museum is unaffected by the current government shutdown.) Today, the six-acre campus sprawls across the city's Historic Warehouse District and offers sweeping immersive and interactive displays exploring WWII and its aftermath.
And the museum isn't done growing: by January 2020, the Liberation Pavilion will open to the public: a three-story building encompassing a second-floor library with space for 22,000 volumes.
"Currently, we've got approximately 10,000 written and oral histories from WWII veterans that will be housed in the new library," said Toni Kiser, the museum's assistant director for collections management. "Some of these histories were originally collected by Ambrose for his books like Band of Brothers and D-Day, while others arrived as part of larger acquisitions." The testimonials vary by length and scope. Some veterans put pen to paper when the war was still fresh in their minds and had their memoirs printed, bound, and even distributed. Others are more modest and informal, spanning a few pages at best.
Some of the memoirs exist only as oral histories committed to film--Ambrose conducted many such interviews for his books, for example. Conversely, some recorded narratives have lost their original visual or aural component. "Interestingly, Ambrose would use the same tape to record his interviews--after transcribing each interview, he would record over the old interview with a new one," explained Kiser. "Other, older oral histories came to us on VHS. The museum is having them digitized and transcribed so that anyone who comes in can access them."
Kiser hopes that these memoirs will help future generations to understand this war once open to the public. Though non-lending, the library will be open to scholars and other visitors. "We're getting to the point where most of the veterans from WWII have passed away. And each story is a unique wartime experience. These memoirs will serve as a beacon for future generations as a reminder of what these brave men fought for and what the war meant for America."
Images: Courtesy of the National WWII Museum