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World War II museum: 2 days of D-Day vets, historians

Friday, June 06, 2014 - Updated: 9:59 AM

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- For months, 19-year-old Cpl. Roland Chaisson and his demolition squad had trained in England to invade Normandy. Twice a day they scrambled down rope ladders from troop ships to the flat landing craft called Higgins boats. They'd be setting explosives under huge, pointed steel anti-tank defenses called hedgehogs. So once ashore, they repeatedly ran and dropped to set dummy explosives while Royal Air Force machine-gunners overhead fired at targets.

Now it was June 6, 1944. Practice became bloody reality. Heavy German fire killed about half of the 18 soldiers in Chaisson's squad before they hit the shore, he said.

Chaisson, now 89, is among D-Day veterans who will describe that day today and Saturday at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans. More than 15 hours of observances are planned Friday, the invasion's 70th anniversary.

They open with a ceremony at "H-Hour" -- 6:30 a.m. June 6, when U.S. troops began slogging toward Utah and Omaha beaches -- the allies' names for those shorelines in Normandy.

Keith Huxen, the museum's senior director of history and research, will discuss the invasion's importance.

He called D-Day the crucial moment on which the Allies' ultimate success depended.

"If Nazi Germany had succeeded in pushing us back into the English Channel, there was no Plan B," he said in an interview Monday.

Other museum buildings will open from 7:30 a.m. until 8 p.m. Friday. Then the first two episodes of the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" will be shown outdoors.

Both days, uniformed re-enactors will talk about the lives of military men and women. Visitors can try on replica uniform coats and vintage helmets, and watch movies about and veterans' videotaped accounts of D-Day.

Visitors will get rare tours on the museum's rebuilt Higgins boat.

"People will have a chance to see what it was like to be with 30 others" in the 36-by-10-foot space, said Tom Czekanski, director of collections and exhibits.


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