D-Day Exhibit at Museum of World War II in Natick
by David Trumbull -- June 6, 2014
On June 6, 1944, 160,000 Allied troops landed along a 50-mile stretch of heavily-fortified French coastline to fight Nazi Germany on the beaches of Normandy, France. General Dwight D. Eisenhower called the operation a crusade in which "we will accept nothing less than full victory." More than 5,000 Ships and 13,000 aircraft supported the D-Day invasion, and by day's end on June 6, the Allies gained a foot- hold in Normandy. The D-Day cost was high -more than 9,000 Allied Soldiers were killed or wounded -- but more than 100,000 Soldiers began the march across Europe to defeat Hitler.
No description, whether in print, spoken word, live theatre, or teleplay, can fully convey what it was like to be a young solder -- perhaps just 19 years old -- weighed down with 75 pounds of gear, sea-sick and soaked from the amphibious landing, crossing a land-mine strewn beach to walk into German gunfire 70 years ago today, in the invasion of Normandy.
Each year, as we commemorate D-Day fewer and fewer of the participants are with us. The youngest D-Day veterans are about 90 years old. In a few more years the battles of World War II will, like the battles of earlier wars, be the subject only of history, not living memory. When that day comes, the closest we'll be able to get to the experience of the Normandy invasion will be by examining the artifacts and primary source documents.
We are fortunate here in Boston that one of the best places in the world to learn about that great conflict is at the Museum of World War II in Natick. Through August 30th the museum is featuring a special 70th Anniversary of D-Day exhibit.
Their D-Day collections are only rivaled, in artifacts, by the Bayeux Museum in Normandy. They have the only known complete original set of the D-Day invasion plans along with thousands of other archival documents, photographs, plans and maps. A substantial part of the holdings are from the original Omaha Beach Museum in Villeneuve, France, which sold its collection to the Natick museum in 1994, after the 50th anniversary of D-Day. All of the artifacts in the special exhibit -- including uniforms, parachutes, weapons, and much more -- were used on the day of the D-Day invasion.
Visiting the museum is a unique experience. In addition to being the most comprehensive collection of original World War II artifacts anywhere in the world, the exhibition -- nearly 7,000 pieces -- integrates the human, political and military stories. It is an intense experience made more so by the fact most artifacts are not behind or under glass. Most can be touched.
Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. --- George Santayana (1863 - 1952)