Eleven Museums and Memorials Honoring the 75th Anniversary of D-Day

These events and exhibits shed light on the experiences of soldiers during the invasion of Normandy and the remainder of World War II

Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower gives the order of the day: "Full victory—nothing else" to paratroopers in England, just before they board their airplanes to participate in the first assault in the invasion of the continent of Europe. (Wikipedia)
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On June 6, 1944, one of the largest amphibious military assaults in history took place on 50 miles of coastline in Normandy, France. D-Day, also known as Operation Neptune, allowed more than 160,000 Allied troops to take an important victory in the fight against the Nazis. While upwards of 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed or injured, the assault allowed more than 100,000 soldiers to push across Europe, liberating those under control by Nazi Germany as they went. It was the beginning of the end for World War II.

This year, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, institutions across the country will be hosting events and exhibitions to honor the memory of those who lost their lives and to celebrate the victories of veterans.

National Air and Space Museum's Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center; Chantilly, VA

Join the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum for a one-day commemoration honoring the events of D-Day on June 6 at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center. Aside from access to the museum’s regular collection of D-Day artifacts, visitors will have a full day’s schedule to enjoy, complete with concerts by the Air Force Strings, viewings of D-Day: Normandy 1944 3D in the Airbus IMAX Theater and presentations on the D-Day missions of the Martin B-26B-25-MA Marauder Flak-Bait, the Douglas C-47 and the 320th Barrage Balloon Battalion. Also throughout the day, guests will be able to take selfies with Rosie the Riveter, take docent-led D-Day tours of the museum, and explore a collection of World War II aviation photos, both in color and virtual reality.

The National WWII Museum; New Orleans, LA

On display now until October 20, "In Memory of What I Cannot Say" is the National WWII Museum’s first art exhibit. It showcases the work of D-Day veteran Guy de Montlaur, a French fine art painter who expressed his experiences in the French army through colorful abstract paintings. Montlaur suffered several wounds in hand-to-hand combat on D-Day, and had to carry shrapnel in his face for the rest of his life. He died in 1977. The art is supplemented with profiles of people that served with Montlaur, photography, text panels and some of his wartime effects. Some of the highlights of the exhibit include Montlaur’s self portrait, and vivid representations of a beach, fire and a morning in June.

The National D-Day Memorial; Bedford, VA

This week, the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia, the American town that suffered the greatest per capita losses on D-Day, is hosting The Final Salute. On June 6, the memorial’s hours will be extended until 9 p.m., and visitors can witness an aerial tribute to WWII veterans with 12 different planes, take flights on historic aircraft (for an extra fee), and watch films Saving Private Ryan and Tuesday Mourning. Historic flights and viewings of Tuesday Mourning continue until Sunday. Other special events include an outdoor concert of WWII-era songs on June 7; a parade and brass band concert on June 8; and a chapel service at the memorial on June 9.

National Museum of American History; Washington, D.C.

Beginning June 6, the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History will have hand-selected World War II artifacts on display in its "75th Anniversary of D-Day" exhibition—from a grappling hook, one of just two left in the world that Army Rangers used to climb up the steep Point du Hoc cliffside in Normandy, to a grave marker inscribed with "unknown soldier," the only one in an American museum of the type used at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer, France. Other items on display include gun casings, ID tags, a canteen and photographs.

Field Museum; Chicago, IL

Now through February 2, 2020, the Field Museum is turning the spotlight on American Indians and their contribution to the military—in particular Penobscot elder and retired master sergeant Charles Norman Shay and his namesake park on Normandy’s coast. Shay, now 94 years old, has made a conscious effort to return to Omaha Beach every year to perform traditional American Indian ceremonies as a way to honor fallen servicepeople. He also works with fellow tribe members to locate and identify unmarked graves in France. The museum worked with the Trickster Gallery, a Native-owned arts business in Illinois, to create the its "D-Day Warriors: American Indians in the Military" exhibition, which includes photos, video interviews with Shay, and artifacts, including a U.S. WWII infantryman’s helmet that was used in France. “Twenty-two percent, or nearly one in four Native people, have served in the military,” Joe Podlasek, CEO of the Trickster Gallery and a citizen of the Lac Courte Oreilles Ojibwe Tribe, said in a release. “We have served in the United States Military in higher rates than any other ethnic group since the Revolutionary War—and that history needs to be shared at its fullest.”

National Museum of the U.S. Air Force; Riverside, OH

Visitors to the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force on June 6 will have a chance to participate in an entire day of activities dedicated to the memory of D-Day. There will be artifact displays, trivia, living history reenactors, a wreath laying ceremony and C-47 flyover, and screenings of D-Day movies. Beyond that, through the end of the year, visitors can experience "D-Day: Freedom From Above," the museum's new 3,500-square-foot augmented reality exhibit. Equipped with "HistoPad" interactive tablets, guests can interact with virtual artifacts, maps and unpublished photos, and immerse themselves in 360-degree recreations of what it might have been like for the 82nd and 101st Airborne divisions on D-Day.

The International Museum of World War II; Natick, MA

It took two years for the military to plan out the D-Day invasion, and the International Museum of World War II is launching a new exhibition intending to cover every aspect, from planning and communication to the actual invasion and the aftermath. "The 75th Anniversary of D-Day," which runs from June 7 until the end of the year, has more than 100 artifacts, including a rare German Enigma codebook used to forecast the weather; defused explosives camouflaged as coal; “Ruperts,” or dummy paratroopers that were meant to confuse the Germans about the intended landing spot; a remote-controlled explosive tank called a Goliath used by the Germans; a letter from Dwight Eisenhower, then the supreme commander of Allied Forces, to his wife; and a wedding dress made from one of the paratroopers’ silk parachutes. “Nothing like it had ever happened in history,” the International Museum of WWII’s founder and director Kenneth Rendell said in a release. “It was unimaginable to all but a few military leaders. The enormous effort that went into the complex and detailed planning, as seen here in this exhibition, is evidence of how crucial it was that this invasion be successful. On the 75th anniversary of this remarkable endeavor, we’re proud to showcase our unmatched collection highlighting all aspects of D-Day.”

Palm Springs Air Museum; Palm Springs, CA

Norman Sirota was meant to be in the D-Day attack as part of a silent glider team—but instead, he was injured during a training flight. In order to honor the servicepeople that did participate in the mission, with its 50 percent casualty rate, Sirota's family has partnered with the Palm Springs Air Museum to stage the Norman Lawrence Sirota D-Day Gliders' Exhibit about gliders, the teams that piloted them, and the vehicles and supplies they carried. Must-sees include an original glider hanging above the exhibit, the reconstructed interior of several gliders, and maps, pictures and timelines, including troop numbers and locations. The exhibit is now part of the museum’s permanent displays.

D-Day Conneaut; Conneaut, OH

From August 15 to 17, experience the country’s largest D-Day reenactment in Conneaut, Ohio. The annual event is free, and visitors will have a chance to meet with more than 1,800 living history reenactors; thank actual veterans from WWII for their service; visit recreations of Allied, French and German camps; and experience reenactments of training exercises, four battles and the D-Day landing itself (on the shores of Lake Erie). The daily schedules include rides in an authentic Higgins boat, exhibits of artifacts like artillery and sand table maps, church services, lectures, movies, mortar demonstrations, and open houses at Conneaut's North Coast WWII History Museum.

FDR Presidential Library and Museum; Hyde Park, NY

Between now and January 6, 2020, visitors to the Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library and Museum will get an inside look at the friendship and collaboration between FDR and Winston Churchill that led to a successful D-Day invasion. The exhibition, titled "D-Day: FDR and Churchill's 'Mighty Endeavor,'" features maps and classified cables from Roosevelt’s secret Map Room, an ECM Mark II SIGABA cipher machine used to encode messages between the two leaders, and a massive touch-screen table that tracks the movement of all 1.2 million servicepeople involved in the landing operations.

Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum; Pittsburgh, PA

Through the end of June, the Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall & Museum has a special display of D-Day artifacts from the museum’s collection. Highlights of the "D-Day Pittsburgh 75 Exhibit" include a Medal of Honor posthumously given to Technician Fifth Grade John J. Pinder, Jr., 16th INF 1ST, who was severely wounded in the invasion but still managed to deliver a radio to establish communications that led to the success of the mission; a 48-star flag that flew from Landing Craft Infantry 540 on Omaha Beach; a dress uniform a soldier wore home after the war ended; and artifacts U.S. soldiers picked up after the invasion, like a German machine gun and a British helmet.

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