How A Little Boat Helped Win a Big War

New Orleans is well and justifiably renown for Mardi Gras, for the French Quarter, for wonderful jazz, and for great restaurants.

But any visit to New Orleans should include – no, must include – a visit to the D-Day Museum. It’s beautifully laid out and is a wonderful combination of displays and a whole sequence of mini-theaters presenting video clips. As luck would have it, a number of gentlemen who participated in that invasion were there to answer questions on the day I visited. What an opportunity that was!

The first question I had when I was told about this museum was “Why is it located in New Orleans?” The answer is fascinating: It’s because of the Higgins Boat. Perhaps you never knew what they were called, but you’ll recognize them instantly from this photo.

These flat-bottomed landing craft were designed to run right up onto beaches where men and equipment could be quickly unloaded. The fact is, the Higgins Boats made the D-Day invasion possible, not to mention the countless other landings made throughout the Pacific during World War II.

The basic design of the boat was the work of Andrew Higgins, a Louisiana native. His company originally designed and built the plywood boats for running around the shallow waters of the Louisiana bayous. Higgins recognized the potential military application and was able to convince the Army that a military version of the boat could be used for the invasion of Europe.

Once the military brass understood the capabilities of these boats, the entire invasion strategy changed … and the D-Day invasion as we now know it became feasible. Higgins Industries ended up building more than 20,000 of these landing craft and it’s no exaggeration to say that Andrew Jackson Higgins’ little plywood boat changed the course of the greatest conflict in the history of the human race.

And now you know — where’s Paul Harvey when you need him? — why the D-Day Museum is in New Orleans.

Seriously, go see it. It’s worth a special trip. (And afterwards you can go to diner at Irene’s Cuisine!)