As the world prepares to commemorate the 65th anniversary of the D-Day landings on June 6, The National World War II Museum is also recalling those battles that set the stage for the historic Allied invasion. Two of these battles, Anzio, Italy (January 22, 1944) and the Kwajalein Atoll in the Pacific (January 31, 1944), were also fought 65 years ago this month. Lessons learned at Anzio and Kwajalein, both paved the way for and have been overshadowed by that iconic victory at Normandy.
“We opened our doors for the first time in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum, due largely to the significant role New Orleans played in the D-Day invasion,” said Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller, Museum President and CEO. “But in 2003, we received the Congressional designation as the nation’s official World War II Museum, prompting a name change, the beginning of a $300 million expansion project and a broadening of our mission. These lesser known, but incredibly important battles are key to exploring all of World War II and revealing many of the untold, very personal, stories that will resonate with future generations.”
To that end, the Museum is collecting the memories of those who saw action at Anzio and Kwajalein.
“We are looking for veterans who were involved in both battles,” says Seth Paridon, Manager of Research Services for the New Orleans based Museum. “Those who would like to share their memories can send their accounts via email to email@example.com or by calling 504-527-6012 x 311.”
Letters can be mailed to The National World War II Museum Oral History Project, 945 Magazine St., New Orleans, LA, 70130.
Recognizing the importance of saving such stories for posterity, The National World War II Museum has already recorded nearly 3,000 personal accounts from every branch of service and theater – including more than 500 video accounts recorded in high definition. The collection began with the work of author, historian and Museum founder, Stephen E. Ambrose.
The Landings at Anzio
On January 22, 1944, 50,000 men of the US 5th Army landed at the Italian port city of Anzio. By outflanking the German Gustav Line to the south with an amphibious landing, the Allies hoped to break the stalemate that followed the initial invasion of the Italian mainland in 1943. Anzio also had a second objective: draw German troops away from the Gustav Line to allow an Allied breakthrough in the south, advancing their main goal, the capture of Rome.
The Anzio campaign completely surprised the Germans. In a virtually unopposed landing, the Allies seized all initial objectives by noon of the first day with only 17 casualties and 97 wounded. Then the situation stagnated. The Allies couldn’t breakout of their beachhead, and the Germans were unable to push them into the sea. The situation remained unchanged until Allied Forces broke the Gustav Line on May 18. They captured Rome on June 5, 1944. Their victory as greatly overshadowed by the June 6, 1944, landings at Normandy.
Lessons learned at Tarawa
Kwajalein Atoll, in the heart of the Marshall Islands, was the next step after Tarawa in the island-hopping campaign to defeat Japan. Learning from its heavy losses at Tarawa, the US employed both Naval ships and B-24 Liberators in a 15,000-ton pre-landing bombardment, one of the Pacific Campaign’s most concentrated. Additionally, a joint Army-Navy Underwater Demolitions Team (UDT) was used for the first time in the Pacific to search for and clear beach obstacles.
The Army's 7th Infantry Division landed on Kwajalein’s main island on January 31, 1944, with the Marine 4th Division landing further north on Roi-Namur. Because of the heavy bombardment the battle resembled street fighting more than jungle combat. Debris heaps and shell craters were the only cover afforded to the infantrymen conquering one pillbox and blockhouse at a time.
Kwajalein was taken in four days. It was the first pre-war Japanese territory to fall to the Allies and was an important step in penetrating the outer-ring of Japan’s defenses. The Japanese lost nearly 5,000 men, while US losses were fewer than 200. Lessons worked both ways. Learning from Kwajalein, the Japanese made battles such as Peleliu, Guam and the Marianas far deadlier for US Forces.
Keeping Memories Alive
The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is hard at work preserving the experiences of the veterans of Kwajalein and Anzio, and all the others who witnessed these significant steps in the defeat of totalitarianism while educating the public on the sacrifices made by the Greatest Generation.
Though World War II was the most pivotal event of modern times, the memory of the valor and sacrifice of America’s Greatest Generation grows harder to summon as the men and women who fought its battles both around the globe and on the Home Front pass away. Veterans are dying at the rate of 900 a day, and vanishing with them: the personal stories of epic battles and deeds of sacrifice and heroism that museums and historians must keep alive.
First-hand accounts by World War II veterans are an invaluable source for historians, researchers, filmmakers and future generations, and they now serve as a cornerstone for current and future exhibitions for The National World War II Museum. The Museum is currently in the midst of a multi-phase $300 million expansion with two new attractions slated to open in fall 2009. The Victory Theater will show the exclusive presentation Beyond All Boundaries, a 4-D, immersive cinematic experience created by Phil Hettema of The Hettema Group with Tom Hanks as Executive Producer. The Stage Door Canteen will recall the days when a weary soldier could find food, entertainment and fellowship at these remarkable venues where USO-style shows boosted morale from the Home Front to the battlefront.
The National World War II Museum tells the story of the American Experience in the war that changed the world – why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. Dedicated in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum and now designated by Congress as America’s National World War II Museum, it celebrates the American Spirit, the teamwork, optimism, courage and sacrifice of the men and women who fought on the battlefront and the Home Front.
For more information, call 877-813-3329 or 504-527-6012 or visit www.nationalww2museum.org.