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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE AIR WAR GALLERY

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In our last blog post of the Road to Berlin countdown, we covered the last two exhibits within The Italian Campaign gallery: Liberation of Rome and Fighting for The Gothic Line. On our next stop you will learn about the story of air power in the war, followed by a spotlight on our donors, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Fisher, Sr., who sponsored the Air War gallery.

Rendering of the Air War gallery

Rendering of the Air War gallery

The Road to Berlin will take you north to the broad Allied effort, beginning with use of air power in preparation for the invasion of Normandy.  As you leave Italy you will step into a recreated Nissen hut much like those mass produced in England and used for storage and operational needs.  Above, you will look through a ceiling gap and see a projection of aircraft flying overhead.  The Air War gallery will tell the story of air power in the war – from the famous Tuskegee Airmen, to the formidable German Luftwaffe, to America’s relentless air strikes in Europe.  The space will also detail the experiences of the aircrews – treacherous conditions and a high death toll made these fighter pilots and bombardiers some of the true heroes of the American war effort.  An interactive touch screen will allow you to explore the Air War timeline and other facts and statistics.  The Air War gallery will capture visitors’ imaginations with the excitement and danger of the air war, while also teaching the significant role of American air power in World War II through the exhibits First Strikes, Losses, and Aircrews’ Experiences.

 

 Donor Spotlight- Mr. and Mrs. James R. Fisher, Sr.

Mr. James R. Fisher, Sr.

Mr. James R. Fisher, Sr.

The Museum is proud to highlight two of our greatest supporters, Mr. and Mrs. James R. Fisher, Sr. Together they  have generously underwritten the Air War gallery in memory of Mr. Fisher’s parents, James J. Fisher, Jr. and Frances D. Fisher.

James “Jim” R. Fisher, Sr., a current Museum trustee, was born in Manhattan. His parents, James J. Fisher, Jr. and Frances D. Fisher, then moved the family to Paramus, New Jersey, where Jim attended Bergen Catholic High School and then went on to graduate from Lafayette College.

Fisher’s father enlisted in the Army Air Force right after Pearl Harbor and was stationed at Grafton Underwood, a former WWII airfield in England. He was legally blind in one eye, but Fisher’s father bribed someone to tell him the answers to the eye exam so he could enlist. Fisher’s father served when the survival rate was less than 15%, and approximately 80% of the crews were either shot down or captured and ended up in Prisoner of War camps. despite the odds against him, He flew 31 missions in B-17s primarily as a tail gunner and was awarded several medals for his service, including the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Jim’s father, “didn’t talk much about the war until the 1980s, and then he became a lot more forthcoming.” Jim vividly remembers the day his father began to open up. In 1980, Jim was living in Manhattan and had returned home to visit his folks. His mother handed him a letter. The letter was from a man Jim’s father had befriended during the war. Jim began to read the letter, the words written from an adult man who remembered Jim’s dad from when he was 12 years old. The man had found Jim’s dad through the war department, and in his letter said “how absolutely amazing my father was to his family during the war, bringing them food and other supplies from the base.” He wrote, “I always thought I would see you on the telly running for President.” As soon as my father read the letter, he instantly began to cry and left the room. “After that, he became a lot more forthcoming with his WWII stories and experiences.”

After the war, Jim’s father met Jim’s mother, “a conservative Irish girl” and soon thereafter he told her “I’m going to marry you.” Six months later they were married.

As a young boy, Jim’s father gave all of his WWII medals to him, including the Distinguished Flying Cross. Jim and his friends would play Army as kids after watching the popular 1960s show Combat. Jim thought that while playing this game he had lost all of his father’s medals, and his father then had to write to have them all reissued to him. Years later, after Jim’s mother passed away and Jim was moving his dad to a new home, they went through his childhood bedroom. It was then that together they found, “all the original medals in the back of my sock drawer. You would have thought he’d be mad after all that, but all he did was laugh.”

Don Miller, author and frequent lecturer at the Museum’s International Conference on WWII, met Jim through his role as a history teacher at Lafayette College, Jim’s alma mater. One night the two men were talking about the war, and Miller took notice of how much Jim knew about WWII.  Jim told him why, and when Miller’s book Masters of the Air came out, the two spent a lot of time discussing the book and Jim’s father’s role in the Air War.

Unbeknownst to Jim, Miller tapped Governor Pete Wilson, Museum Trustee and Capital Campaign Committee chair, to call Jim’s office. Governor Wilson introduced himself and asked if Jim would consider joining the Museum’s Board of Trustees. Without hesitation, Jim immediately accepted. Upon Jim’s first visit to the Museum, he encountered a WWII Veteran walking around the campus with his children and his grandchildren. The Veteran had on a baseball cap with his unit number, and was wearing his medals proudly. He took his family around the exhibits, talking to them and sharing his stories. You could “just see the pride, even despite his age and his difficulty moving around. That was my favorite memory. It made me wish that my dad could have been here to see the Museum.”

Jim has a huge amount of respect for the WWII generation. He could not imagine doing what they did, especially at such a young age. When he was in his late teens and early 20s, “all I was interested in was having a good time. And here these fellas were saving the world. We just can’t thank them enough, which is why I got involved with the Museum. If it wasn’t for them, I don’t know what the world would have turned out to be. That is why they are called the Greatest Generation, and in my personal opinion, they are.”

Jim hopes to inspire others to support The National WWII Museum’s mission. “When I first got involved there were 6 million living WWII Veterans. Last statistic I saw said it is now less than 2 million. By the time we finish the capital campaign, it will be less than one million. That is very sad because the Museum is a monument to this generation. It would be nice to see us finish the expansion before they are all gone.”

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN EXHIBITS

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In our last blog post of the Road to Berlin countdown, we covered the first three exhibits within The Italian Campaign gallery: Invasion of The Italian Peninsula, Fighting Up The Peninsula, and Anzio. Now, we examine the final two chapters in the Italian Campaign, Liberation of Rome and Fighting for The Gothic Line exhibits. Read on to learn about how the Allies conquered the Axis in Italy, followed by a spotlight on one of our donors, the Strake Foundation, who sponsored the Liberation of Rome.

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Waves of cheers greeting the appearance of Allied tanks rumbling through the crowd lined streets of Rome following the seizure of Rome on 4 June 1944. U.S. Navy Official photograph, Gift of Charles Ives, from the collection of The National WWII Museum.

LIBERATION OF ROME

The Allies finally broke through at Anzio in May 1944, which opening the way through the Liri Valley to the Liberation of Rome. The capture of Eternal City of Rome on June 4, 1944 is a significant turning point – it was the first Axis capital to be captured – but it by no means marked the end of the campaign.
 
FIGHTING FOR THE GOTHIC LINE

This exhibit will cover the often forgotten military campaign after the Liberation of Rome which became a war of attrition in northern Italy.  As the Germans retreated up the peninsula, they constructed forts at key passes and mountain tops.  Fighting halted in the winter due to inclement weather, troop fatigue, and lack of supplies.  Horses and pack animals were used to assist with the advance.  Fierce fighting resumed with the return of fair weather, and the Allies broke through the Gothic Line in April 1945.  By the end of the war, the Allies had pushed their way up the Italian peninsula to just south of the Alps before the Germans surrendered.

 

Donor Spotlight- Strake Foundation

George W. Strake was born in 1894, and raised in St. Louis, MO. He was the youngest of nine children and both of his parents passed away when he was very young. His first job was as a Western Union runner making $10 a week and putting $2 of his weekly salary into the Sunday church collection basket. He did not attend high school but was admitted to St. Louis University after taking an entrance exam. Upon graduation, the United States was in World War I. He joined the Army in Florida, and became a wireless instructor in the Army Air Corps. He fell in love with a young lady from Florida but he would not marry her because “she had more money than I did.” She did suggest to him that he should go to Mexico as “that’s where the fortunes were going to be made.”

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George W. Strake, Sr. and Pope Paul VI

He followed her advice and moved to Tampico, Mexico. He got a job with Gulf Oil Co. where he stayed for two years. After quitting that job, he began putting drilling deals together for fellow Americans. He eventually married Susan Kehoe, from Houston, Texas. They had their first child, Betty Sue, in Houston, and they lived for a total of seven years in Tampico, Mexico. They then moved to Havana, Cuba where he was going to explore for oil but to give himself some cash flow, he took on the Hutmobile dealership which turned out to be a totally unsuccessful venture. After residing in Havana for two years, they decided to move back to the United States “before they had to swim back.” His intent was to move to Oregon to go into the timber business, but his mother-in-law became ill and to give himself something to do while they stayed here in Houston he began putting drilling deals together in Texas. His signature accomplishment was drilling the discovery well in the Conroe Field, southwest of Conroe, Texas, in 1931. Prior to drilling the discovery well by himself he was turned down by eight major oil companies who he had asked to participate in the drilling of the initial well.

After the discovery of the Conroe Field he started the Strake Foundation. This allowed him and his wife to begin a policy of helping many needed institutions and individuals.

The Strake Foundation is still in existence and continues the many charitable works that were started by George and Susan Strake. One of their major charities was the Catholic Church and one of the major recipients of this generosity was the Vatican. A highly significant project that the Strake Foundation supported was to fund the excavations under St. Peter’s Basilica where the tomb of St. Peter was eventually found. George Strake was bestowed the honor of Knight of St. Sylvester by the Pope, which required his actual presence from time to time in the Vatican. It is therefore appropriate that Strake Foundation sponsor the Liberation of Rome exhibit in The National WWII Museum.

George Strake died in 1969, and his work through the Foundation has been continued by the Strake Family under the guidance of their son, George W. Strake, Jr. and their third child, Georganna Parsley. Young George graduated from St. Thomas High School in Houston, the University of Notre Dame and Harvard Business School. After George Jr. graduated from Notre Dame he was commissioned an Ensign in the United States Navy where he served for two years in the Pacific Fleet on an LST. (This inspired the Strake Foundation’s support for the Life Aboard Ship exhibit within the Road to Tokyo.)

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George W. Strake, Jr.

George Jr.’s love of the Navy and the United States Military was started in his formative years when he was 6-10 years old during World War II. He can remember wanting to participate in the war effort with all other Americans. As a young boy he would collect newspapers, magazines and aluminum foil, taking them to the fire station “for the war effort.” He also planted vegetables for a “victory garden” in his mother’s azalea bed. His reaction was a reflection of the spirit that existed in WWII where everyone, regardless of their age, was a participant in the war effort. His uncle flew bombers in the European Theater and his two brothers-in-law, Bob Parsley and Bob Dilworth, flew for the United States Air Force and the United States Navy. George remembers his mother crocheting blankets for hours for the troops overseas. As George Jr. says, “the reason we won this terrible war, was because all Americans were involved.”

The Strake Foundation has been a generous supporter of The National WWII Museum since its opening in the year 2000. The National WWII Museum’s work helps fulfill the Strake Foundation’s mission. The foundation strives to teach that “this is the greatest country in the world. It will not always be that way unless we are always vigilant.” We are very appreciative of the generous support the Strake Foundation provides to The National WWII Museum. George’s leadership and the foundation’s participation allow us to expand – with a sense of urgency – so we can share the stories of our WWII veterans while as many as possible are around to see it.

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George and Annette Strake with President George Bush & his wife Barbara.

 

Up next, the The Air War gallery.

 

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

 

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN EXHIBITS

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THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN EXHIBITS

In our last blog post of the Road to Berlin countdown, we covered The Italian Campaign gallery. Now, let’s take a deep dive into the gallery’s exhibits!

 NICK PREFERRED_1.5 The Italian Campaign

INVASION OF THE ITALIAN PENINSULA

The Invasion of the Italian Peninsula will follow the Allies’ successful campaign in Sicily and will cover the Allies daring attack at the Gulf of Salerno, a costly amphibious invasion and our first toehold in mainland Italy. The exhibit will also examine the struggle to maintain a beachhead in the face of determined German counterattacks.

 

FIGHTING UP THE PENINSULA

This exhibit will examine how the advance of the Allied forces up the Italian boot became a long, bloody slog. While the Liberation of Naples in October 1943 gave the Allies a port to infuse troops and supplies into the campaign, the seasoned German troops used the geographic terrain to their advantage, defending against the Allied advance from ridge to ridge across the mountainous terrain until they made a stand along the Gustav line. Bogged down in mud and rain, the Axis and the Allies remained at a stalemate there until May 1944. The bloody fighting for Monte Cassino culminated in the aerial bombardment of the famous monastery and framed a debate over military necessity vs. cultural preservation.

 

ANZIO

The Anzio exhibit will provide an overview of the Allied landings at Anzio, a strategic attempt to end-run the mountainous terrain and military stand-off by landing Allied troops north of the Gustav line. From the beachhead, the Allies planned to breakout from their coastal positions and cut off the German escape route in their advance upon Rome and up the peninsula.

 

Up next, the Liberation of Rome and Fighting for The Gothic Line exhibits within The Italian Campaign gallery.

 

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE ITALIAN CAMPAIGN GALLERY

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NICK PREFERRED_1.5 The Italian Campaign

Rendering of The Italian Campaign gallery

The Italian Campaign gallery tells the story of the Allies’ mainland assault on Europe’s “soft underbelly,” which turned into a hard, deadly slog consuming many months. American forces and their allies achieved the surrender of Italian leaders – who, amid political turmoil and confusion, switched sides and declared war on Germany. Progress was slow, mainly because of Italy’s mountainous terrain and rain that created an infamous amount of mud. The campaign’s strategic benefits were unclear, but it succeeded in tying up German war machine resources. The war of attrition in Italy was marked by courageous fighting by Japanese-American and African-American segregated units, and by controversy over orders to bomb the mountaintop monastery Monte Cassino, wrongly believed to be a German observation post.

The Italian Campaign gallery will include five major exhibits: Invasion of the Italian Peninsula, Fighting up the Peninsula, Anzio, Liberation of Rome, and Fight for the Gothic Line. These exhibits will employ an array of artifacts, interactive displays, and audio visual presentations to capture visitors’ imaginations and bring the history of the war in Italy to life. Visitors will hear about soldiers’ experiences in their own words through oral histories which recount battles and everyday life in the war. The exhibits will communicate both the broad strategic complexity of warfare and the individual bravery and leadership of the service members who took part in it. The Italian Campaign gallery will strengthen the visitors’ understanding of the efforts in Italy, and its significant contribution to Allied victory in World War II.

 

Donor Spotlight- Mr. and Mrs. David M. Knott

Mr. and Mrs. Knott

The Italian Campaign gallery has been made possible through a generous gift from Mr and Mrs. David M. Knott. Mrs. Virginia Commander Knott grew up in Atlanta, Georgia and Mr. David Knott was born in Manhattan, New York. At the age of three and a half, David moved to his grandfather’s house in Garden City, Long Island. The two met at the Bronx Zoo. David had a blind date that day, who wound up arriving with her boyfriend. “That was a sign,” David shared. Virginia, also known as Ginny, was also supposed to have a blind date that day, but didn’t care for him. Given their circumstances, David suggested that the two of them go to the zoo together. “It was called survival,” Ginny shared, “and it worked!” The two now live in a little town called Mill Neck, New York.

Both David and Ginny’s fathers served in WWII. Ginny’s father, R.C. “Charlie” Commander, was a 2nd Lieutenant in the Army Infantry in WWII. He served in the Pacific Theater of the War with the 32nd Infantry Division out of Wisconsin, which also became known as the Red Arrow Division.

David’s father, David Hurst Knott, Jr., was a Lieutenant in the Infantry and served in the Italian campaign of WWII. He was killed two weeks before war in Europe ended. David was only a couple of months old at the time.

Former Museum Board Chairman David Voelker, a good friend of David and his brother, George, solicited David to become involved with The National WWII Museum. David joined the Museum’s Board of Trustees in 2002 and he served on the board for 7 years. During his time on the board, he served as Chair of the Investment Committee and served on the Finance, Trusteeship and Capital Campaign committees. President & CEO Dr. Gordon H. “Nick Mueller” shared that David, “was a valued trustee who brought his passion and wisdom to our Board leadership. He helped us transition from The National D-Day Museum to The National WWII Museum.”

After David joined the board, he and Ginny knew that they wanted to make a financial commitment. They chose to support and name the Italian Campaign gallery because this important aspect of the WWII story “obviously affected my [David’s] family.”

David’s fondest memory of the Museum was when he met WWII veteran Harold Baumgarten and hearing his remarkably heroic story. Dr. Baumgarten was among the first wave of soldiers who landed with Higgins Boats on the beaches for the Normandy Invasion on D-Day. Once Harold landed on the shores of Normandy, a shell exploded and he was hit by a large piece of shrapnel. This removed the lower part of his jaw. He was then shot three more times as he was coming up the beach, only to then step on a land mine. He didn’t stop going up the beach until he collapsed from loss of blood and was taken into a hospital. Today, Dr. Baumgarten lives in Jacksonville, Florida and attended the recent 70th Anniversary of the Allied Invasion in Normandy.

Ginny ‘s favorite part of the Museum is the Oral History collection. “Stephen Ambrose and his son, Hugh Ambrose, took so much time to get those Oral Histories recorded before these veterans pass away. These first person accounts are very powerful.”

The National WWII Museum is grateful for David’s leadership on the board and for David and Ginny’s strong show of support for the Road to Victory capital campaign. We feel fortunate to be able to honor the service of their fathers and our other heroic WWII veterans here at The National WWII Museum.

Harold Baumgarten’s Oral History is part of the Museum’s online Digital Archives. Click here to watch his moving story.

 

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: INVASION OF SICILY EXHIBITS

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INVASION OF SICILY EXHIBITS

In our last blog post of the Road to Berlin countdown, we covered the Invasion of Sicily Gallery. Now, let’s take a deep dive into the gallery’s exhibits!

Sicily Exhibit Historical Photos 2

Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

OPERATION HUSKY

The first step in the Invasion of Sicily – codenamed Operation Husky – was the largest amphibious assault up to this point in the war and introduced specialized landing crafts. Operation Husky will put into perspective the scale and the planning involved in coordinating a major amphibious and airborne invasion, including the vast resources and down to the minute logistical planning required.

 

 

 

 

Sicily Exhibit Historical Photos 1

Credit: National Archives and Records Administration

TAKING PALERMO

This exhibit will tell the story of how the American Army broke out under the leadership of General George Patton to take Palermo, an important port city on Sicily’s northern shore. This action cut off a vital supply and evacuation route for the Germans. After Palermo was taken, the outcome of the battle became more certain for the Allies at the time.

 

 

 

RACE FOR MESSINA

Race for Messina will focus on George Patton and his well publicized race to Messina against British General Montgomery. Patton arrived in the city just a few hours before Montgomery, and relished in the gifts and adoration of the grateful Italian populace. The Race to Messina and his personal trials solidified Patton’s place as a captivating figure in WWII history and set the stage for the Allied invasion of Italy to come.

 

Lilly family easterThe Lilly Family. Left to Right: Kevin,Lesley, James, Anna and John

Donor Spotlight: Mr. and Mrs. Kevin J. Lilly

Kevin J. Lilly was born at Bitburg Air Force Base, Germany. His father, Lieutenant Colonel Albert J. Lilly, was a career Air Force officer, and Kevin’s family moved all over the world as he was growing up. Albert served in the British army during WWII as an American volunteer in North Africa. He was part of what was called the American Volunteer Group, or AVG. Accompanied by his friend Billy Benedetti, he was working in Africa as a free-lance photographer when the attack at Pearl Harbor occurred and changed their entire objective for being there. The two of them went over together but only Kevin’s father came back, “which unfortunately was fairly standard for those days,” Kevin said.

After the war, Albert returned to the United States and went through traditional officer air cadet training as a navigator and flight engineer. He loved his military service and was part of the transition of the Army Air Corps to the Air Force. He served for nearly 30 years until his retirement.

Lilly Dad revisedLieutenant Colonel Albert J. Lilly in his American Volunteer Group uniform in North Africa.

Kevin’s family is rich in military history. “We talked military around our table all the time,” he said. “That was the staple conversation.” Kevin attended Antonion College Preparatory High School in San Antonio, and then enrolled at the University of Texas for his undergraduate studies. While at UT, Kevin met his wife, Lesley, and was commissioned as a Lieutenant in the US Army.

Kevin then earned his MBA from Southern Methodist University. His first job after graduation was with Goldman Sachs & Co. in New York. In 2001, he and his former partners left Goldman and started Avalon Advisors. He currently serves as founding partner and President of Avalon Wealth Management LLC. Kevin is also currently a Lieutenant Colonel in the Texas State Guard, commanding the third battalion second regiment.

Lilly in uniformLTC Kevin Lilly at his assumption of Command for 3rd Battalion 2nd Regiment Texas Guard. August 2013. Left to Right: James Lilly, Kevin Lilly, Lesley Lilly, Rose Lilly, John Lilly, Mary Kay Heck and Llano County Commissioner (ret) Johnny Heck (former USAF Officer)

Kevin was first introduced to The National WWII Museum through two of his friends and former Museum Trustees, Frank Stewart and Frank Levy Museum Trustee Donald “Boysie” Bollinger then arranged a tour for the Young Presidents’ Organization, in which Kevin is a member. Kevin attended the tour and as he journeyed through the campus he experienced, “a cultural immersion into [the period] 1941 to 1945. It is really like being swept back 70 years.” Shortly after, Kevin joined the Museum’s board.

Kevin served on the board during a crucial time for the Museum after Hurricane Katrina. He remembers when “we didn’t know if the doors were going to be able to stay open.” Kevin joined other Museum trustees and staff and, with help from several generous donors, pushed the Museum forward. Kevin remembers the Grand Opening of the Victory Theater complex as “the finest program I have experienced in my life. Not only as far as execution and sheer delight, but it was so rewarding because the people that had worked so hard were able to sit back and know that we had made it. It was remarkable that actually happened.” Kevin is also grateful for the significant gift from the Solomon family during that time to name the Solomon Victory Theater. “It was so critical,” he said. “I’m not sure that the Museum would be where it is today had it not been for that gift to create that theater and get things jump-started.”

After Kevin joined the board, he and Lesley knew that they wanted to make a financial commitment. He said the choice to support and name the Race for Messina exhibit within the Invasion of Sicily gallery was appropriate “for several reasons. A lot of the men that served in Sicily also spent time in North Africa. The area in North Africa where my father served was also former Italian colonies.” He added, “There was a definite synergy between North Africa and Sicily and we felt it would be an appropriate way to pay homage to my father’s service in the Mediterranean area. My mother is a first-generation Sicilian Italian American. Both of her parents were born in central Sicily.”

IMG_3874Kevin and his mother, Rose Lilly. She worked for the US Army in WWII while Kevin’s father was on duty.

Kevin supports the Museum to preserve the WWII story for his children and for the children of future generations, “to make sure that the extraordinary effort of every American during the time of World War II is not tainted or sullied by revisionist historians and that the unbelievable sacrifice that was made is forever perpetuated. Truly our finest hour as a nation existed from 1941-1945. I want people to be able to look back and feel good about what did accomplish and what we can accomplish as a nation. I don’t want that to be lost.”

Kevin is a strong advocate for the Museum, sharing his view that The National WWII Museum is “the most important cultural museum in our country. The Museum is a never ending testament to the courage, bravery, and intrepid desire of the nation. The overwhelming transformation that occurs when you go into the Museum is like nothing that you can experience anywhere else. The Museum is extremely valuable as a portal into arguably the most important part of our history.”

We would not be able to experience the freedoms that we do today without the sacrifices of WWII veterans such as Albert J. Lilly and Billy Bennedetti – freedoms that are guarded through the service of Kevin Lilly and other veterans of today. The National WWII Museum is extremely grateful for Kevin’s leadership on the board, for Kevin and Lesley’s generous financial support of the Museum, and for Kevin’s ongoing service to our country.

Lilly Family for webThe Lilly Family

Up next, the Italian Campaign gallery

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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“The ugly American isn’t the only kind the world knows”

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The liberation of France carries immense meaning for Americans as we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the historic Allied invasion of Normandy. For Coleman Warner, a special assistant to Museum President Nick Mueller, this marker in time jogged memories of a column published on July 4, 1983 in the Jackson (Miss.) Clarion-Ledger, headlined, “The ugly American isn’t the only kind the world knows.” The author is Raad Cawthon, a semi-retired writer who recently visited our Museum with his wife, photojournalist Karena Cawthon. WWII service looms large in their family histories.

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American troops march down the Champs Elysees , Paris, in the “Victory Parade.” 29 August 1944. Signal Corps Photographs of American Military Activity, image courtesy of the National Archives.

In 1970 when I was getting ready to take my first trip to Europe, an English friend said to me, “Whatever you do, don’t go as an American.”

He meant, I think, not to go as the ugly American – that overblown tourist who thinks the world is supposed to cater to him, to speak his language, cook his food and make him happy.

Still, my friend’s suggestion took me aback. I had never in 20 years been beyond the boundaries of my own country. I assumed, as so many of us do, that if people in other lands didn’t love Americans, they at least respected them.

As with most assumptions, I was wrong.

Since that first trip I have traveled abroad a good bit and I know Americans are often thought of as too rich, too big, too pushy, too egocentric, and too demanding. And, unfortunately, the people who think that are too often correct.

But frequently, if he takes the time, an American abroad will find others who remember and feel differently.

…….

Her name was Maria and I met her one winter day in a café in Paris.

The café, with its long zinc bar, was in a quarter of Paris known as “The Swamp.” The quarter, one of the oldest in Paris, consists of a warren of twisting streets where merchants hawk their goods and laundry is perpetually strung from the windows of second, third, and fourth-floor apartments.

“The Swamp” is Paris’ Jewish quarter, and many of the people walking its streets have a dark, almost gypsy cast to their features.

Maria was one of those. Her nose was wide and blunt, slightly upturned, and her nostrils flared when she talked. Her eyes made horizontal slits across the broad deep lines of her dark face. Black hair, thick and wavy, framed the eyes. Yet, I had not noticed her until she spoke.

“Are you English?” Maria said to me as she leaned forward from a group of women settled in a corner of the café.

“No, American.”

“Ah, I was here when the Americans came.”

Maria’s voice was husky and her English was thick and broken.

“Is that right?” I said, wondering what the strange old woman wanted.

“There was such joy, such joy.” Maria’s gaze left my face and her voice grew thin with memory. She took a sip of coffee. “I remember the Americans. They were so big and happy. They would smile all the time and give us chewing gum.”

The world was enflamed during the time Maria was remembering. The gum-wielding Americans came not as tourists or expatriates, but wearing khaki and carrying the guns of war.

“The English were so ugly and reserved. But the Americans …” Maria covered her mouth with the tips of her fingers and smiled. Tears welled in her eyes. “We danced in the streets and gave them wine and flowers. I did not go with them but I found them women who would.

“If the Americans had not come, we would have all died. They (Nazis) took my friends away. They took them away and killed them. They buried my husband alive. If the Americans had not come, we would have all died. The Americans came to die for us. We have not forgotten.”

The movement was unexpected when Maria pulled up the shaggy sleeve of her shapeless black overcoat to show me, on the inside of her lower left arm, a tattoo – a broken Star of David.

“They took us away. They took my husband and my child. I never left Paris. I don’t know why. I was released and I went back every day to ask for my family. They were all gone. After it was over a friend who was there told me that my husband had been buried alive. No other word ever came.”

The winter light glistened off the tears in Maria’s eyes.

“I never cried. Never.”

Maria’s friends in the café, old, dark women like herself, listened to what she said. They nodded to me and one had tears flowing unwiped down her cheeks. Another leaned forward to stroke Maria’s hair.

The Nazi trains, with Jews crammed into wooden cattle cars, rolled out of Paris eastward toward the death camps for years. In the streets of “The Swamp” the Parisian Jews were isolated. In the dark streets, where the sun shines only at midday, the Jews went about their business with a Star of David pinned to their clothes. The ancient symbol of their faith became a magnet to draw the German hand of death.

And what of her French countrymen?

“They were with the Germans,” Maria said. “They did nothing. They were with them.”

Maria reached over and placed a hand on my arm.

“If the Americans had not come, we would have all died. I do not forgive the Germans. It was too much. They come now to Paris and I have nothing for them. It is not in me to forgive.”

As abruptly as our conversation had begun Maria rose from her chair.

“This is our corner,” she said, gathering her friends with a wave of her hand. “Every day we come here.”

I stood and took her hand. She smiled at me and said “Goodbye.” The other women, rising and following Maria, each stopped for a moment and, taking my hand, said “Au revoir.” They all smiled at me.

The leathery hands slipped in and out of mine and then they were gone from the café and into the streets of “The Swamp.”

The day, once sunny and bright, was dark now. It was beginning to snow.

I stood in the café alone knowing Maria’s voice would stay with me always.

“If the Americans had not come, we would have all died.”

Happy birthday, my country.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE INVASION OF SICILY GALLERY

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We are proud to continue to present to you the Road to Berlin, the first floor galleries within Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters. In last week’s post, we explored the Allies efforts and ultimate success in pushing the Axis out of North Africa. The next stop in the Mediterranean is Sicily.

NICK PREFERRED_1.4 Invasion of Sicily

Rendering of the Invasion of Sicily gallery

As you leave the desert landscape of North Africa you will enter a gallery with the look and feel of a home in Sicily. This is where the Allies delivered the first piercing blow to the so-called “soft underbelly” of Axis Europe. The gallery will cover the major events in the Allied campaign to liberate Sicily through three exhibits: Operation Husky, Taking Palermo, and Race for Messina. The Allied invasion, dubbed, Operation Husky, succeeded despite a fierce German counterattack and rivalries between American and British commanders. Putting behind them a tragic friendly fire episode and lingering doubts from the North Africa campaign, American forces proved themselves and, led by General Patton, won glory with the first liberation of a major European city, Palermo. This immersive space will employ an animated map and an array of artifacts and photographs as it tracks the storming of the strategic island.

The Invasion of Sicily gallery is an available naming opportunity. If you are interested in obtaining more details about sponsoring this gallery, please contact Ashley Nash at 504-528-1944 x348

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: EXHIBITS WITHIN THE DESERT WAR-NORTH AFRICA GALLERY

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We are proud to continue to present to you the Road to Berlin, the first floor galleries within Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters. Last week we gave you an overview of the Desert War- North Africa gallery, and now we will do a deep dive into the gallery’s exhibits.

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Rendering of The Desert War- North Africa gallery

OPERATION TORCH EXHIBIT

Stalin’s Soviet Union pressed the Allies to start a new front against the Germans in Western Europe at the earliest opportunity, but the Anglo-Americans did not yet have the strength to initiate a cross-channel invasion into France. Instead, the Allies decided to confront Axis forces in North Africa. Codenamed Operation TORCH, the invasion was launched in November 1942. Led by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, it was the first time the British and Americans cooperated together on an invasion plan. This exhibit will highlight the experiences of the US forces and the key elements of the invasion.

 

KASSERINE PASS EXHIBIT

Made possible through a gift from the Ella West Freeman Foundation in honor of Richard W. Freeman

After months of moving steadily eastward from landing points in Algeria and Morocco, Allied Forces suffered a bitter setback at the Battle for Kasserine Pass. In February 1943, German General Erwin Rommel launched a major offensive that resulted in heavy casualties and forced the Allies to retreat. The attack demonstrated the Germans’ capable leadership and deadly weaponry, while exposing the weaknesses of the inexperienced American Army. This exhibit will show what the US learned from their defeat at Kasserine, including recognizing the need for better training, equipment, and organization.

 

ADVANCE INTO TUNISIA AND THE IMPORTANCE OF VICTORY EXHIBIT

Made possible through a gift from the Ella West Freeman Foundation in honor of Richard W. Freeman

This exhibit will cover the dramatic final stages of the campaign to push German and Italian troops out of North Africa in May 1943. Having learned from their past mistakes, the Allies began to effectively coordinate their assets. Though they coped with bad weather conditions and rough mountainous terrain, General Patton and British General Bernard Montgomery successfully closed in on German forces.

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Rendering of The Desert War- North Africa gallery

 

Up next, the Invasion of Sicily Gallery

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: THE DESERT WAR-NORTH AFRICA GALLERY

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We are proud to continue to present to you the Road to Berlin, the first floor galleries within Campaigns of Courage: European and Pacific Theaters. Last week we oriented you to the war in Europe, and this week we plunge into the first stop in the war in the European-Mediterranean Theater: North Africa.

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Rendering of The Desert War- North Africa gallery

The Desert War- North Africa Gallery will tell the story of how American and British troops assaulted the Axis in Africa to secure a Mediterranean stronghold before attempting an attack on Hitler’s “Fortress Europe.” After an enormous Allied effort, they eventually defeated the Germans and Italians and established an operations base for launching bombing raids in preparation for the invasion of Sicily and Italy. The North Africa narrative also gives close attention to American forces’ setbacks and hard lessons.

This immersive 1,500 square foot space will convey the landscape of Tunisia as American forces stem the Nazi tide. You will feel surrounded by desert and rocky landscape, as you see projections of tanks rolling over the sand. Macro artifacts will include a 105mm Howitzer and a 1943 Jeep. You will be able to get up close to dozens of iconic Weapons of Europe displayed in an enormous artifact case.

The gallery will feature three main exhibits: Operation Torch, Kasserine Pass, and Advance into Tunisia.

The Desert War – North Africa gallery is an available naming opportunity. If you are interested in obtaining more details about sponsoring this gallery, please contact Ashley Nash at 504-528-1944 x 348.

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Rendering of The Desert War- North Africa gallery

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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COUNTDOWN TO ROAD TO BERLIN: ORIENTATION AREA AND BRIEFING ROOM

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Following up on last week’s blog, we are now moving into our first gallery of Road to Berlin: The European-Mediterranean Orientation Area and Briefing Room.

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Rendering of the European-Mediterranean Orientation Area

The Orientation Area will take you through the big picture of the European-Mediterranean Theater of war. Upon entering this gallery you will face portraits and descriptions of the five leaders of the war in Europe: Hitler, Mussolini, Churchill, Roosevelt, and Stalin. A map will depict Axis territorial gains during the war’s early stages.

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Rendering of the Road to Berlin Briefing Room

Next, you will step foot into the Road to Berlin Briefing Room, set in an abandoned room in North Africa. This room will recreate the immense pressures faced by Allied strategists and cover the events and status of the war as of November 1942, including the strategic choices that the Allied war effort faced in early 1942 and the landings in North Africa later that year. You will learn the rationale behind the decision to go to “Germany first,” and be introduced to the issues faced in deciding to invade North Africa before Europe. A European/Mediterranean Theater of War Map will provide an overview of the campaign and the exhibit will employ state-of-the-art technology.

 

Current Favrot Photo

DONOR SPOTLIGHT: Mr. and Mrs. H. Mortimer “Tim” Favrot, Jr.

Mr. H. Mortimer “Tim” Favrot, Jr. is a board member and great advocate of the Museum. He and his wife, Kay, are dedicated capital campaign donors who have supported the Road to Victory capital campaign with a significant donation to sponsor the European-Mediterranean Orientation Area and Road to Berlin Briefing Room.

Their interest in the project came not only from their knowledge of WWII history, but also their belief that the Museum’s expansion would be a great asset to New Orleans. Mr. Favrot’s family has deep roots in New Orleans dating back to 1715 and he has a history of remarkable service to the city. Tim Favrot was in fifth grade and attending the New Orleans Academy when the United States entered WWII. He was playing touch football on Sunday, December 7, 1941, at his grandfather’s home when one of his cousins suddenly burst out the front door and yelled, “We are at war!” We Favrot had learned that evening that American forces had been bombed at Pearl Harbor, he was not sure where Pearl Harbor was, or what this meant for the fate of our country.

He began to build models to track and identify military aircraft and studied maps, highlighting where American advances were being made. Eleven-year-old Tim was disappointed that he was not able to go off to war himself, but he was determined to learn all he could about America’s Arsenal of Democracy while remaining at home.

 

(compresed) Favrot in Uniform

After completing two years at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, he attended Culver Military Academy in his mother’s native Indiana. His military career began at the age of 18 when he joined the Air Force ROTC at Tulane. He later spent two years in the Air Force Base in Alamogordo, New Mexico, the location where the first atomic bomb test took place. Even after he was discharged from the service, his appreciation for the contributions of our armed forces continued to grow.

Many years later, his wife Kay introduced Tim to the late David Voelker, past Museum Chairman of the Board of Trustees, who invited him to join the Museum’s board. He accepted the Trustee role in 2004, and in that same year Tim and Kay made a significant gift to the Museum to complete Discovery Hall. This included the Mr. and Mrs. H. Mortimer Favrot, Jr. Orientation center, so named to recognize their philanthropy. Tim serves on several WWII board committees and his leadership was crucial in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, when he chaired the Museum’s Facilities Committee, which oversaw storm-related damage repairs. It was during this period that the Museum launched the Road to Victory capital campaign. He felt great joy at the completion of the first phase of construction in 2009.

(compressed) Favrot Monuments Men

Kay and H. Mortimer “Tim” Favrot, Jr. at the premiere of The Monuments Men film at The National WWII Museum

 

Tim would like to be remembered as a “loyal supporter and advocate for the city of New Orleans.” His dedication to the Museum has distinguished him as such a leader. We extend our sincere thanks to Kay and Tim Favrot. Their support of our capital campaign allows us to fulfill our mission of telling the story of the war that changed the world—why it was fought, how it was won, and what it means today. We would not be where we are today on the Road to Victory without their leadership.

 

Up next in the Road to Berlin, The Desert War- North Africa gallery

 

Post by Lauren Bevis, Donor Relations Manager, and Ashley Nash, Prospect Coordinator.

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