NEW ORLEANS, June 5 /PRNewswire/ -- The National World War II Museum announced that beginning today and in perpetuity all WWII veterans will be admitted free. The news comes as the Museum honors both the 66th anniversary of the D-Day invasion at Normandy and celebrates its own 10th birthday.
This announcement was part of an emotional ceremony that brought together more than 1,000 veterans and their family members from across the nation. The event, A Gathering of the Greatest Generation, included a special "roll-call" ceremony where veterans representing all 50 states were honored by the Museum. State by state a veteran stood and recited the number of veterans who served from that state and how many remain today – a poignant reminder of how few WWII veterans are still with us. Family members of deceased veterans also represented some states in their honor.
"With our veterans leaving us at a rate of 900 a day, we are facing a future where gatherings like these will be a rarity," said Gordon H. "Nick" Mueller, President and CEO of The National World War II Museum. "We encourage everyone across the country to show their gratitude to the WWII vets in their community and listen to their stories."
Thomas Blakey, a WWII vet from the 82nd Airborne Division who parachuted into Normandy on D-Day, is just one of the veterans who attended the ceremonies. "It's important to me that future generations know and understand what we went through in the war," said Blakey, who now volunteers at the Museum. "Events like this are an opportunity for us to share our stories with Americans of all ages."
Saturday's events also included a chance to get up close and personal with some of the Museum's large artifacts, WWII reenactors, weapons demonstrations and more. More than 2,500 visitors participated in the Saturday activities, with a similar crowd expected for Sunday.
The weekend's activities will continue on June 6, along with a memorial service and celebration of the Museum's 10th anniversary.
Visitors can also experience the recently opened Solomon Victory Theater, featuring Beyond All Boundaries, a 4-D cinematic experience executive produced by Tom Hanks; the Stage Door Canteen, a recreation of a wartime entertainment venue; and the American Sector – a Chef John Besh restaurant. The 66th Anniversary weekend is sponsored by Chevron.
The Museum, a non-profit institution, recently kicked off the "$10 for Them" campaign to help underwrite the cost of the free admission for veterans. Donate or find out more at www.10forthem.org.
D-Day was a coded designation used for the day of any important invasion or military operation. The "D" stands for "day" since the final invasion date was secret and also weather-dependent.
June 6, 1944, marked the invasion of Normandy and the beginning of the end of the war in Europe. It began shortly after midnight with the landing of 24,000 Allied airborne troops. Amphibious landings began around 6:30 am on June 6, 1944, when 156,000 servicemen from the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and other Allied countries disembarked from more than 5,000 ships and Higgins landing into a wall of gunfire from German defenders. The operation cost U.S. forces 2,499 dead that day alone, with total Allied deaths reaching 4,414. By June 11, with the beachheads firmly secured, more than 326,000 troops had crossed with more than 100,000 tons of military equipment. Paris was liberated on August 25. Germany surrendered on May 8, 1945.
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. Follow us on Twitter at WWIImuseum or visit our Facebook fan page.
SOURCE The National World War II Museum