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Invention that 'Won World War II' Showcased

Under withering Nazi fire from the shore, GIs who had just departed their Higgins Boat wade ashore at Normandy. (U.S. Coast Guard)
You may have heard the name “Higgins.” Chances are, it was Henry Higgins, the famous, if fictional, professor who teaches proper diction to a working-class English lass, Eliza Doolittle, in the musical “My Fair Lady.”

It is much less likely that you’ve heard of the Higgins that Allied commander Dwight Eisenhower once credited with winning World War II.

You can learn why at the National World War II Museum in New Orleans, Louisiana, which opened in 2000 as the National D-Day Museum.

D-Day was June 6, 1944, when 150,000 U.S. and British troops stormed the beaches of Normandy, France, to gain the first Allied foothold in Nazi-controlled territory.

The National World War II Museum, established in an old brewery in New Orleans’s arts district, is full of vintage uniforms, boots, helmets, berets, firearms and flags from that invasion. Jeeps and Spitfire airplanes, plus scale models of the Normandy coastline, are on exhibit.

The Higgins Boat was a revolutionary landing craft, made of mahogany with steel armor plating, designed and built by Andrew Jackson Higgins on the Mississippi River and tested on Lake Pontchartrain, just above New Orleans.

One end of these large, flat-bottom boats was fitted with a drop-gate that could be quickly lowered so people and vehicles could go ashore for work in Louisiana’s shallow, swampy bayous.

At Normandy, those people were 30 or more heavily armed troops, and the vehicles were Jeeps that rushed into deadly enemy fire on the beaches of France.

Dwight Eisenhower once asked whether there was a suitable memorial to Andrew Jackson Higgins in New Orleans.

Told “no,” it was then that he said, “Well that’s too bad, because he’s the man that won the war.”

You can find a handsome, bronze statue of Higgins honoring his contribution, but it’s in his hometown of Columbus, Nebraska, 1,850 kilometers away.