Woodward Takes Part in History

25 July 2011

Woodward Design+Build took part in a historic day at the National World War II Museum, when Woodward Steel Group lifted three pieces of the fortificaiton walls of Utah Beach in Normandy into place.

The Times-Picayune

Portions of Adolf Hitler’s Atlantic Wall arriving at National World War II Museum

The Times-Picayune

25 July 2011

In the rarefied realm of etiquette, there are times when a note and flowers just aren’t enough to say thank you.

Especially if you have nearly 21 tons of concrete on hand.

This mammoth expression of gratitude is expected to arrive Monday at the National World War II Museum. It is coming from the Utah Beach Museum in Normandy as a way of saying merci, for the guidance that New Orleans museum staffers gave their French counterparts when they were spiffing up and expanding their museum, which commemorates the struggle at one of the five Allied landing sites on D-Day.

Which brings us to the concrete — three slabs of the stuff, weighing 11.6 tons, 6.61 tons and 2.65 tons. The pieces had been part of Adolf Hitler’s fortification along Europe’s coastline, and they are pockmarked where bullets and artillery rounds slammed into them, said Jeremy Collins, the New Orleans museum’s conference programs manager.

“They felt this fortification would have a perfect home” at the Warehouse District museum, he said.

Utah Beach was the westernmost of the five beaches where Allied forces were to go ashore on D-Day. Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower included Utah Beach so forces that landed there would be able to capture the port of Cherbourg on the nearby Cotentin Peninsula and put it to use as a port for receiving supplies.

Strong currents swept the landing craft to a point about 2,000 yards east of the site where they were supposed to land. However, that mishap worked out well for the Allies because that spot happened to be one of the lesser-defended stretches of the three-mile-wide beach.

The error didn’t faze Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who quickly realized the error and announced, “We’ll start the war from here!”

Because Roosevelt stayed on the beach, greeting, directing and reassuring soldiers as artillery rounds landed all around him, he was awarded the Medal of Honor.

About 20,000 men and 1,700 vehicles went ashore at Utah Beach on D-Day, and there were fewer than 300 casualties.

In addition to the concrete slabs, the French museum added a crate containing 68 pounds of Utah Beach sand as lagniappe.

“I’m thrilled,” said Gordon “Nick” Mueller, the museum’s president and chief executive officer. “We really didn’t have it on our radar screen as something we wanted or would have any right to get. To have this authentic piece of history is very, very special. It’ll be a significant addition to the museum and the way we tell our history.”

The New Orleans museum had only to pay for shipping, which, Mueller said, cost about $4,000.

The three pieces were unloaded Friday from the Bonn Express at the Napoleon Avenue Container Terminal, and they will be brought to the museum on a flatbed truck, Collins said.

Like anyone confronted with a colossal gift that can’t be relegated to the attic, Mueller had to find a place to display the slabs.

One, he said, will be installed along Andrew Higgins Drive near the entrance to the Solomon Victory Theater, where two concrete German sentry cubicles that resemble torpedoes or telephone booths already stand.

Sites for the other two slabs haven’t been determined yet, Mueller said, although they may well be incorporated into the museum’s plan for developing the tract across Andrew Higgins Drive from the main museum building.

Wherever they wind up, they’ll be points of interest, Mueller said. “When you see something like that that comes out of the field of battle, it gets people’s attention.”

The New Orleans slabs were part of a barricade that was designed to stand up to an Allied invasion and keep troops from advancing inland.

Although that barrier had withstood seven decades of war and weather, it was no match for the Utah Beach Museum people who wanted to remove part of it so their museum could grow.

“They asked us if we’d like to have some of those pieces, and we said, ‘Of course,’” Mueller said.

Then there’s all that Utah Beach sand. Mueller isn’t sure yet what to do with it, but he said it definitely won’t be spread around outside.

The French museum’s expansion was finished in time for this year’s 67th anniversary of the D-Day invasion on June 6, he said. A group from the New Orleans museum was on hand to watch the slabs being wrested from the sand.

The slabs are good examples of German engineering and the defensive strategy that was designed to keep the attackers on the beach, Collins said. “They also represent the sacrifice that the Americans had to make to get over the wall and past the Germans.”

John Pope can be reached at jpope@timespicayune.com or 504.826.3317.

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