NEW ORLEANS -- Before time does what enemy fire could not, America's living World War II veterans will at last see their triumphant legacy enshrined in a major national event.
For the rest of America, Tuesday's opening of the National D-Day Museum could allay more than a half century of festering guilt over the fact that something similar hadn't been done earlier.
''It's way overdue,'' said veteran Bob Slaughter, 75, of Roanoke, Va., who took a bullet across his head and shrapnel in his back over the course of numerous battles from Normandy to central Europe. ''I kept thinking somebody's going to do this, and they just didn't. The war was becoming forgotten and school children didn't know anything about it, and it just wasn't fair to the guys still over there in those graves.''
Fewer than 6 million of the more than 16 million people who served in the military during World War II are alive. Their average age is 77, and they're dying at a rate of about 1,000 a day.
Tuesday's opening ceremonies will bring together an estimated 10,000 World War II veterans, the largest gathering since the war itself.
The D-Day Museum, founded by historian and best-selling author Stephen Ambrose, will examine the entire war, with special attention dedicated to the New Orleans-built, shoe box-shaped landing boats used in every D-Day invasion in Europe and the Pacific.
In his drive to recount the tales of horror and heroism, Ambrose found veterans generous in donating items to bring those stories to life.
Housed in a 70,500-square-foot renovated structure in the city's gentrified warehouse district, the museum combines about 5,000 artifacts with oral histories, posters, props, video and animation to create a vivid history of the war.
''Nearly every artifact has a story connected to it, whether it be a hole in a helmet or a belt that a medic carried around with him as he treated the wounded on the beach,'' Ambrose said.
Oral history booths feature veteran accounts of the war as a TV screen fades in and out of related still photos, many showing the storytellers as they looked during the war.
One main theater and three smaller ones will showcase combat and other war footage.
Audio descriptions of war strategies and troop movements are illustrated by animated maps, beamed from ceiling projectors onto white oval floor screens.
On the Net:
The National D-Day Museum: http://www.ddaymuseum.org
Military community site: http://www.military.com
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