Stephen Ambrose was a historian and author, biographer of presidents Dwight D. Eisenhower and Richard Nixon. In 1989, while a professor at the University of New Orleans, he started the Eisenhower Center. The center’s mission focuses on national security policy for the U.S. and the twentieth-century use of force as a policy.
As part of the Eisenhower center, he worked a great deal with D-Day veterans. This prompted him to found the National D-Day Museum in 2000, also in New Orleans. Ambrose died in 2002, and the following year Congress designated the museum as the official National WWII Museum for the United States.
The museum holds a large collection of physical items. And an active education program. But one area that will be of tremendous interest to family historians is the digital collections. These are in two parts: digital photographs, and oral histories.
The museum currently has about 100,000 print photographs from World War II. Many of these are official photographs and other images captured by the U.S. military and other official agencies. There are also a large number of photographs that have been donated by individuals and their families that were taken with personal cameras during the war. These are being digitized and made available online.
The second part is the oral histories project. Members of “The Greatest Generation” are quickly dying off. Museum staff travel the country to record interviews with veterans. The interviews are then processed and uploaded to the museum’s website. More than 7,000 interviews have so far been taken.
Realizing the value of transcriptions, but knowing how difficult and time consuming creating them may be, the museum has made a compromise. In an initial effort using 150 entries, staff have created “summations.” These annotations allow for indexing to make it easier for researchers to access appropriate interviews.
These interviews tell a wide variety of tales. Veterans describe their experiences in battles, on ships, in training, and more. In addition to the veterans, there are interviews with others who suffered during the war. For example, Eva Aigner, a Jewish woman born in Czechoslovakia in 1937, talks about her family’s experience, from leaving their home, to losing her father in a camp, to her escape with her mother, and more.
The museum has active fundraising campaigns to widen its reach and programming. Copies of images and videos can be purchased. All funds go to support the museum. Check the videos and images out. If you find them interesting and helpful, please consider making a donation to help them in their exemplary work.