'Dream' project would put Higgins memorial on Utah Beach

COLUMBUS, Neb. — A World War II presentation grew to something much larger Tuesday when U.S. Rep. Jeff Fortenberry brought a special guest to Columbus.

The congressman invited military historian Timothy Kilvert-Jones to give a presentation on the D-Day landings and Battle of Normandy.

And Kilvert-Jones did just that, delivering an hour-long overview of the military campaign to about 60 people at the American Legion Hartman Post 84.

But it was the conversations that occurred before and after the presentation that could make Kilvert-Jones’ visit a memorable one for local residents.

The retired major in the United Kingdom Army, who lives near the battlefield in Normandy, France, proposed a project that would place a replica of the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial on Utah Beach.

“I think it would be a wonderful statement for this community to know that one of your proud sons is remembered in Normandy in perpetuity,” Kilvert-Jones said.

Higgins, a Columbus native, was referred to by then-Gen. Dwight Eisenhower as the man who won the war for the Allied Forces.

More than 1,000 of his LCVP landing craft, also known as Higgins boats, were used by the Allied Forces when they landed June 6, 1944, on the beaches of northern France to begin an 81-day campaign to liberate Paris from Nazi Germany.

Kilvert-Jones said Higgins “made a major contribution” to Operation Overlord, which put 176,000 Allied troops supported by thousands of ships, combat aircraft and other vehicles and artillery on the ground in the first 24 hours.

“This element of combat power that we were able to deliver into Normandy by coalition forces led by coalition generals, admirals and air commanders is quite extraordinary and something beyond our reach today,” he said during his presentation.

Kilvert-Jones, who has stood in some of the original Higgins boats in Normandy, called it a “great honor” to be in Columbus and said visiting the Andrew Jackson Higgins Memorial here was “humbling and a privilege.”

The former major called for a project that places a replica of the memorial on Utah Beach by the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II in May 2015.

“Normandy needs it,” he said while discussing the idea with Fortenberry and Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce President K.C. Belitz.

The three men and a few local residents involved with the memorial met at the Pawnee Park West site following the presentation to discuss a preliminary plan to make this happen.

Belitz was tasked with heading a coordinating committee to bring local resources together while Fortenberry works to get other national leaders onboard.

“This will be good,” the congressman said while visiting the memorial, which includes a metal replica of a Higgins boat with statues of soldiers storming the beach.

Fortenberry, whose grandfather was killed in World War II, called the proposal a “dream” project, but also recognizes the city’s efforts to honor Higgins, who was born here Aug. 28, 1886.

“Columbus has done a tremendous amount of heavy lifting,” he said.

The memorial, which has been completely funded through donations and other private contributions, was started by Lt. Col. Jerry Meyer, a former Columbus High School teacher who pursued the idea as a student project.

It opened in 2001 and is overseen by a private group that raises money for upkeep and additions.

The Utah Beach Museum, which must OK the Higgins project before it can move forward, already features an original Higgins boat.

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