I stood silently as my step-father walked around the LCVP just inside the main entrance of the New Orleans D-Day Museum. It had been a typically August dog day afternoon; oppressive to me and much worse for my 81 year old mother and her 84 year old husband. Here in the cool of the building, she and I found relief while the distant look in his eyes reflected a time when there was no such rest.
A plaque near the 36 foot long landing craft read: “Andrew Higgins is the man who won the war for us.” – President Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1964. Quite a statement considering the craft hardly looked impressive compared to the battleships and aircraft carriers I had opportunity to tour in the past.
Looking for a reason for the little boat’s significance I decided to read more while the man I brought here continued his silent ritual. It is quite a story. How Andrew Higgins a fiery Irishman who drank whiskey like a fish and built oil-prospecting wooden boats in Louisiana was certain there would be a need in the U.S. Navy for thousands of small boats once war broke out.
Higgins was equally certain steel would be in short supply so he bought the entire 1939 crop of mahogany from the Philippines and stored it in his New Orleans warehouse. For the next several years Higgins insisted the Navy didn’t “know one damn thing about small boats” until finally the War Department offered him a contract to develop his wooden landing craft. With contract in hand Higgins ultimately employed 30,000 blacks, whites, men, and women working side by side to construct thousands of the unassuming wooden crafts.
“36 marines.” My stepfather had made the circuit of the LCVP and now stood beside me. In the 20 some odd years I’ve known him this would be the only time he spoke of the war. “It was something at Iwo Jima. There were ships as far as we could see. And then,” he paused as though he heard voices from another place. “I was 23 so they made me an officer. And then I took 36 boys at a time on one of these things knowing half of them probably wouldn’t come back. It was like … like dropping those marines off at the edge of hell itself.”
That was seven years ago and not once since then have I heard him mention the matter again. As quickly as he offered me a glimpse of that other time he did what most of that generation have done, thought it better left in that place, that time.
1000 World II veterans a day leave this earth. And now Ken Ramsey, who loved and cared for my mother as well as my own father, is about to join them. A hospice care facility awaits him this coming Tuesday. And just as many of those marines his Higgins LCVP carried to the shores of Iwo Jima and Okinawa never returned it is likely he has made his last trip as well.
Thank you hardly seems adequate to say to the man who endured so much for the country he loves or to my mother who was so alone until she met him. Even so thank you Lieutenant Kenneth Ramsey USN and thank you to all of that Last Great Generation!
Who would you like to thank for their sacrifice and service? I would love to hear their story.