NEW ORLEANS (April 13, 2007) – Officials and Trustees of The National World War II Museum last night presented The American Spirit Award, the Museum’s highest honor, to former President of the United States George Herbert Walker Bush at a gala event at the Houston home of former Secretary of Commerce Robert Mosbacher and his wife Michele Mosbacher. The Museum, which opened in New Orleans in 2000 as The National D-Day Museum, has been designated by Congress as the country’s official National World War II Museum.
Governor Pete Wilson, Chairman of the Museum’s Board of Trustees, noted the special significance of the honor: “The American Spirit Award pays tribute to an individual who epitomizes the core values that strengthen America’s freedom and democracy: courage and teamwork, sacrifice and optimism.” He added, “These same principles enabled our forces to prevail against all odds in World War II. As we honor the life and service of President Bush, we also remember and celebrate the heroism and the American Spirit of every citizen soldier.”
George Herbert Walker Bush enlisted in the Navy in 1942 on his 18th birthday, becoming the country’s youngest naval combat aviator. He was shot down in 1944 but was rescued by the U.S. submarine Finback and insisted on rejoining his unit. By war’s end, he had flown 58 combat missions and was later awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for bravery in action. His military service was followed by a long career in public service, first as a United States Congressman and then in an almost unparalleled career of high-level appointments: United Nations Ambassador, special envoy to China, Republican National Committee Chairman, and Director of the Central Intelligence Agency. In 1989, he was sworn in as the 41st President of the United States. In recent years, he has received international recognition and for his philanthropic work raising funds for disaster relief in the United States and throughout the world.
“President Bush’s personal history is one of lifelong, extraordinary service to his country,” said Museum President and CEO Dr. Gordon “Nick” Mueller. “George H.W. Bush embodies the meaning of ‘duty, honor, and country.’ His life has been a celebration of the American Spirit.”
The prestigious event was co-chaired by Mr. Mosbacher; Ambassador Hushang Ansary, Chairman of Stewart & Stevenson; and Clarence Cazalot, President and CEO of Marathon Oil. John Raquepau, one of President Bush’s WWII squadron mates from VT-51 and its parent carrier, the USS San Jacinto, also attended the ceremony.
The American Spirit Award has only been given three times in The National World War II Museum’s history, to Museum founder and historian Stephen E. Ambrose, former Senator and WWII veteran Robert Dole, and former Secretary of State George Shultz, also a WWII veteran. The award itself is a bronze replica of the Higgins Boat sculpture originally created by New Orleans boat builder Andrew Jackson Higgins during World War II, the boat that Eisenhower said won the war for the Allies. Higgins created the sculpture to give to heroes of that era, both famous and little-known. He presented one to General George C. Marshall. A similar statue in the Museum collection was given by Higgins to the Louisiana paperboy who won the bond sale contest to raise funds to build more Higgins Landing Crafts. The Higgins boat is an icon of the Museum and of World War II. Higgins built more than 20,000 landing craft and other vessels that carried soldiers and marines ashore in every amphibious invasion of World War II.
The Museum has launched a $300 million, 245,000 square foot expansion project, which will cover an additional three city blocks in downtown New Orleans. Plans include four prominent exhibition pavilions which will portray all campaigns of the war on land, sea, and air; each branch of the U.S. military services; a theater and USO entertainment facility, and a WWII period restaurant. It is located in New Orleans because it was there that Andrew Higgins designed and built the landing craft used in every amphibious invasion of the war. Additional plans include a hotel and conference center.
Recognized with a #1 ranking in USA Today’s listing of Best Places to Learn U.S. Military History, the current 80,000 square foot Museum comprises dramatic interactive displays, personal accounts, and more than 10,000 artifacts covering the D-Days of Normandy and the Pacific as well as the home front effort. A new K-12 education and research center opened last year. The Museum continues to build a comprehensive collection of WWII-era oral histories. “Our mission is urgent as America is losing more than 1000 WWII veterans every day,” said Mueller. “Their stories are priceless and must be preserved for future generations.”
Since it opened in 2000, more than 1.6 million people have visited the Museum, including more than a 250,000 students and teachers, many of whom experienced for the first time the impact of World War II and the contributions that people throughout our nation made to the war effort. The Museum had minimal damage from Hurricane Katrina and reopened to the public after a few months. Total visitation since the reopening in December 2005 has been more than 85,000. Membership continues to grow, with more than 130,000 members representing every state in the country. World War II veterans account for 40,000 of that number.