One of the Lowcountry’s most decorated veterans has just received another military commendation. Last month, Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Gen. James Livingston was appointed chairman emeritus of the National World War II (WWII) Museum.
The creation of this honorary title was approved by the museum’s Board of Trustees in recognition of the admirable service of chairmen who are no longer serving. The designation is an admiration of Livingston’s instrumental role in the establishment of the museum.
“It was a pleasant surprise. I was really appreciative because it will leave a legacy with my name and what I was involved in with the museum and something for my kids and grandkids to be aware of,” Livingston said.
Livingston has an impressive military resume that exceeds his valorous efforts in Vietnam. At the end of his 33 consecutive years of active duty, in 1995, his last assignment took him to New Orleans. This is where his post-war career began.
From 1996-98, Livingston served as a chairman of the WWII Museum Board of Trustees. The museum was still a development on paper and wouldn’t be opened to the public until June 6, 2000. The opening coincided with the 56th anniversary of the Normandy invasion “D-Day” that liberated Europe.
Livingston admitted one of the toughest parts of laying the museum’s groundwork was picking a physical location within New Orleans. The reason he said New Orleans was the city of choice was because it’s where businessman and boat manufacturer Andrew Higgins built the landing craft, vehicle, personnel (LCVP) used in the amphibious invasion of D-Day. President Dwight D. Eisenhower later credited Higgins’ boats for helping the Allies win WWII.
New Orleans was also home to historian and author Stephen Ambrose, who founded and spearheaded the effort to build the museum. Ambrose wrote the biographies of Eisenhower and President Richard Nixon. He also served as historical consultant for “Saving Private Ryan” and was the executive producer of the mini-series “Band of Brothers.”
Livingston said the board decided to build the museum in the Warehouse District because of the cheaper real estate rates at the time. Livingston recalls the site was previously an old brewery from the 1800s.
As far as fundraising goes, Livingston said it took a lot of “begging” to get the museum started. Livingston, being the Commanding General of the Marine Forces Reserve in Louisiana, played a pivotal part in getting funds from the Marines and the Department of Defense.
Livingston said he was the only veteran on the board at the time and that his role was to make sure the board understood the military community and brainstormed the best ways to raise funds for them.
Ambrose initiated fundraising by donating $500,000. Livingston helped secure large contributions from the federal government and the state of Louisiana. Ambrose also had connections with the Forbes family, which collectively brought in $20 million for the museum, according to Livingston.
When the museum opened in 2000 it was named the National D-Day Museum. By 2004, it had achieved international acclaim and was designated by Congress as America’s National WWII Museum. The museum officially changed its name in 2006 to be more inclusive of all conflicts during WWII, not solely the Normandy landings.
Out of all the WWII exhibits stationed around the museum’s 7-acre campus, Livingston said his favorite is a replica of an LCVP. Typically constructed from plywood, an LCVP features a shallow-draft, barge-like boat that could ferry roughly 30 men at 9 knots. Soldiers generally entered the boat by climbing down a cargo net hung from the side of their troop transport, then exited by charging down the boat’s lowered bow ramp. This configuration was ideal for a setup like Normandy Beach.
One of Livingston’s fondest memories was when he helped launch and decommission an LCVP solely for the purpose of displaying it in the museum. He said projects like this instilled the ingenuity and spirit that built the museum.
After the museum gained its own footing, Livingston and his wife left New Orleans for the Lowcountry in 2005. Just two months before Hurricane Katrina swept through Louisiana.
The WWII Museum was closed for three months for renovations and repairs in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In 2018, TripAdvisor Travelers’ Choice named the museum No. 3 in the U.S. and No. 8 in the world.
Livingston said his experience with the WWII Museum has prepared him as co-organizer of the National Medal of Honor Heritage Center, which is slated for Mount Pleasant in July 2023. He’s optimistic about the museum’s timeline and says his goal is to fulfill the financial demands and have the exhibit designs completed by the end of 2020.
Livingston joins fellow chairmen Arthur David, Lee Schlesinger, Robert Howson and David Voelker as chairmen emeriti. His name will be included on museum programs, the board webpage, quarterly emails sent to veterans and other promotional materials.
For more information about the museum, visit nationalww2museum.org.