Hometown hero: How a Columbus, Nebraska, civilian aided WWII’s D-Day Invasion

A Nebraskan played a major role in World War II without ever picking up a rifle. Andrew Jackson Higgins of Columbus designed the landing craft used by the Allies as they stormed Normandy Beach on D-Day.

Known as a “Higgins Boat,” the amphibious craft carried soldiers from their ships to the beach. Higgins, born and raised for a few years in the east-central Nebraska community, based his invention on the shallow waters of local rivers.

Columbus, Nebraska
Columbus is home to a major tribute to Andrew Jackson Higgins

Anyone who has seen “Saving Private Ryan,” can recall the opening scene of Tom Hanks yelling out instructions to his soldiers as they stand in the craft, with bullets flying around them. Maybe you’ve seen the boats in the World War II epic, “The Longest Day.”

Columbus recognizes its hometown hero with a life-sized replica of the landing craft in Pioneer Park. The craft features three soldiers just outside the craft, standing on a beach’s sand.

Columbus, Nebraska
The memorial is impressive

Higgins’ creation was strongly supported by General Dwight D. Eisenhower, the architect of the Allies’ D-Day invasion, which ultimately led to victory over Nazi Germany. In later years, he referred to Higgins as “the man who won the war…” as Eisenhower believed the Allies wouldn’t have succeeded without the craft to help them in the shallow water.

Columbus, Nebraska
Statue of Andrew Jackson Higgins

Higgins created the landing craft as the founder and leader of Higgins Industries in New Orleans. Following a family move from Columbus to Omaha, Higgins eventually settled in New Orleans as an adult.

The memorial anchors the park’s other veterans and national memorials. A memorial to the victims and heroes of the terrorist attacks Sept. 11, 2001, features metal from one of the two World Trade Center buildings. An eagle is perched at the top.

Columbus, Nebraska
Memorial for 9/11 made from steel from the World Trade Center buildings

Another memorial honors the men and women who have served in recent wars, including Iraq and Afghanistan. It features two soldiers looking ahead, ready for action.

Columbus, Nebraska
New veterans memorial in Columbus

For more information on the Higgins Memorial, please visit www.visitcolumbus.com.