The banner hung from above, one part encouragement, one part patriotic threat.
“THE GUY WHO RELAXES IS HELPING THE AXIS!”
Factory workers beneath it framed, hammered, stripped. They transformed wooden carcasses into formidable shells. When they were finished, the boats traveled from Louisiana river docks into enemy waters.
These were the landing crafts that would become synonymous with D-Day, and they were the brainchild of New Orleans boatman Andrew Higgins.
Until World War II, Higgins ran a comparatively small operation. His company, Higgins Industries, built vessels for the bayou, capable of navigating shallow waters and unseen obstacles.
His Eureka boat, developed in 1926, was first sold to local trappers and oilmen. In 1938, it would help secure Higgins’ place in military history. The Navy wanted it. With a few tweaks, the Eureka became the LCVP, a landing craft or, as it became known, the Higgins boat. Orders poured in.
Over the course of the war, Higgins Industries was hired to make gun turrets, torpedo tubes, PT boats, landing crafts. The company grew to accommodate demand.
By 1943, one Higgins Industries factory ballooned into seven. When they ran out of room, they built in the streets.
The landscape of NOLA changed. Loading cranes stretched into the sky. LCVPs cluttered the Bayou St. John like a parking lot. Beachmasters tore through Louisiana swamps. PT Boats churned the water of Lake Pontchartrain.
World War II was being fought across the world, but for New Orleans, it was always right in their backyard.
By the end of the war, Higgins Industries had hired 25,000 of Louisiana’s own to produce tens of thousands of warcraft–none more important, or integral, than the LCVP.