Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 11 – Tuesday, June 30

Day 11 – A Final Goodbye
Erin Stender, Sparkman High School, Alabama

Day 11bToday began with an air of anxious excitement. This was it. We’d read novels of trials and triumphs, traveled thousands of miles, discovered weathered documents with their contents unaltered by time, heard personal accounts, collected information in order to prepare for the moment in which we would stand side by side with our fallen hero and tell their story.

The feeling one gets when entering the cemetery, a vast, ironic field of beauty and peace is impossible to understand, to describe…but I’ll try.

Imagine you’ve had this pen pal. You write them on a regular basis and vice versa. You become close, you know every detail about them. You know that one day you will meet them and anxiously await that day. But when you do meet, you must give a speech— you must share all you know about your friend. You must speak of the highs and the lows. The moments for which you love them, for which you are proud. Add an ache for the silence you will receive in return and an unexpected feeling of loss. Imagine that and you might have a slim chance of understanding how it feels to touch the grave of your Silent Hero.

Some students chose soldiers who never made it to rest with their brothers. At the wall of the missing, two students honored their Silent Heroes and a teacher, Mrs. Nichole Flynn, sang a verse of the Navy Hymm “Eternal Father.” As her voice reverberated throughout the wall of the missing, a surreal moment of “This happened. This happened to people.” washed over us.

Day 11cAfter honoring our heroes, we were given time in the cemetery to pay our last respects. Immediately, my teacher and I went back to see Mac, my Silent Hero. After a few minutes, she went to see all of the cemetery.

Sitting there, alone, the atmosphere was almost mockingly peaceful. The stillness of the air made time seem stagnant. It was as if he was there, as if our times— both his and mine— stood not so far apart after all. As I sat there next next to him, listening to the birds in the trees and bells in the distance, I shed tears for a man whose name had been overlooked by history. A man of true bravery, one of many who— 71 years after his death— is still influencing the world around him. If that isn’t noteworthy, I don’t know what is.

For lunch we traveled to an airy hill overlooking the deceptive calm of both Utah and Omaha beaches. We ate sandwiches, joking and chatting like always, but this time it was with an unspoken heaviness in our hearts. It was as if we had just watched these men— our soldiers— die all over again.

The entire experience was undeniably full of sorrow, but it also held a sense of reassurance in it, a sense of healing. And maybe—just maybe— our heroes felt that, too. And now feel that they are no longer defined by how they died, but by how they lived.

WE REMEMBER. Rest in Peace:
Captain Malcolm A. Smith, US Army Air Forces
Day 11aCook Second Class Francisco N. F. Blas, US Navy
Flight Officer Edmund L. Decker, US Army Air Forces
Private First Class John F. Garrard, US Army
Staff Sergeant Eugene J. Mlot, US Army Air Forces
First Lieutenant Robert Raymond Martee, US Army
Private Benjamin Franklin McKenney, US Army
Private John J. O’Callahan, US Army
Radioman Second Class Julius H. O. Pieper, US Navy
Radioman Second Class Ludwig J. W. Pieper, US Navy
Sergeant Pierre L. Robinson, US Army
Second Lieutenant Harlan E. Rugg, US Army
Technician Fifth Class Broadway Sims, US Army
Corporal Henry B. Van Hyfte, US Army
Private William Verderamo, US Army
Private First Class Frank E. Wyatt, US Army

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 10b – Monday, June 29

Day 10b – Angoville Au Plain Church
Lily Delao, Mendota Township High School, Illinois

There were many highlights on our trip to France and our stay in D.C. What stood out to me the most was when we visited the Angoville au Plain Church and how two individual medics served as heroes during the D-Day invasion. I was assigned to research this topic and I really found it interesting.

 

To give a background, the Angoville au Plain Church was a small old church that many injured American and German soldiers were taken to when hurt in combat. Ken Moore and Bob Wright were recognized for their bravery when they treated the soldiers. They would lay the wounded soldiers down on the benches of the church. Up until this day, you can faintly see blood stains on the benches. German soldiers occupied the church when the Allies moved forward. There are stained glass windows in the church honoring the medics.

 

As we were arriving to the church, I felt a wave of emotions. I was happy to see the church I did some research on! I also was excited to share and talk about the medics who had a connection to the church. I had seen pictures of the church online, but seeing it up close and being able to walk inside was thrilling. I also felt sadness. I remember sitting down on the benches and was reminiscing on how crazy it was to be sitting here. Sitting on the benches were wounded soldiers were. I could only imagine the feelings and thoughts going through their mind at that time- I felt like I connected with this site the most.

Day 10b

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 10a – Monday, June 29

Day 10a- The First Eulogies
Audrey Calovich, Notre Dame de Sion, Missouri

There’s a lot to be said for today and everything that happened, but I’m going to say that it was fairly emotional and sobering in preparation for eulogy day. Going to the first cemetery was fascinating because you could still see a lot of the damage from the bombings over 70 years ago. Isaiah and Josh gave their presentations and we were able to wander around the graves and see both old and new headstones. We then went to visit a German cemetery, which was a very different, but equally beneficial experience. Upon arrival, many of us noticed that the names were not all German, and the ages were close to ours. This brought up different reactions and emotions.  Nicole was especially touched, looking at the decorated grave of a very young SS Nazi. As young, aspiring historians, the cemetery was note-worthy. It was light and lush with birds singing, but it was eerie and melancholy as well as beautiful. Sort of a dark beauty, or bittersweet if you will. But it was sobering and important to see, especially because we have been focused on sacrifice. We saw that our country was not the only one to make sacrifices. The men buried were sons, husbands, and brothers who all lost their lives for their country, whether they wanted to or not.

Midday, we went to a hedgerow in a meadow where we had our usual lunch (sandwiches- got to love ‘em) and received another presentation by Emma, which was cool to listen to and learn about just how thick hedgerows were, and how much of a threat they were to exploring troops during the war. We then went to a “Paratrooper Experience,” a simulator in which we got to see, hear, and feel what it was like for the 101st and 82nd Airborne in WWII to fly into a warzone-getting shot at and even crash landing, which many of us found enlightening. As well as the simulator, there was a museum afterwards, which had amazing recovered artifacts and photographs to view and read about. At the same museum, there was a plaque in honor of Mr. Norwood, a veteran of D-Day that Antonin introduced to us, and who told us aweing stories a week earlier. We thought it was awesome to see him, and Antonin’s research, recognized. Later, we went to a small church that was used as a makeshift hospital during the war and received a presentation from Lily about medics at this time. It was fascinating and we got to look inside. It was humble, but amazing. There were still bloodstains from injured soldiers on the pews and a stain glass window at the far end in dedication to the paratroopers that landed in Normandy. It was chilling to sit in that church with the same pews, walls, and floors that soldiers were surrounded by. One of the many experiences that brought our studies to life on the trip.

Day 10a

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 9 – Sunday, June 28

Day 9 – Walking the Beaches
Scott Moore, Northeast High School, Tennessee

It was really fascinating to actually walk the beaches, but at the same time it was very humbling. We got to the beach at high tide, and we were at the Dog Green Sector. We got to see a German bunker, and then we were off. We went down the beach a couple of miles to the Easy Red sector, and got to meet with a local historian, who was the owner of the Big Red One Museum. He brought with him some very cool artifacts, and it was interesting to listen to what he had to say. We then traveled to his museum, and  got to check that out.

Next up was lunch, and we went to a fantastic spot that was really pretty, and we got to picnic there! The lunch was great, and we got to see some of the remnants of some of the mulberries.

After lunch we went to Pointe du Hoc, and we got a very hands on experience here. We got to climb all in and around actual craters and bunkers. There were many different places to explore, and there was also a really great view from the top.

From here we traveled home and we had an optional visit to the Bayeux Tapestry, which was a great choice in my opinion! It was well worth it, and it is actually quite hilarious at some points!

Day 9

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 8 – Saturday, June 27

Day 8 – The Cemetery
Dawson Podlena, Seaman High School, Kansas

After a long plane ride, the first place we went to was a British war cemetery. It wasn’t that large and we did not spend that much time there, but the reality of war really started to hit me at this cemetery. It was just a small portion of the losses from the Normandy invasion, but yet there were so many graves. Also, at the bottom of most graves was either a poem, saying, or quote from the family of that soldier. One poem that interested me stated,

“Went the day well?

He died and never knew

But well or ill

Freedom he died for you.”

Another great experience from Saturday was the trip to Utah Beach. This was truly our first taste of the battle of Normandy. Just looking at the vast amount of beach that the Americans had to conquer was just extraordinary.  After the visit on the beach we went to a Utah Beach museum and there were so many artifacts and stories. It was a great first day in France and even though we were all tired, I think everybody would agree that exploring was better than sleeping.

Day 8

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 7 – Friday, June 26

Day 7 – Departing to France
Vanessa Taylor, Ainsworth Community School, Nebraska

On Friday afternoon we departed for the Washington Dulles International Airport! We were more than ready to depart D.C. and head to France. We arrived at the airport around 2:00 PM and were excited to get the flight under way.  After checking our bags and making our way through the extensive and thorough security checkpoint, we arrived at our gate. For many of us, this was our first overseas flight and we were very enthusiastic about travelling to a foreign country.

After stocking up on snacks and drinks, we boarded the plane at 4:15 PM. Many of us slept on the plane but for those that didn’t, an extensive selection of movies was available! It took almost eight hours of flying time to finally land in the Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris, France. By that time we were all ready to depart the plane. I couldn’t believe that I was finally in France! All of our hard work had finally paid off and we were ready to discover and explore what we had been reading about for so many months.

Day 7

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Normandy Institute: Sacrifice for Freedom – Day 6 – Thursday, June 25

Day 6 – Operation Overlord
Spencer Valenti, Dover High School, Delaware

We woke up feeling extremely excited because we were getting closer to leaving for France. We also got to participate in one more lecture about the operations in Operation Overlord. This lecture covered everything that happened in Overlord. Dr.Long, a professor from George Washington University, understood the subject very well and was able to inform us of all the small details that one would not normally cover. We talked about the tactics used on the beach, we talked about the landing craft used, we talked about the objectives, we talked about it all. It helped to prepare us for our walk on the beaches of Normandy, where we would soon be heading.

Day 6a

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