The end of a journey – Understanding Sacrifice.

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Patrick Slowey

Steamboat Springs High School

Steamboat Springs, Colorado

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Wow, this is it – we have reached the end of our journey. Well sort of, for many of us the travel ends tomorrow, but our journey with our fallen hero continues as we spread the word about their deeds and the families they left behind.

Pat 3 - road where Warren was killed

Most of our team spent the day exploring Amsterdam, touring various museums, visiting the Anne Frank House or the Rijksmuseum. I decided to take advantage of being in Holland to visit the countryside and cities/towns where Operation Market-Garden was fought and were my fallen hero, 1LT Warren Frye lost his life. I spent about 12 hours behind the wheel of a Mini Cooper (with an English speaking GPS – the best 10 Euros I have ever spent), tooling around central Holland. What an experience of a lifetime. I visited three museums, two of which were incredible. They rank in the top five history museums I have ever been in (I have been in military history museums on four continents and so this is no faint praise). Along the way, I visited a small British Commonwealth Cemetery and reflected on their sacrifice and the impact of the war on their families and the Dutch civilians in the surrounding area. Needless to say it was a long day, filled with excitement and reflection.

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A quick note to teachers thinking about applying – DO IT!!!!! This is a great program – it is not a free tour Europe, you will have to work, you will have to study, and you will have to participate (sounds like what we tell our students). At the end of the day, we visited six American Cemeteries in Europe – every cemetery is different and has its own unique feel and personality – much the same way that our fallen heroes are unique, as are the teachers who have researched and eulogized them. I can’t say enough good things about National History Day and the American Battle Monuments Commission – this partnership has given me the opportunity of a lifetime, not just to travel but to research, understand, and preserve the life of a young man who sacrificed his life in the service of his country. Thank you, NHD and ABMC, for giving this opportunity to learn and make new friendships. Time to catch my flight home.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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Netherlands American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Cherie Redelings

Francis Parker School

San Diego, California

Today was the day I’ve been waiting for! Not only did I tell Gordon’s story and Walter’s story, I met a living hero, Wil Offermans, who has adopted Gordon’s grave. When Wil heard I was coming to give a eulogy for Gordon, he dropped everything and came to meet us. His story reminded me of why we keep the memory of these men and this conflict alive.

Wil’s grandfather was in the Dutch resistance; Wil’s father hid Jews in his home. The father was denounced to the Gestapo and thrown into prison. Two days before he was scheduled to be executed, the Americans came and liberated the prison camp. “Not only that, but America helped rebuild our economy. You never get something of value without paying, but the U.S. set us on our feet again and never took a penny in return. That’s one reason I honor the sacrifice of these men.”

Sometimes the magnitude of that sacrifice has weighed heavily on me. I think of all the things Gordon and Walter were never able to do. They were never able to raise a family. Gordon never returned to college. Walter was never able to see the art he rescued. Neither of them ever hugged their mothers again. Gordon’s mother was never able to speak of her son’s death. How can we process such devastating loss?

I am reminded of the words of the apostle Paul: “I am convinced that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared to the glory that is to be revealed to us…” The sacrifice is cruel and profound, but it is not the end of the story, and one must always wait until the end of the story!

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Caption: We are rightly saddened by the immense loss of life in World War II. But war also endangers things that give meaning, beauty and joy to life. Walter Huchthausen risked his life to protect some of these things – altarpieces, Torah scrolls, musical scores, and places of worship.

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Caption: The Mourning Woman sculpture at the Netherlands-American cemetery reminds us of the sacrifices made by the families of the fallen.

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Caption: A Dutch crown hangs over the altar at the Netherlands-American cemetery. Wil, who adopted Gordon Chamberlain’s grave, told me that all 8000+ graves at the cemetery are adopted and there is a waiting list.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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Ardennes American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Brendan Gallagher

Carroll County Career and Technology Center

Westminster, Maryland

Today, we traveled to the Ardennes American Cemetery   in Neupre, Belgium.  We took the bus from our hotel in Maastricht, Netherlands and traveled through the industrial city of Liége, Belgium before arriving to the cemetery.  As we entered the empty cemetery on this cloudy morning, a solemn mood filled the air as you could look out on the 5,311 headstones to see the sacrifice our soldiers made throughout the latter portion of World War II.

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After meeting with cemetery associate Vincent Joris, we learned that while this cemetery is the final resting place for soldiers who primarily fell during the Battle of the Bulge, and the final push into Germany, it is unique among all of the American World War II cemeteries in that it contains burials from every major battle of World War II, including the Pacific.  The large square memorial standing at the entrance of the cemetery houses the cemetery chapel, an imposing structure with a large eagle and three figures representing Justice, Liberty, and Truth.  Over the entrance to the chapel are thirteen stars representing the original colonies of the United States.  Inside the chapel large maps depict the pathway of Allied forces throughout Western Europe as well as 24 images bordering the maps depicting different people responsible for Allied success.  Walking around the chapel, one passes by the tablets of the missing where 462 names are marked at the entrance of the Latin cross shaped cemetery.Brendan 1

Making our way into the cemetery, we visited the graves of James Vrtatko, Charles Crossley, and Charles Hewes, who were ordinary men called upon to do extraordinary things.  We learned not only of their sacrifice, but also of the sacrifice of other regular citizens who gave their lives in the war effort, both from the United States and Germany.  This sacrifice can be represented in the statue of “Youth” that stands at the east end of the cemetery and reminds us that those who are buried in Ardennes were in the prime of their lives.  That the Ardennes American Cemetery remains open to burials of remains still being discovered from World War II is a haunting reminder that despite the 70 years since VE day, the war still lacks closure for many families.

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Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Christina O’Connor

Hingham High School

Hingham, Massachusetts

Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery

Driving through the rolling hills and farmland on the route from Maastricht to Henri-Chapelle, it was hard not to compare the openness of the landscape with the tall, thick hedgerows that were so prevalent in Normandy. As we arrived at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery, we passed through pillars topped with golden eagles that seemed like watchmen in the road.Christina 1 I was full of nervous anticipation, knowing that I was finally about to visit the final resting place of the fallen hero I had researched all year, and to share his story and honor his memory in front of our group. 25 more people would learn about PFC Allen before we left these grounds. We would also learn about PFC Edward Elewicz from teacher Donald Davis and PFC Richard Townsend from teacher Kamilah Williams.

We walked under the stunning bronze sculpture of the Archangel and into the cemetery where 7,992 rest and 450 missing are commemorated. Superintendent Bobby Bell shared the stories of the three Tester brothers from Tennessee buried side by side at Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery. Christina 2

Their family received the dreaded telegram informing them about the loss of their son not once, but three times.  Robert was killed in North Africa, James in Germany, and Glenn in France, but they are together here. Visiting the grave of West Virginian James “Aubrey” Stewart, we learned about him and the other ten African-American soldiers of the 333rd Field Artillery Battalion who escaped German capture and were given safe harbor by a local Belgian family in nearby Wareth, but were eventually discovered, tortured, and killed by members of the Waffen SS. Knowledge of this massacre was not widespread until the 1990s.

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All of their stories – Allen’s, Elewicz’s, Townsend’s, the Testers’, and Stewart’s continue to emerge. Each of the commemorations in this cemetery tells part of someone’s life story and it is up to us to seek them out, expand them, and share them.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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Understanding Sacrifice – Bastogne to Maastricht

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Erica Swenson

Bruce M. Whittier Middle School

Poland, Maine

On Tuesday afternoon I met the Dutch sponsor of my soldier’s grave. Nowy van Hedel and I connected online when I first began my research on a Lewiston, Maine soldier: Private First Class Stanley Clark. He supplied me with many good documents, helped me interpret a lot of the denser military information, and provided lots of insight about what the Netherlands and surrounding area were like during the World War II years. Being able to talk with Nowy face to face was one of the highlights of my whole trip.

Erica 4 - with Nowy

Following an exciting hour at the Bastogne Museum, Nowy took our group’s photographer, Chris Preperato, and me to the Bois Jacques outside the small Belgium village of Foy. This was the frontline location of “Easy” Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment from the HBO miniseries Band of Brothers. Here we saw the type of forest in which people fought in the Ardennes and evidence of old foxholes.

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It was eye opening to realize just how close the front line was to the relief section of the space in which they fought. It was fascinating, too, to peer from the very front line of the forest to the village of Foy where the Germans were dug in. Nowy also took us to the private 101st Airborne Museum in central Bastogne. This museum was located in former gestapo headquarters and it housed a vast collection of 101st Infantry Airborne Division artifacts including several items belonging to members of the 401st Glider Infantry Regiment (Stanley Clark’s section of the military). What will remain the most memorable part of the museum experience for me, however, was that the museum had a bomb shelter in the basement where you could sit through an air raid simulation complete with a crowded dark room, lights flashing, sirens, shaking walls and ceiling, the cries of other people in the shelter, and an overall deafening racket. I knew that everything about the bomb shelter simulation was fake, and yet I was sweating and my heart was beating like crazy for a full ten minutes after I left the museum.

After taking in some of the sights of Bastogne, we visited Stanley Clark’s grave together at the Netherlands American Cemetery. It was very emotional to see Stanley Clark’s actual final resting place after so many months of intensive research. Even though I was born thirty-four years after Clark’s death, it was like visiting the grave of a friend. It was a special moment for Nowy, too, and he did a nice job of explaining why he and so many others in the Netherlands are devoted to the care and research of these fallen American soldiers’ graves: being an occupied country left a huge impression on the Dutch, American service men and women spent an unusually long amount of time in the homes of people in the Netherlands, many Dutch citizens have special decades-old family routines around visiting the graves, and more. I was overwhelmed by Nowy’s generosity and his devotion to keeping Stanley Clark’s story alive. It was an incredible day.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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Understanding Sacrifice – Bastogne War Museum

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Brian Weaver

Central Bucks High School – West

Doylestown, Pennsylvania

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The Bastogne War Museum’s simple name belies its cutting-edge nature. The tour through this state-of-the-art experience introduces viewers to four characters upon entering: a schoolboy, a schoolteacher, a German soldier, and an American soldier. Each visitor receives a headset to start the experience and sensors throughout the museum prompt one of these four characters to explain their story in the context of the exhibit the visitor is viewing. Four different perspectives shape the events depicted in the museum.

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Those events begin at the end of World War I, and the displays walk the viewer room by room through the timeline of events that led to the Second World War and the Battle of the Bulge. Along the way, concise, small displays blend seamlessly with larger exhibits. The inclusion of Belgian affairs makes this quite different than the typical World War II museum. One gets the familiar storyline with a Belgian subplot that is always engaging and often fascinating, especially when the Resistance comes into the discussion.

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The quartet of storytellers narrates each room, and each time a visitor switches locations in the room a different virtual guide takes over. In three locations the visitors enter theaters and view incredible interactive displays. The first, a 3-D experience, shows how the war had advanced to the situation on the eve of the Bulge. The second puts viewers in the midst of the Ardennes Forest, a realistic sound-stage with light and sound effects interacting with footage playing on screens within the trees. The atmosphere is breathtaking. Finally, the third-sound stage puts people in a café in the midst of the Battle of the Bulge.  In these 10-15 minute scenes the four storylines play a significant role. No spoilers here, but be sure you stay through this entire presentation. As with the rest of the museum, you will not be disappointed.

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Understanding Sacrifice – Day 7, Lorraine American Cemetery

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Understanding Sacrifice: An ABMC Education Project. 

Matthew Elms

Singapore American School

Singapore

Lessons I Learned from American Cemeteries in Europe

After nearly two weeks in Europe, I have learned many life lessons by visiting American Battle Monuments Commission (ABMC) cemeteries in Northern Europe.  I thought I knew everything I needed to know about World War II by reading books, participating in discussions, attending lectures and classes, but I have come to learn lessons that, perhaps, can only be taught by the soldiers who fought and died for freedom.

Matt - Omaha Beach Sketch

Lesson 1 – Omaha Beach – The importance of Omaha Beach in American History cannot be overstated.  When the cards were down, and believe me, the cards were down, the American soldiers on June 6, 1944 found a way to win the day.

Matt - sand in stone

Lesson 2 – Sand from Omaha Beach – I had not realized that the sand from Omaha Beach is used at ABMC cemeteries around the world to rub onto grave markers to create contrast with the white marble headstone.  This way, people can see and read the words in photographs.

Matt - grave adoption

Lesson 3 – Grave Adoption – Throughout our travels we have met several “grave adopters” who place flowers, potted plants, and letters at their respective graves several times a year.  Some of these families have been doing this since 1944 and have passed down the tradition to the second and now third generation in their families.  I am embarrassed to admit that I have not paid honor in this way to soldiers buried in my hometown.

Matt - star of david

Lesson 4 – Winning – I am convinced now, more than ever, that the Allies had to win World War II at all costs.  The alternative, even a stalemate or truce, would have shaken the very roots of this world to its core.

Matt - forest

Lesson 5 – Freedom – The price of freedom has never been free and will never be free.  I look at the American flag, half-mast or full, and understand that I’m but a humble recipient of a most precious gift, freedom.

Applications are currently being accepted for World War II in the Mediterranean. Click here for more information and an application. The application deadline is midnight on Friday, September 4, 2015.

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