The following guest blog post was written by NHD Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn.
“…we have to tell their stories for them. We have to do our best to uphold the values they were prepared to die for. We have to honor those … Recognizing that people cannot live in freedom, unless free people are willing to die for them.”
– President Barack Obama, June 6, 2014
The Normandy American Cemetery lies on a field in France and includes the graves of 9,387 fallen Americans and 1,557 names on the Wall of the Missing, most of whom lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations. The Americans buried in Normandy died defending the world against tyranny in World War II. The majority of these young men and women only exist as a name on a stone marker. It is easy to forget their lives. They died young. Most did not have a chance to establish careers or parent children. Until recently, Flight Officer William T. McCabe was one of these forgotten young Americans.
William T. McCabe was the only person in his family to graduate from high school. His father died young, in his teen years, William took his father’s place as the man of the family. The Great Depression struck the McCabe family hard. They lived modestly in a small home on Bedford Street in downtown Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The only source of heat in the house was a cook stove that all the children huddled around over breakfast before they left for school.
William had dreams of becoming a mechanic and was in the Vocational Course at Carlisle High School and President of the Future Mechanics of America Club. Instead, the war intervened and William became a Flight Officer and one of the first Glider pilots to fly into France. His life ended when he was only 22 on June 6, 1944 in Normandy.
We now know William’s story because Sam Spare, a student at Carlisle High School, was challenged by National History Day to find out more about this young man who gave the ultimate sacrifice. Through his participation in the NHD Normandy Institute, Sam researched William’s life through local newspaper archives, high school yearbooks, and interviews with William’s family. Because of Sam’s research in 2011, we can now honor William McCabe’s life and sacrifice.
In 2011, National History Day started the Normandy Institute with the support of philanthropist, Albert H. Small. It was Mr. Small’s dream to help young people understand the sacrifice of those buried in the Normandy battlefields. Sam Spare and his teacher, Kevin Wagner, participated in that inaugural institute. Each year since, 15 students document and honor the lives of the fallen. After exhaustive research, they create websites dedicated to their soldiers’ lives and ultimate sacrifice. Forty-five of these soldiers’ stories are now documented because of the work of our Normandy Scholars. We know them far beyond their rank and serial number. We know who the fallen were, their acts in battle, their hopes and dreams and are touched not just by their deaths but by their lives.
Sam’s tribute to William’s life is among these stories that are available on NHD’s website at http://www.nhd.org/normandyinstitute.htm.