E.J. & Adam’s Journal
A story about two participants in our inaugural trip.
Private E.J. Hamill was 19 on June 6, 1944, when he stormed Omaha Beach, successfully helping to establish a beachhead. His mission was to reach the inland town of St. Lo, 25 miles from Omaha Beach. As it turned out, it took Hamill and the 29th Division 44 days of excruciating battle. A decorated and wounded combat veteran, Hamill is all too familiar with the hardship and suffering endured in battle. Of the 160 men that started out the day with him, he was 1 of only 6 who survived. Hamill has many incredible stories about his time during WWII, but now he has a new mission.
His new mission is to continue the legacy of those who gave us the freedom we enjoy today. He is accomplishing this with the help of the 29th Division Association and Normandy Allies, an international group whose mission is to teach students that freedom is not free and help them understand what the WWII generation had to sacrifice. The dedication of this group is exemplified in their motto “Never Forget.” This past July 3-21, Hamill returned to Omaha Beach with a group of students from the U.S. and France.
Adam Izell, Hamill’s grandson, was 16 when he first walked on Omaha Beach. And in the years since the end of WWII, Hamill has returned often to France, but his last trip was perhaps the most rewarding for him because he was able to escort his grandson to the beaches he stormed and the towns he helped liberate from Nazi control.
This is what Normandy Allies is all about; living history. Hamill explains, “We wanted to impress our children that freedom isn’t free and to also let them see first hand the sacrifices it took. We were able to take them to where we lost so many friends and fellow soldiers and to show them the differences between low tide and high tide.” This information you can’t fully appreciate until you see the cliffs and long beaches.
Izell, a junior at Soddy-Daisy (Tennessee) High, was selected by Normandy Allies to go on this inaugural trip, not because of his grandfather, but because he has a genuine interest in learning about his grandfather. Izell’s own initiative propelled him to pursue this trip. Normandy Allies takes a select few students from across the country, based on certain criteria and an essay they had to write about Normandy. Ten French students are also selected each year.
While Hamill was delighted to return to France with his grandson, he’s quick to point out that “it was his (Adam’s) desire, and he was enthused by what he saw.” Hamill went on to explain that his grandson was most moved by the number of crosses in the cemetery and the flag presentation to the superintendent of the cemetery while “Taps” was played. “Before the presentation, Adam had to explain the meaning of the American flag and the significance of the cemetery at Normandy,” said Hamill.
Once selected to make the journey, the students made several stops in the U.S. first, one of which was Bedford, VA, and then they toured DC, London and France. They were accompanied by three D-Day veterans, Hamill (Chattanooga, TN), Russell Picket (Soddy Daisy, TN) and Clayton Branham (Columbia, SC). Also on the trip were two history teachers from Texas and two present day military officers. The focus was on learning, and students received instruction during the trip. They also visited several museums in the U.S., England and France. The trip started in Bedford because, as Hamill explains, “during the first wave, 35 soldiers were from this small town. Of these 35, 21 were killed. Because of this sacrifice, Bedford has been chosen as the site of a new WWII monument. Students were excited to get a sneak preview of this 12 million dollar (no government money) WWII memorial that is being built there. They then made their way to the Holocaust Museum, the Smithsonian and the National Archives before flying to Europe.
In France, they walked the same paths that the soldiers walked, and for Izell, he got to see the very spot where his grandfather, fresh out of boot camp, came ashore, and the cliffs he had to ascend on June 6, 1944.
Izell told his grandfather that he found the cruelty of humans and the suffering of the ordinary men who became soldiers, hard to believe.
Hamill’s journey with his grandson was an accomplishment for him. “I felt as though I had completed a circle by bringing another generation of my family to these beaches,” said Hamill.
Hamill mentioned that he was impressed with the behavior and cooperation of the students on the trip. And he hopes that these young people will now never forget the sacrifices made by the soldiers on D-Day, and that they will carry on the spirit of Normandy Allies.
Hamill, a native of Hixson, Tennessee came back to Chattanooga after serving, and now resides in Red Bank, Tennessee.