International Experience, July 2001
Normandy Allies 2001 International Experience commenced on July 7 and continued until July 23. This year our student group numbered 12. We were honored to have a Normandy veteran join us in Europe, as well as nine other adult travelers. The American phase again took place in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, DC as our students learned about units that participated in Operation Overlord and the Battle for Normandy. The program continued in England, where we had the opportunity to explore sites of importance in London, Bletchley and Portsmouth. After a ferry ride across the Channel, we continued the European phase with our visit to key sites of the liberation in Normandy. We ended the European phase with our finale in Paris.
The students: Adrienne Allen, Pete Balaji, John Blum, Elizabeth Brandwood, Lindsay Drake, Scott Duet, Ben Gibson, Megan Herceg, Adam Izell, Kelly Izell, Michael Russo and Bill Stubler.
Normandy veteran: Marvin “Curly” East.
Adult travelers: Eileen Balaji, Walter and Bonnie Carter, Gertrude Gigliotti, Betty Blue “BB” Sheehan, Thomas and Donna Willard.
Adult traveler, teacher and chauffeur deluxe: Allan DeCarlo (Thanks, Al)
The team: Marsha Smith, Pete Combee, Charlie Frick and Allen Williams.
Normandy Coordinator: Gene Johnston.
The photos that appear below were taken during our travels. We thank everyone who participated and contributed to make our 2001 International Experience a success!
Our group at the newly-dedicated National D-Day Memorial in Bedford, Virginia. This moving site was dedicated on June 6, 2001.
Dr. William McIntosh, Director of the National D-Day Memorial, gave us a guided tour of the site. We learned of the costs of the invasion and why the memorial is in Bedford.
Jack Wilson and daughter Gwen Millis met us in Bedford to tour the D-Day Memorial. Both accompanied us last year and wanted to visit with us in Bedford. Jack, a D-Day veteran of the 111th Field Artillery Battalion, shared his incredible story with the group. Thanks, guys!
We have visited the George C. Marshall Foundation in Lexington, Virginia each year during our International Experience. Dr. Larry Bland and his staff once again welcomed us and enlightened the group of General Marshall’s accomplishments. The students and group members pose here around the jeep which sits near the foundation’s entrance.
While in Baltimore, our group had the opportunity to tour the restored Liberty Ship “John Brown.” Over 2,000 of these workhorses were manufactured and pressed into service. They played a vital role as supply and transport vessels during World War II.
In England, Steve West and Steve Brown delivered a presentation on German and American uniforms, complete with period issue and weapons. The students: (front–l to r) Kelly Izell, Adrienne Allen, Elizabeth Brandwood and Megan Herceg. Back (l to r) Lindsay Drake, Bill Stubler, Michael Russo, Scott Duet (in German uniform), Pete Balaji, John Blum (in American uniform), Ben Gibson and Adam Izell.
After our cross-Channel ferry trip, we arrived in Normandy. Here, the students pose after a visit to the famed Bayeux Tapestry.
We visited many famous sites of the Normandy landings. This is one of the casemates of the Longues Battery behind Gold Beach. These bunkers held four large caliber artillery pieces that fired on the Allied fleet during D-Day.
One of the honors the students were given at Normandy American Cemetery was the retiring of the colors. Michael, Kelly, Adrienne, Pete, Lindsay and Elizabeth assisted in this ceremony.
Visitors are afforded a stunning view of “Easy Red” Sector of Omaha Beach at the overlook of the cemetery.
Team member Pete Combee (Lt. Col. Ret. 29th Div.) led us on our walking tour of Omaha Beach. The weather was rainy during this visit, but it did not prevent us from exploring the defensive positions on the bluff. We saw several old trenches, pits and bunkers. Here, Kelly, Adam, Lindsay, Megan and Ben pose on the heights above Draw “E1.”
The town of Ste. Mere Eglise welcomed our group with a luncheon/reception at the Hotel de Ville (City Hall). Forever famous as the first town liberated on D-Day, Ste. Mere Eglise is home to the Airborne Museum.
We explored the inland region and retraced the route of the 29th Division as it worked its way toward the important objective of St. Lo. Pete Combee (center with map) explained a fierce engagement in the Bois de Bretel.
In the Bois de Bretel, Walter Carter shared the touching story of his father with us. His dad, a battalion surgeon in the 29th Division, was killed by a German sniper as he administered first aid to a wounded soldier. Normandy Coordinator Gene Johnston, Walter and St. Lo resident Jean Mignon share their thoughts at the exact spot where Captain Carter was killed. The French have renamed the road in this area the “Captain Carter Road.”
In St. Lo, we had the honor of participating in the annual commemoration of liberation ceremony. Veteran Marvin “Curly” East received the town’s commemorative medallion and is shown here in the center, surrounded by the students.
On our inaugural visit in 1999, Normandy Allies dedicated a tree to peace in Friendship Park outside the German Cemetery at LaCambe. Director Marsha Smith (in the red jacket) showed the tree to our students and explained the meaning of the park.
Another very moving place we visited was the St. James American Cemetery in Brittany. More than 4000 Americans are buried in this beautiful memorial park, including Marsha’s uncle, Benedict Smith.
Marsha, her sister Eileen Balaji, Eileen’s son Pete and nephew Bill Stubler pose beside the grave of Benedict Smith in St. James Cemetery. After Marsha’s first visit to Normandy in 1996, she was so moved that she decided to create a program to share the Normandy story with others. What a wonderful job she has done! The story of sacrifice and renewal will never be forgotten.
The Normans will never forget the liberation and the sacrifice of the Allies. Here, the group poses in front of the memorial to the 29th Division in the village of St. Jean de Savigny. Local residents built and maintain the memorial, a tribute that is very common in Normandy.
Our students lived with French families while in Normandy and enjoyed their visits very much. The town of Grandcamp-Maisy served as our “base of operations” and most of the families lived in close proximity. The day our group left Normandy, residents presented the students with good-bye gifts. Thanks everyone!
After departing Normandy, we motored to Paris and enjoyed our last day in the “City of Light.” Our group enjoyed a tour of the city and had the opportunity to view the Eiffel Tower. Our third International Experience was another success and we want to thank everyone who participated and made the trip possible!