International Experience July 2013
A Whole New Meaning: International Experience 2013
Normandy Allies had a new look as it took its largest group ever (32 travelers) on its 15th annual trip to visit the sites of the 1944 Normandy landings and battles of World War II. During July 14-27, 19 students, three teachers, and six other adult travelers toured with a team of four Normandy Allies’ Board members: Marsha Smith (President), LTC(Ret) Peter Combee, SGM(Ret) Charles Frick, and Walter Carter (author).
Part of the new look was the presence of 11 students from James Madison University (JMU, Harrisonburg, VA) and the chairman of its history department, Professor Michael Galgano. Dr. Galgano instituted a new summer study-abroad course for the university, and made the Normandy Allies program its curriculum for the 11 days that they traveled with us. Dr. Galgano was so pleased with the experience that he plans to repeat it each year for the indefinite future.
The other eight students were from high schools in Pittsford (4) and Farmington (2), New York, as well as the Blair Academy in Blairstown New Jersey (2). All eight, plus four of the JMU students, enjoyed staying for five nights in the homes of French residents of Grandcamp-Maisy. These students’ travel costs were partially funded by grants from the 29th Division Association, from Post 94 and Post 78 Cresap’s Rifles of the Maryland Region in honor of PNC Major General Boyd Cook, and from veteran Archer Martin. The overall costs of the trip were also partially covered by donations by many individual members of the Association.
Professor Joshua Fulton of Moraine Valley Community College in Palos Hill, Illinois was the recipient of the 29th Division Association’s Teacher Travel Grant. Professor Fulton said his experience on the tour “allows me … to begin considering a wide range of opportunities for how to introduce the landings and subsequent engagements into my courses.” Another part of Normandy Allies’ new look was that his travel costs were also partially funded by the First Division Museum at Cantigny, Wheaton, Illinois. This relationship between Normandy Allies and the Museum appears likely to continue in the future.
The travel of Dr. ReggieTerry, principal of the Blaney School in Hollywood, SC, was partially funded by Diane and David Pennock in honor of Mr. Pennock’s uncle, 1st Lt. John Garvik, a 29th Division soldier who was killed in action in Normandy. She plans to develop programs for primary through high schools, as well as Veterans Day observations, from ideas and photographs she collected during this summer’s tour.
Among the other travelers were Bonnie Carter (Newton Centre MA), Jim Cogar (Auburn NY), John Cogar (Saranac Lake NY), Virginia Galgano (Harrisonburg VA), Vesta Gordon (Charlottesville VA), and Pat Stark (Walworth NY, returning for his 5th tour). (Originally published in The Twenty-Niner Fall 2013.)
British veteran Eric Rackham spoke with our group at the Wall of Remembrance. Normandy Allies is grateful to Tenno Dogger and Association Deep Respect for making this possible.
Jim Pomeroy of James Madison University shared his reflections, originally published in Amitié, Fall 2013.
This summer, I was given the opportunity to travel to France and learn more about the Normandy invasion through the non-profit organization “Normandy Allies.” Currently, I am a sophomore at James Madison University, but I have always had an appreciation for World War II military history. It was for this reason that I decided to go to Normandy and examine the beaches, hedgerows, and towns that the Allies struggled to secure in the summer of 1944. Every location that we went to gave me a better understanding of the Battle of Normandy. What was even more eye opening was the warm hospitality the citizens of Normandy showed towards all of the students in my group. Everyone, from Saint-Lô’s Mayor François Digard to cider farm proprietor Bernard LeBrec, was so grateful to host our group and stressed the need for us to carry on the legacy of the D-Day landings.
The Battle of Normandy was a crucial moment in world history. From June 6th to August 25th 1944, thousands of Allied soldiers would die in a titanic struggle to liberate France from its Nazi occupiers. By battle’s end, the Allies had suffered over 200,000 casualties. At places like Sainte-Mère-Eglise, Omaha Beach, Caen, Falaise, and Saint-Lô, Allied forces had won hard-fought victories in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Because of these efforts, sixty million French citizens regained the freedom that had been taken from them four years prior. Today, D-Day still plays a pivotal role in American history. Students in the classroom are taught about the strategies, the generals, and the weapons of World War II, but they are rarely spoken to about the sacrifices made by thousands of servicemen. D-Day and the subsequent Battle of Normandy are filled with instances of sacrifice and heroism ranging from Major John Howard’s assault on Pegasus Bridge to Brigadier General Norman Cota’s leadership on Omaha Beach.
Individual stories like these are what make Normandy Allies such an important institution. JMU Senior and History major Lindsay Wood, who made the trip to Normandy this summer, said Normandy Allies “gives students the opportunity to learn about the invasion in a way that can’t be taught in a classroom.” By going to Normandy, students are better able to understand why D-Day was so important. Forgetting about the sacrifices and hardships faced by Allied troops in the summer of 1944 would be detrimental to our history. “If we were to forget Normandy, we would forget the atrocities, the cruelty and evil that the Americans, British, and Canadians lost their lives to defeat” says JMU Senior Ben Corbett who also ventured to Normandy this year. Even though I have watched newsreel footage, read first-hand accounts, and viewed historical documentaries in the classroom, they took on a whole new meaning when I made the trip to Normandy this summer.
There are many people that I would like to thank for this opportunity that was afforded to me and my fellow JMU students this summer. Marsha Smith, first of all, was instrumental in her organizational efforts and determination to help integrate James Madison University students into this summer’s program. Walter Carter added a very personal touch to the trip by telling the students about his father’s actions in Normandy. His story really moved me and my fellow students and really helped us gain a better understanding about how the war affected so many servicemen and their families. LTC Peter Combee helped outline the Normandy campaign in a way that is not done in school. His efforts not only increased everyone’s knowledge of the battle, but gave us an even greater appreciation for it. Charles Frick did what any good Sergeant Major would do and kept us organized and together for the whole trip and for that we say thanks.
A major thank you goes to the numerous donors that have made Normandy Allies possible over the years. Participant Danielle Brookover, a History major at JMU, had this to say: “I would tell donors that I am incredibly grateful for their generosity and I know that the future participants will be as well. They have enriched the lives of the participants and helped to keep the bond between French and American citizens alive. They have also preserved the memories of our soldiers.” The numerous Travel grants and scholarships awarded were greatly appreciated and helped make the trip more affordable for select students within our group. More importantly, the donors of Normandy Allies have given the opportunity for both adults and students to visit the site of the greatest invasion in human history.
As I look back on my trip to Normandy, I constantly feel the desire to return. The things that I learned, the memories I made, and the experiences that I was exposed to will stay with me forever. The Battle of Normandy will be remembered for thousands of years as a colossal struggle between good and evil, freedom and tyranny. It is organizations like Normandy Allies that help keep the memory of D-Day alive. As I continue my college education, I hope to one day make the trip to Normandy again and pay tribute to those who gave their lives in the name of freedom.
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