Lessons Learned by Blair Students 2011

Posted by on Nov 6, 2011 in Trip Photos and Stories

Lessons Learned by Blair Students 2011

Each year since 2000, Normandy Veteran Archer Martin has provided sponsorship for students from his alma mater, Blair Academy in New Jersey, to attend the International Experience.  Archer also joined the journey in 2004 and 2009.  To date, 30 Blair students have participated.  Emily Boak and Matt DeSalvio, 2011, presented their experience to the student body at Blair Academy on January 5, 2012.  They opened by reciting the poem that Normandy Allies students recite each year at the Wall of Remembrance in Saint Jean de Savigny.  Emily and Matt also included photos and a video that are not reproduced here, however these may be seen online at the Normandy Allies Facebook page.

Emily Boak:Matt DeSalvio:
"Je me souviens d'un temps que je n'ai pas connu.
Je me souviens d'un jour que je n'ai pas vécu.
Je me souviens de tout, pourtant je n'ai rien vu.
Et si je m'en souviens, c'est parce que je suis libre."
"I remember a time that I did not experience.
I remember a day that I did not live through.
I remember everything, even though I saw nothing.
And if I remember, it is because I am free."
Matt looking out over Omaha Beach

Matt looking out over Omaha Beach


How many of you have ever seen the movie Saving Private Ryan, or footage from D-Day? This summer, Emily and I traveled to Normandy, France with a group of 5 other students. The focus of our trip revolved around the D-Day Invasion of Nazi-occupied France, which occurred during World War II on June 6, 1944. This marked the beginning of the victory of the Allies in Europe. Germany surrendered less than a year later. Throughout the trip, our group was constantly reminded that our generation and future generations to come should never forget the sacrifices and impact that the Allies made in order to preserve the values of Freedom and Democracy.

Marsha Smith, of Rochester, N.Y., founded Normandy Allies more than a decade ago. She leads the group with retired Sgt. Maj. Charles Frick, retired Lt. Col. Peter Combee, and author Walter Carter. They aim to help students, adults, and veterans remember, honor, and understand the sacrifices made in the Normandy campaign. For 12 days each summer, the group visits battlefields, memorials, and museums commemorating American and Allied contributions to World War II.

In order to bring a more personal touch, The Normandy Allies brought along a retired war veteran to share his personal experiences with us. Our veteran’s name was Karl Monson. Karl is 94 years old and currently lives in Syracuse, New York. During the liberation of Normandy Karl lost one man storming Omaha Beach, but then lost 47 men on the first morning of the Battle of the Bulge.

Matt: Bayeux, Cathedral, and British Cemetery

Bayeux is the name of the small town that we lived in for the majority of the trip. Here is an excerpt from my journal entry during the first night we spent in Bayeux. “When we arrived in Bayeux I was thrilled to lay my sights on the city I’m writing from. This town is what every American pictures in their mind when they hear “France.” The town is quaint and has a charm to it like no other place that I’ve ever been to. It has a cathedral near the downtown area that has to be at least ten stories tall.”

Bayeux is a beautiful town and our hotel is just as unique as the city limits it lies within. The name of the hotel is the “Churchill” which was named after the famous British Prime Minister.

Emily in a bunker at Omaha Beach

Emily in a bunker at Omaha Beach

Emily: Juno, Pegasus, Abbaye d’Ardenne

On the Normandy Coast, five locations were chosen for the landings of the Allied Troops. The first of these that we visited was Juno Beach, where the Canadians landed on the morning of June 6, 1944. Standing on the beach, which seems almost calming now, it is hard to fathom what the soldiers faced as they stormed the beach under heavy German fire. Hundreds of men drowned as they struggled to gain the distance from the landing crafts to shore. In our relatively easy lives, it is difficult to imagine the courage of these brave men.

Pegasus Bridge was the site of the first casualty of D-Day. Flying in gliders in the middle of the night, a small group of soldiers had the task of securing Pegasus Bridge in the first minutes of D-Day. These men had to land gliders at an extremely steep angle in fields that had been covered in sharp logs to tear up the gliders as they hit the ground. Looking at the bridge, we were able to see reminders of the battle in the bullet holes and shrapnel that still scar the metal.

At the Abbaye d’Ardenne, we met Jacques Vico, the son of a French member of the resistance. His father was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to Mauthausen concentration camp. Soon after, Jacques had to go into hiding after the one of the members of the resistance was tortured and the Germans learned that the family had been hiding weapons. When Jacques’s family returned to the Abbaye, his mother noticed that her garden was torn up, and they soon discovered that on June 8th, 1944, just two days after D-Day, 18 Canadian soldiers being held as prisoners of war were assassinated in their garden by the German SS. Jacques said, “For me, D-Day represents the happiness of being free. But it is also the day when they were so many SS killings.”

Emily: Wall of Remembrance, Saint Lô, Major Howie

Many people take the time to remember those who gave their lives for our freedom on marked holidays, but for those who live in Normandy, remembrance is a way of life. We visited the Wall of Remembrance at Saint Jean de Savigny and it amazed me to see how thankful the French still are for the liberation. It was a common occurrence for complete strangers to thank our veteran, even if they did not speak English.

One of the men honored on the Wall of Remembrance is Captain Norval Carter, a war surgeon and the father of Walter Carter, one of the trip leaders. Captain Carter should have been safe in a field hospital, but instead, he requested to be on the front lines with his men. He was killed by a German sniper while tending to a wounded soldier whose life he saved.

We visited the small town of Saint-Lô on the 66th anniversary of its liberation, where we learned the story of Major Thomas D. Howie, an American man who was killed in his attempts to capture the town from the Germans. The battle for Saint Lo was long and fierce. Many were killed in the fighting, including Howie, who became a symbol of the Allied casualties in France. Howie’s comrades placed his body on the rubble of a bombed church and draped him with an American flag. War journalists took photographs of his body and the image became a symbol of Allied sacrifices in the war. Our veteran, Mr. Monson, was made an honorary citizen of Saint-Lô during our visit there.

Matt: Pointe du Hoc, Ranger Museum

Halfway through the trip, we visited one of the more scenic and well-known destinations known as Pointe du Hoc. On Pointe du Hoc the Germans had built, as part of the Atlantic Wall, six casements to house a battery of captured French 155mm cannons that were about as long as the stage we’re standing on. With Pointe Du Hoc situated between Utah Beach to the west and Omaha Beach to the east, these guns threatened Allied landings on both beaches, risking heavy casualties for the landing forces.

Although there were several bombardments from the air and by naval guns, intelligence reports assumed that the fortifications were too strong, and would also require attack by ground forces. The U.S. 2nd Ranger Battalion was therefore given the daunting task of destroying the strongpoint before the main landings on D-Day. Imagine what it would be like to be in one of the three companies of Rangers who landed by sea at the foot of the cliffs. They struggled to scale the steep cliffs, using ropes, ladders, and grapples under enemy fire, only to be met at the top by German soldiers who cut their ropes or shot them until they fell back to the beach 100 feet below.  The result of the attack was a victory as the five field guns were destroyed; however, the price for it was grave as the Rangers lost 135 men.

Emily: Sainte-Mere-Eglise, Paratroopers, and Madame Chedal-Anglay

Sainte-Mère-Eglise was the first French town to be liberated by the Allied forces on D-Day. In Sainte-Mère-Eglise, we learned the story of the paratroopers who were dropped there in the middle of the night. The town had been bombed, and was on fire, and many soldiers died as their parachutes were sucked into the flames.

One man landed with his parachute caught on the spire of the town church, and was left hanging, pretending to be dead for hours before the Germans took him prisoner. He later escaped and was able to help his division when US troops attacked the village.

We once again experienced the warm hospitality of the French when we visited the home of Madame Chedal-Anglay. Her husband, who passed away a few years ago, always said, “If it were not for the Americans, we’d have ended up in a Nazi concentration camp…” It is for this reason that the French continue to show their gratitude.

Matt: Omaha Beach, Karl Monson

We visited Omaha Beach, the site of the largest American battle on D-Day. Omaha Beach was without a doubt the most anticipated day of the trip for me, and what I witnessed defied my expectations. Having our WWII veteran Karl Monson meet his goal of finally returning to Omaha Beach was truly an inspiration. It was good to see that Karl could finally get over the anxiety of not having any closure on the events of D-Day. Watching Karl walk triumphantly onto that beach will forever be seared into my mind as an example of how to overcome personal struggles in one’s life. I watched Karl as he stood on Omaha Beach and I could tell that it wasn’t an easy thing to reflect upon, as he had stood in the exact same location 67 years ago and watched many of his friends die. However, I also noticed that he was able to understand that the war is long over and Omaha Beach is now a peaceful place.

The main thing I carried away from that day was learning how to overcome your fears and anxiety. Even though Karl didn’t seem like he wanted to go on the beach, he managed to push on and finally reach his destination. Karl will forever be an inspiration to me, as I will think back to that day whenever I have a challenging obstacle to face.

Emily: Normandy American Cemetery, flag ceremony, speech

I was unable to fully grasp the number of soldiers that died in the Normandy Campaign until we visited the Normandy American Cemetery. The sheer number of graves, 9,387, was astounding, especially when you realize that three times that number died, as some men were never found and many were buried in the United States. The cemetery is serene yet saddening, proud but somber. The cemetery is unique because no one buried there died of old age. The average age of the buried is 24 and 33 pairs of brothers are buried. At the Wall of the Missing, where 1557 names are inscribed, we heard the story of the Hoback brothers, who both died on D-Day. The first brother, Bedford was buried in the cemetery. However, a veteran returned to Normandy and was shocked to see the name of Raymond Hoback, the other brother, on the Wall of the Missing.

The veteran had found Raymond, wounded on the beach, and taken him to the sea wall and placed his beloved bible on top of the wall so that it would not get wet. The veteran lived his life, thinking he had saved Raymond’s life. 60 years later, at the cemetery, he was told that the tides had come in, taking Raymond out to sea. Our visit to the cemetery truly showed me the magnitude of the sacrifice made for our freedom.

Students from 2011 trip to Normandy.

Students from 2011 trip to Normandy.

Matt: closing

The brave soldiers of World War II endured all and gave all that justice among nations might prevail and that mankind might enjoy freedom and inherit peace. As the years pass and fewer and fewer witnesses remain as a living symbol of this strength and sacrifice, the task of educating younger generations – such as our own – about the lessons learned from this dark time period becomes increasingly difficult. The motivating drive to push forward that characterizes the human race, so essential to our progress and ideals, inevitably causes many events to fade into the blur of the past, to be swept into the dusty corners of our collective mind. However, concerning the Normandy Campaign, this cannot be the case. To forget or ignore, for the world to not learn from the horrifying events of WWII, would be to allow the soldiers and the victims of the war to have died in vain. The main purpose of our trip, and this chapel (student gathering at Blair Academy), is to ensure that these events will not fade from our memory, will not be overlooked, and will not happen again.

Never Forget.

We look forward to welcoming Veterans, students, teachers, adults seeking a deeper understanding of the 1944 Normandy Campaign.

Request an information packet about upcoming trips.

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