Teachers are Great Students!
In the spring of 1999, Amelia Balaji was preparing to participate in the very first International Experience. She talked about her plans with Al DeCarlo, her AP American History teacher, who immediately caught her enthusiasm and began to see the benefits this voyage could bring to him. In July 2001, Al DeCarlo became the first teacher participant in Normandy Allies. He brought the lessons home, inspiring 28 Pittsford-Mendon and Victor NY students to follow the student path pioneered by Amelia and her multi-state group.
Al writes: “The Normandy Allies Experience was a life changing educational opportunity for me. Seeing history come alive while visiting the beaches of Normandy has provided great insight and credibility for my WWII unit each year in my AP American History classes. Watching the start of Saving Private Ryan has become one of my favorite lessons as I dissect the Hollywood version of D-Day with what I learned and experienced first hand with the tremendous Normandy Allies Team and an actual D-Day Veteran/Hero. Promoting this trip to my students takes on a whole new meaning when I show them my personal photos and souvenirs from my trip. I have been asked to speak in multiple history classes in my district and at my children’s school as well. My daughter and my son (Olivia and Alec) are both Normandy Allies alumni – something I am very proud of, too.”
Over the years, 18 more teachers have joined the ranks of alumni. Each International Experience is unique because of the multi-generational, multi-state mix of participants. Yet certain threads remain constant, and the teachers have woven these elements into their personal journey and their professional commitments. We share reflections from some of the teachers.
Chris Krintzline, Ohio: International Experience 2012
“As a teacher, I treasure the experience that I had with Normandy Allies and the impact that it had on my students. One of the disappointing things that I encounter as a teacher is when some students come into my classroom the first day of school with the “I hate history” attitude.
“I’ve found that most of these students don’t hate history, they hate bad history, they hate boring history. One type of history that students like in particular is narrative history. Students love a good story, as interest and engagement increase immediately. There is no better story than the Normandy invasion.
“The experience created by the Normandy Allies team allows teachers to transport their students to this amazing point in history. I can show them pictures from site visits of what it was like to stare out of a Germany bunker, and the size of the shell craters from a place such as Pointe du Hoc. They become fascinated by firsthand accounts of people such as the Bedford boys, Norval Carter and Duane Miller (who as a WWII veteran that accompanied us on our trip). The firsthand information that teachers gain from programs such as Normandy Allies allows teachers to provide students with more detailed information, which is what they want, even if they don’t always admit it.”
Josh Fulton, Illinois: International Experience 2013:
“As a community college history educator, the opportunity to participate in the Normandy Allies experience in the summer of 2013 provided me with an incredible personal and professional experience that has impacted my teaching since the trip. The opportunity to view the landing sites, study the geography up close, and engage with civilians and veterans present at the time pressed upon me the importance of approaching D-Day in the classroom from a much more holistic perspective.
“I now devote a core component of the U.S. History II course to the study of Normandy, with students producing group projects and research works on allied efforts and experiences in Normandy (not on just the 6th of June). This approach of appreciating the cultural interactions of the conflict, and the many complexities of the allied efforts—I attempt to impart to my students. A fun trip personally, Normandy Allies provided an opportunity for me as an educator to gain direct knowledge that I can project in the classroom that furthers the legacy of what occurred in 1944”
Colleen Green, Montana: International Experiences 2007, 2008, 2009
“Through my travels with Normandy Allies during three consecutive years, I gained so much knowledge regarding WWII and the impact the Allies had on this particular area of France. Additionally, I had the privilege of meeting so many wonderful people traveling with NA, and the annual trips allowed me to meet so many delightful French and British people who I communicate with still.
“As an educator, I had the most magnificent first-hand experience listening to our veterans share their stories and experiences from WWII and their contributions to the liberation of France. Also during each two-week journey with Marsha and her team, Pete Combee provided us with the rich military history associated with that area. Through these priceless interactions and interviews, I gained insight in terms of how our students at Simms High School should interview our local veterans during an upcoming Veteran’s Project. Groups of students from the U.S. History and Junior English classes would record the oral histories of some very special community members. After sharing some of my interactions with the students, they understand the great importance of our project as well as its sensitive nature.
“Numerous friends contact me in terms of books regarding D-Day and the liberation of France in 1944. I share with them the titles of numerous books and authors recommended to us through our affiliation with NA. I have also advised certain friends what to see, where to stay, and what to expect when they travel to Normandy on their own. Most importantly, in appreciation for my help and advice, these individuals take the extra effort to visit John O’Neil’s gravesite and pay their respects. They tell me the experience of connecting with a person buried at the cemetery at Coleville s/Mer only heightens and accentuates the sacrifices made by those who unselfishly served during that time period. In return, my mother knows that the sacrifice of this wonderful young man will never be forgotten. That means the world to Mom and me.
“What impresses me the most and will remain with me forever centers around the deep devotion of the Norman people who will never forget the American soldiers who gave the ultimate sacrifice in order to free the French people from Germany’s oppression. These wonderful folks whom we have met during our travels there have provided my mother a sense of peace she so deserves after the heartache WWII brought into her life. Normandy Allies motto, We will Never Forget, sums up how I feel about the wonderful experiences provided me through my travels with Marsha, Pete, Charlie and Walter.”
During the 2008 trip, Colleen spoke with Col. Michel Henri, mayor of Colombières who each year led us in understanding marshland combat. Col. Henri had traveled to Montana’s Glacier Park, and loved reading about Glacier. Until his death, Colleen sent Col. Henri the annual Glacier calendar and news clippings related to this majestic park. She sent the photo (see left), adding “I really enjoyed Col. Henri and felt a special connection to him because of his love for Montana and the Park. Plus, his dedication to the 29th Division 115th Regiment and his passion for keeping their story alive.”
Randall Lanning, Illinois, International Experience 2014:
“It’s hard to believe that nearly an entire academic year has passed since I traveled to France with Normandy Allies. At 63 years old, I’ve learned that the service and sacrifice of military duty are my true passions in life. Those passions, tied with a strong desire to learn more about what my father, Marvin D. Lanning, experienced on D-Day, were keenly sharpened as a result of my trip to Normandy, France last July.
“Since my return home, I’ve had loads of time to reflect on that trip, and apply and share my experiences at Mascoutah High School IL, where I teach Air Force Junior ROTC. Upon reflection, I think the three biggest take-a-ways from that trip are: 1) The tremendous, almost overwhelming sense of sacrifice by the Allies on that day. 2) To this day, the local Normandy French have not forgotten what the Americans, British, and Canadians did for them in June and July of 1944. 3) The importance of ceremony, even small ones, in recognizing and remembering important events. I was already well aware of all these aspects, but my trip brought them all into sharp focus, magnified by first-hand experience.
“Since I have returned, I have actively sought to apply what I learned and experienced during my visit to Normandy. Clearly, I have blended my experiences into my airpower history course, but more importantly I was able to share key points in a “Military and Society” presentation I have developed for our Social Studies Department. On a personal note, I have learned so much more about what my father experienced at Juno Beach. I have written a newsletter article and given a speech in my local Toastmasters Club about my father’s participation in the Normandy landings.
“It’s ironic that while on active duty with the US Air Force, we spent 9 years living in Europe, and yet never made it to Normandy. I am so thankful for the opportunity to have made the trip with such dignified and professional colleagues. I will NEVER forget these experiences!”
Michael Galgano, Virginia, International Experiences 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015:
“I was fortunate enough to receive the Diane and David Pennock Teacher Grant in Honor of 1st Lt. John Garvik to help support my participation in the summer 2012 Normandy Allies program. That experience brought new life to a range of courses I had taught for many years. My teaching includes three courses that emphasize World War II and the Normandy Landings. The first is a lecture course in which I devote one week to World War II. One lecture analyzes the turning points in the defeat of Nazi Germany by contrasting Stalingrad and Normandy. Students prepare brief essays following the discussions based upon their readings in contemporary accounts and secondary interpretations that reflect upon the significance of one of these two battles. Most write about Normandy. When I first taught the course, I also encouraged them to interview a family member or friend who had a living memory of D-Day. Sadly, such first-hand accounts are rapidly passing.
In my sections of 20th century World history, the focus is on understanding some of the primary sources that have shaped the last century. World War II is central and I place a great deal of emphasis on the events from Dunkirk through 1945. Since some of our students come from Bedford, Virginia, the Landing is of special interest to them. These two courses enroll undergraduates and the latter is a part of our General Education offerings. My focus is on written sources, the importance of social memory, and the enduring values of a common history.
“What was lacking in my own preparation was a personal understanding of the Landing and its impact. The summer of 2012 filled that void by offering well-prepared lectures by the Normandy Allies’ military historian, thoughtful readings, good insights in the sites we visited and plentiful opportunities to talk with the French inhabitants there. An added bonus was the chance to interact with secondary teachers and students. We discussed not only what we were experiencing but the best ways to teach the invasion and its aftermath once we returned to our classes.
“In a short period of time, all of us were able to gain real insights into the experience of war in Normandy and its impact on the French people. Our visits with local officials and everyday citizens brought first-person accounts to mix with our readings, lectures and site visits. Each added a special dimension to the program. The study tour also blended personal experiences with the broader picture of what happened. My students learned so much from talking with French survivors of the invasion who shared their personal recollections from their own childhoods. We had occasion to celebrate the liberation of towns and to understand the sacrifices in the American, British, and German cemeteries. These experiences and many more leave an enduring imprint upon all of us fortunate to take part.
“What I learned from that first trip and all since has left an indelible mark on my teaching. The program deepened my knowledge of the events and participants. It taught me a great deal about the individual sacrifices of war and the importance of memory for subsequent generations. It also introduced me to the French people and showed how fully they honor those who sacrificed so much to set them free. The pristine beauty and serenity of Omaha Beach today stands in marked contrast to the bloody events of 6 June 1944. I bring these images to my daily classes and they are also responsible for my current research interest in the study of veterans when wars end and they return to civilian life.”
This year, grants support three teachers’ participation in Normandy Allies: Nicole Barry, NY, received the David & Diane Pennock Grant; Christopher Cameron, NJ, received the 29th Division Association Grant; Joseph Drover, IL, is funded by the First Division Museum at Cantigny. Normandy Allies is grateful to these benefactors for joining with us in the mission of education.
*This article was originally published in Amitié, Spring 2015.*