Virginia Teacher in Normandy
My Normandy Allies 2009 experience
—CPT Steven Miller, 2009
When I first heard LTC(Ret) Peter Combee talk about the Normandy Allies experience at the 116th Regimental Muster last November, I didn’t quite know what to expect. I understood that the trip would be an educational experience of some sort, and one I may be able to translate into future lessons for my high school students, but I had little idea of the wonderful opportunity that had just presented itself.
As a high school social studies teacher, I have the great responsibility of passing on the history of our nation to the next generation. As a company commander in the 3rd BN, 116th INF, 29th Division, I also have the great responsibility of preparing our nation’s infantry soldiers for combat in our current area of operations. The Normandy Allies experience helped me in both these endeavors, and if I’m lucky, I just may be able to pass on what I’ve learned to the citizens and soldiers of tomorrow.
As I stated above, I wasn’t quite aware of the great opportunity LTC Combee was describing when I first learned of the Normandy Allies experience. That quickly changed when I learned that three 29th division veterans from the Normandy campaign were coming along with the group. I knew that these three men represented a living history that I may never get another chance to learn about, and I jumped at submitting my name for the soldier-teacher grant.
At the Newark airport on the day of our departure, I began to realize just how special this trip had the potential to be when Robert Henne arrived at our gate. I could tell right away that this man had lived through experiences that I could only guess at, and that he was prepared to share these with me should I dare to offer a question or two. This feeling only grew as I met the other veterans Vincent Rowell and Archer Martin, both equally affable and ready to share what they had seen, felt, and experienced during their service. Having never been able to discuss with my own grandfathers their service in WWII, I felt like I was being presented a chance to sit down with them, both long-since passed, and bear witness to what their life was like during the war years.
Over the following twelve days, these three men shared with myself and the group countless stories and tales of their lives during the Normandy campaign. From the food they ate to the view from Omaha beach during D-day, there was literally, never a dull moment. We traveled to places of great historical and personal significance, and at almost every site the three veterans were there to enhance what we learned.
This experience not only taught me the military history of the Normandy campaign, it gave me the opportunity to learn, at least a little, about what the men of the 29th Division experienced. The things I learned in Normandy made me extremely proud to wear the patch of the 29th Division. I was honored to be given the opportunity to pay my respects at a memorial dedicated to Major Howie, once the Battalion commander of my current Battalion. I was stunned when I was greeted by Frenchmen who responded with “Stonewall-er?” when I told them I was currently serving with the 116th Infantry. And I was deeply moved when I listened to the stories of war and loss from our veterans, French veterans, and French civilians alike. The Normandy Allies experience is one that I shall never forget, and my only hope is that my journal and my memory of this experience endure.
I would like to sincerely thank the 29th Division Association and the Normandy Allies cadre for making this trip possible for me. Most of all I want to say thank you to Bob, Archer, and Vincent, you guys made the trip for me and I owe you all a great deal.