Webster Thomas Student’s Trip to Normandy
This summer I spent two weeks in France. I went there as part of a group called Normandy Allies that has been traveling to France each summer for ten years. My aunt, Marsha Smith, is the founder and president so I’ve known about this for a long time. Year after year I would listen to her stories, so anxious to be 16, the age when I could finally go with her! One of my biggest fears has been flying overseas on planes, however, when I caught my first glimpse of the French countryside and of Paris, the nerves all seemed worth it and I realized I’ll be traveling a lot more.
The main purpose of the trip is to allow students and adults interested in WWII to tour Normandy and the beaches where the D-Day landings occurred. Touring the places where so much American history took place was really amazing. I always thought I knew mostly everything about WWII, but the full effect really came to me by going there and soaking in all the unknown details. Some people may wonder if the learning experience is mainly moving from museum to museum, but each day we were also meeting French who had lived during both the German occupation of France, and the American landings. That gave me a whole new perspective on what that time was like for the people and for the soldiers liberating the country. Here in the U.S. the heroic actions of the D-Day soldiers are talked about less and less each year. But in Normandy, though it may be 65 years later, the French express their gratitude to Americans as if they’d landed the day before. It was especially noticeable this year because our group of 28 included three WWII veterans, Robert Henne, Vincent Towell, and Archer Martin, two of whom landed on June 6th and the third, a week later. Throughout each town these men received several honors given by mayors and also received plenty of hugs and kisses from the French ladies, an ongoing joke among the group. The veterans all had different approaches to dealing with the trauma and reliving of the war, and that was very intense.
Although the major focus of Normandy Allies is learning about the history, members also have experiences with the French culture. Each year the students stay with a French host family (all friends of the staff members) for three nights. During the day we would have the same routine with the whole group but for dinner we students would return to our host families’ houses. This was the only part of the trip that I’d always been nervous for. I knew a total of about five or six french sayings, because I take Spanish at school. So there I was thinking these dinners would consist of awkward silences in which neither of us had any way of communicating. Well thankfully Monsieur Joussard was a retired English professor! It turned out to be a very enjoyable stay and we both learned about one another’s cultures.
One of the other things that made a great impact on the trip was the people in our group. I loved having seven other students around my age there to hang out with. I thought I would get homesick for all my friends back in Webster, but all of the students and I had so much fun together. We were given a lot of time to hang out just us, go out to dinner, and explore the towns at night. By the end of the trip we all agreed we felt as if we’d known each other much longer than two weeks. In fact, everyone including the adults, felt that way and it was actually sad to leave one another at the airport.
All in all, I loved everything about the trip, and the long preparation process was totally worth it. I greatly encourage anyone interested in the history and touring France to contact Normandy Allies. To me it was no doubt a well spent two weeks that I’ll never forget. I’m glad I did it before my senior year and I hope to someday soon go back.