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Showing posts from June, 2017

Lessons as a Teacher

It’s impossible to leave this trip without a few takeaways for my work in the classroom. In fact, there are five big lessons that I hope to employ. Here they are.

Kids are ready for lectures. Our students were an attentive, learning audience for seven formal lectures. They saw a range of styles, from disorganized to organized, from conversational to professorial, and from very engaging to nuts-and-bolts. Some topics were quite abstract. And I’m convinced that the lecture on architecture in cemeteries marks the spot at which the group attainted a sophisticated level of thought that characterized the rest of the trip. As one of my peers her, Judy from Southern California put it, the lecture gave them permission to be scholarly without threat of judgment.

Kids are ready for readings. We read a lot in preparation for this trip. If students or teachers fell off pace, a staff member at NHD would remind us to get back on. It paid off handsomely. Students had context for what we saw and had a…

Normandy American Cemetery: Our Students' Eulogies

The culmination of our Normandy Institute experience took place on Tuesday with the students’ eulogies. Each of our students had the task of offering appropriate words of remembrance at their soldier’s grave. Typically these eulogies lasted approximately five minutes. We worked through the cemetery from back to front, which means Lauren offered her words second. Altogether fifteen students spoke. I didn’t once feel tempted to look at my phone or check the time.
It was the most meaningful day I’ve spent with students in a long time.
Our procedure at each grave followed the same pattern. Lynne and Amanda would scout out where the grave was and the rest of the group would find them there. At each grave, Frank would assist the student in putting sand on the soldier’s name, rank, unit, and state so that the information would stand out. The student would have to then scrub down the face of the gravestone with a sponge so as to remove the excess dirt. After that, their teacher helped them…

The Site of Bill's Death (this is the one beach further)

I’m guilty of getting restless on trips. I always want to pack more into the day, usually wanting to do one thing more than we really have time to do. Ask Sherry. She can give you many examples. This itch caught me again on our last full day in Normandy, after the students finished their eulogies and after our time had ended at the Cemetery.

We had an outside lunch schedule, but the weather looked foreboding. Forecasts called for thunderstorms. But the heavens hadn’t opened yet. They had mercifully held off during the eulogies (Don’t worry, though, they opened later, drenching me during a walk back in Bayeux around 5:30. In fact, it rained so hard I bought the world’s smallest portable umbrella, which will soon become the property of Caroline). 
Cautious, we decided that it was best to eat on the bus rather than outside. But, I asked if I could go one beach further. Instead of eating then and there, could I go down to the First Infantry Division memorial? Could I take interested kid…

Omaha and Pointe du Hoc

I’ve been to Omaha Beach before. Twice, actually. I thought I understood it then. I didn’t. I’m beginning to understand it now.
One of the great benefits of spending as much time in Nomandy as we have is that the vastness of Omaha Beach now makes sense. It stretches from Point du Hoc (I think) in the west to Arromanches in the east. That’s a long, long beach. As a group, we stopped at three different points along it, four if one considers Point du Hoc to be part of it. None of these four reminded me at all of what I walked along in 1997 or 2002. Of course the dramatic tides may have altered my understanding of the land. The tide was high, for instance, on our final trip to Omaha this time, and that can make a big difference. At low tide, there’s 400 meters between shingle and water, at high tide, only 100.
In fact, the whole series of beaches involved in Overlord stretch out along the Normandy coast further than I realized. We visited Utah but didn’t get anywhere near Juno, Gold, a…

La Cambe

I’m struggling to find the right words to describe La Cambe, the German War Cemetery we visited in Normandy. Perhaps I can start with some context.
The Treaty of Versailles stipulated that German war dead would not be repatriated. Their burial and cemeteries would be subject to the control of the French people. Those provisions still applied at the end of World War II. France buried Germany’s dead. In the late 1950s, France negotiated a new treaty with Germany that transferred ownership of the cemeteries to a German commission for the war dead. That commission (not a part of government) now administers the cemeteries.

La Cambe is a somber place. From what I understand, the design of the cemetery began with Nazi planners who, during the war, conceived of places where their victorious fallen heroes could be memorialized. La Cambe obviously does not employ the overt Nazi symbolism contained in those original plans. Where a swastika might have been perched atop a central mound (a tumulus…

Cemeteries

We visited quite a few cemeteries on this trip. It may be worth sharing a summary of how these cemeteries differ.




Our first visit was to a Canadian Cemetery. This is one of many that belong to Britain and the Commonwealth. Custom for these cemeteries was to mark the graves with a somewhat rectangular tombstone that contained an appropriate symbol for their branch of the service, personal details (name, rank, unit, date of death), and a possible epitaph from their families. Families were provided the option of having an inscription carved in (within a certain word limit) for their boys’ resting places. Most families took up that offer. I didn’t know what I would think of the words they chose, but found myself moved from them more than I expected. The Canadian cemetery is dotted with various flowers that one would find in Canada planted between the graves.

The epitaphs offer a meaningful way to personalize the gravestones. The unit names are more colorful than what one sees on U.S. g…