FRANCE -- On June 28th, six representatives of Richmond Senior High School Army Junior ROTC, Jordan Ballow, Chase Wilson, Billy Wilson, Bryan Wilson, and Mary Ring – all led by LTC (Ret) Jon Ring, departed for France to visit the WWII monuments, historic battle sites, and key strategic points from D-Day. Despite the several hour flight which was extended by another four hour drive, the group found that their excitement made it hard to sleep.
The first place they visited was Omaha Beach and the monument that was created for Allied Soldiers that gave their lives to take the beaches. The group then travelled to the American Military Cemetery where both the students and the chaperones took in the sheer number of gravestones. Each gravestone is lined up perfectly with each other in a giant formation. The initial tour day was wrapped up with a visit to the Ranger Memorial at Point Du Hoc to gain appreciation for what was accomplished during the lead-up to invasion and by the daring Rangers who scaled 100 foot cliffs to come ashore.
The long first day concluded as the group met their wonderful hostess Irene Duvivier who accommodates the Raiders in her bed and breakfast house in Quineville – or the northern portion of Utah Beach.
On the second day, the group met with LTC (Ret) Jon Ring’s friend and fellow Paratrooper who is European Theater President of the Liberty Jump Team, Dom Launay. Dom, who is from France and served as a Paratrooper in the French Army provided a guided tour for the remainder of the visit. During the second day, travels included many different historic sites around Saint Maire Eglise and the surrounding areas. One of the sites was La Fiere Causeway which is a road and bridge that the Germans controlled during the initial invasion on D-Day – June 6, 1944. Many Paratroopers died in the taking of the causeway. Failure was not an option for them since the bridge was one of a few ways for vehicles to advance inland from the beaches and into German territory. The group also visited the Airborne Museum in Saint Maire Eglise where they saw artifacts of D-Day landings and models of what the Soldiers went through to take the beaches.
The last stop of the day was at a German cemetery where each grave held the remains of six German soldiers. The group had never considered the fact that there would be German cemeteries in the area but, given the heavy losses, it makes sense. The contrasting feelings and emotions between the American cemetery from the previous day and the German cemetery were distinct and varied between members of the group. At the end of the day, Soldiers mostly do what they are told – they don’t make policy – and those who made the ultimate sacrifice deserve the same respect.
We are learning and growing a much greater appreciation of what it means to be American - more each day!