CLARIFICATION: The group of high school students hope to escort the American World War II veterans to the last formal D-Day reunion.
A group of seven high school students from Chapel Hill will head to France this summer and hope to escort American World War II veterans to the last formal D-Day reunion.
The high school juniors, who have all been to France before, will be ushers at the 70th anniversary ceremony in Normandy for the American Battle Monuments Commission.
It will include a parade, fireworks and music, said Tyler Roush, one of the students going on the trip.
“We are going to accompany the veterans through the festival and enjoy it with them,” he said. “Hopefully, we will learn from their experiences.”
Most of the students have grandparents who served in the military and they have all studied French for more than four years.
They are all connected by a French class they took in the eighth grade with Robin McMahon at Smith Middle School, where they participated in the school’s Belgian Exchange program.
McMahon will be going with the students on their trip to France.
“The students are truly committed to being ‘Envoys of Honor’ as they listen to firsthand stories of courage and sacrifice from the veterans,” McMahon said. “They will bring those stories home to share with students, other veterans and the general community.”
McMahon runs the Belgian Exchange, which has had 13 exchanges since 2001.
The program allows students to stay with the families of the pen pals they have corresponded with through the class and visit important European landmarks.
The program has received more than $200,000 over the years from the European Union, and is the only middle school program in the nation to have been awarded four Getting to Know Europe grants.
During their 2011 class trip, the students visited Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium, the Normandy American Cemetery, Omaha Beach and Pointe du Hoc in Normandy.
McMahon said spending time at these locations makes a huge impact on the students’ views of history, war and French and American alliances.
The group has been collaborating with the N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs and the Veterans of Foreign Wars to organize a group of local veterans to go overseas with them.
Lee Heavlin, commander of American Legion Post 6 and blogmaster for the N.C. VFW state website, said he thinks it’s important for students to remember and learn about history in unique ways.
“Education is abbreviated and relying on books doesn’t provide enough information,” he said. “I applaud what the students are doing.”
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