July 22, 2011
Indy teacher and student travel to Normandy for National History Day

The following post was written by history teacher Dave Wheeler and his student Jeremiah Tate. Dave has been a history teacher at Fall Creek Academy in Indianapolis for the past four years. He is currently transitioning to a new position with Christel House Academy on the near south side. Jeremiah will be a senior at Fall Creek Academy this fall.

The 15 teacher/student pairs at Utah Beach.

Over the past two years I have integrated National History Day into the curriculum for my honors classes, which helped lead to an incredible opportunity this summer. At the beginning of this year I applied for the Normandy Sacrifice For Freedom Institute that was organized by National History Day. My student, Jeremiah Tate, and I were among 15 student/teacher teams that were selected to take part in this journey. Prior to the trip we were engaged with online conversations with other members of the institute pertaining to selected readings that focused on various aspects of the D-Day invasion in Normandy.

Dave and Jeremiah in a Higgins Boat

The primary focus of the institute was to select a soldier from our state to research and then present a eulogy by his gravesite at the American Cemetery. We spent three days in Washington, D.C., touring the various war memorials, visiting the National Archives and listening to presentations from George Washington professors. We then flew to Paris where we were only a ten-minute walk from the iconic Eifel Tower. After a day in Paris, our charter bus took us to Normandy for three days where we walked through the exact battle sites of the D-Day invasion.

Perhaps the one aspect that completely blew me away throughout our time in Normandy was standing on the beach and looking up the hill at old German bunkers. That experience made me realize the huge disadvantage our soldiers confronted when invading those beaches. It truly was a sacrifice for freedom.

The highlight of my summer has without question been my trip to France with the Normandy Sacrifice For Freedom Institute. I experienced so many things for the first time while on this adventure. Whether it was flying over the ocean, picking up a few French words, or looking out from the Omaha and Utah beaches and understanding the struggles our soldiers endured, I can definitely say this experience was life-changing.

Jeremiah reads a eulogy for J.W. Vaughan at American Cemetery after researching his story.

Becoming a historian and researching J.W. Vaughan, a soldier no one knew nothing of, was a very interesting and emotional experience. Having the chance to express my gratitude aloud at the Normandy American Cemetery, in honor of a man who sacrificed so much for our country during WWII, is something I will never forget. Some of the landscapes I saw and deep emotions I felt in Normandy are far beyond words, and I hope I get the chance to travel back sometime in the future.

National History Day hopes to run this institute again. For more information about National History Day, please go to http://www.nhd.org/ClassroomConnection.htm.

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