Freelance writer Anna Pratt did a fantastic job writing about our trip to Normandy and it was an honor to be published on the front page of the Metro section with a huge jump to the back page. She interviewed Matti, Mr. H. and Virgil's brother Wendell and pulled them all together quite thoroughly. 

As you can read in the article, we are expanding our research and our website to include all Minnesota soldiers buried at the Normandy Cemetery so please contact us with your details. 
Matti does a fantastic job paying tribute to Virgil Tangborn at his gravesite in the American Cemetery in Normandy, France. 

Read the letter Matti left at Virgil's Gravesite

Day Eleven--June 25, 2013--Very emotional day at the Normandy Cemetery, Matti did phenomenal, and now we are in Paris.

Thoughts, emotions and schedules right now are not going to allow us to provide too many details about today's eulogies at the cemetery. That said, everybody, especially Matti, did a magnificent job delivering their eulogies. Matti was very composed throughout most of her eulogy for Virgil Tangborn but before she delivered it, she was absolutely shaking. At the end of it, she cracked but held it together and finished it just right. Afterwards, she broke down again and it was difficult to watch but also amazing to experience. I cried so much today though Matti's as well as the other ones. These young people have done such a good job and are definitely the leaders of tomorrow. There is no way that these students are going to forget what they did, heard and saw today and they are going to spread that message to so many people.

Matti and I got to spend some nice quiet time as well by Virgil's headstone just reflecting on him, on the day and on the raw emotion experienced. We both so badly wish we could have met Virgil because he was such a wonderful person who had so much potential and was so giving right up to his final actions. I took video of the entire eulogy and have photographs of the letter she left at his grave. Just a side note, we were both very heartened to see his grave with a clear view (no other graves in front of it) as well as in the shade of a pine tree. As you might know, Virgil is from Nary, just south of Bemidji and there are tons of pine trees up there. He would probably have liked that. In an other note that I'm not even sure how to interpret just yet, as Matti was finishing up her letter to him, and saying thanks to him, one of the teachers said a pinecone from one of the pine trees nearby fell on top of her. There weren't any other pine cones on the ground in that area and the only other ones down had been chewed by squirrels, so it's not like they were falling down with any regularity. It came right as Matti said, "Thank you," so who knows. Maybe he was there with us. I know that if he was, he'd have been touched by such a beautiful dedication to his life.

So for now, we are in Paris. Steam needed to be blown off so Matti went with friends to the Latin District and salsa danced while I went walking around Notre Dame taking photos. The really good ones with the big camera will have to wait but here's something from the phone. Same thing with the eulogy. You are just going to have to wait but it will be well worth it. For now, back to Paris.

The American cemetery in Normandy Is a very moving experience.
Virgil's grave is beneath a pine tree which is almost too perfect given his northern Minnesota roots.
Eiffel Tower! Can you believe this is the end of our trip? It's bittersweet for sure.
Day Ten--Monday, June 24, 2013--Omaha Beach, Matti's briefing, a visit with Marie Louise Osmont and checking out the tapestry. 

These days just seem to get more and more full of amazing experiences. For the record, with the possible exception of the eulogy readings on Tuesday, nothing will be able to top our time in Periers yesterday visiting the statue of Virgil Tangborn. So many people have commented on how deeply moving that was as well as how composed, yet how moving, Matti's impromptu speech was about him. 

Today started out very moving as well with a stop at Omaha Beach and the Vierville Draw right at the base of Dog Green Beach. We read about this with several books, most notably "Bedford Boys" and we also saw this invasion recreated in "Saving Private Ryan." Omaha Beach was the bloodiest part of the D-Day invasion and many of the student's soldiers died on this beach. It was so very moving to stand there on that sand, look out at the ocean and look up at the adjacent bluffs and imagine having to cover that distance all while merciless machine gun fire rained down cutting thousands of soldiers to their death. 

We then went up to the German strongpoint at Longues sur Mer, located near Gold Beach. This battery included four 15 cm naval guns and were able to hit targets on Omaha, Gold and Juno Beaches. The battery was bombarded by the U.S. Army Air Force on June 5 but they were not impacted until the next day when British soldiers captured the battery late in the day on D-Day.  Walking around these killing machines, in massive concrete bunkers, was contrasted by sheer beauty all around. Fields of flowers, most notably red poppies, the kind worn on Memorial Day and from Flander's Fields (WWI poem) were all over and proved distracting to my camera. 

Net we headed to the Mulberry Harbors at Arromanches where, thanks to Churchill's foresight, the Allies were able to construct massive artificial harbors for offloading supplies and men from ships into Normandy. This is also where Matti gave her briefing on the role of logistics and the support roles in the Normandy campaign. As she always does when speaking to a crowd, Matti was articulate, clear, friendly, balanced and informative. She was even told by one of our program leaders that she has a future in public speaking someday in someway. I was so proud of how well she did and recorded every second of it. Whether it will be watchable or not is difficult to know at this point because it was so windy in that location you might not be able to hear it over the gusts.

Our final stop as a group for the day was Periers-sur-le-Dan to look at Marie Louise Osmont's house, grave and town. We read her diary as part of our studies to prepare for this trip and got to live through the German occupation and then the Allied invasion through her eyes. It was a beautiful area in which she lived and now rests. Just seeing everything in person that we'd read about just months before was a surreal experience. There was nothing touristy about it, nothing commercial, we couldn't even get through the gates to her house but the feeling of that location was there, alive and well, thanks to the vivid images captured in her diary. 

After all that, we returned to the hotel for an afternoon on our own. Matti and I opted to spend time with newly formed friends and tour the Bayeux Tapestry, an almost 1,0000 embroidered cloth that's 230-feet long and visually depicts the story of the Norman Invasion of 1066. The story is about William the Conqueror making a cross-channel invasion of England and establishing the tradition that continues to this day. Most English history courses start at 1066 much like most American history courses start at 1776. It was beautiful and actually a very interesting story. 

The rest of the time was spent shopping, hanging out in Bayeux and then meeting up altogether as a large group for a lovely dinner at the L'Europe Brassiere. It's hard to believe that this is our last dinner and our last night in this lovely city of Bayeux. It has been an absolutely wonderful place to stay and both of us hope we are lucky enough in our lives to be able to return. There is so much more to see and do here that a return visit might just have to get added to the bucket list. 

Tuesday is time for touring the American Cemetery, delivering eulogies, crying our eyes out about it all, and then on to Paris for two nights. Wednesday is time to explore Paris and Thursday morning we board planes for a return to the United States. 
Matti and Mr H at Omaha Beach after a long time reflecting on the sacrifices made.
Matti giving her briefing on the logistics and support roles of the D-Day invasion.
The cathedral in Bayeux is gorgeous. I bought and lit votive candle there and prayed for a safe return for everybody.
In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row, That mark our place; and in the sky The larks, still bravely singing, fly Scarce heard amid the guns below. We are the Dead. Short days ago We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow, Loved and were loved, and now we lie In Flanders fields. Take up our quarrel with the foe: To you from failing hands we throw The torch; be yours to hold it high. If ye break faith with us who die We shall not sleep, though poppies grow In Flanders fields. Lt Col John McRae
In America we call it ice cream!
Morgan Owen, Matti Martin and Ryan "Seamus" Johnson have become quite good friends over the trip. Actually, all of the teachers and students are acting like lifelong friends at this point in time. This group is amazing!
The view out of my hotel room in the beautiful city of Bayeux!

"Si tu savais le prix bela liberte..."

(If you knew the price for freedom...)

That quote is placed on a metal plaque on a piece of concrete near the memorial statue of our soldier Virgil Tangborn in the town of Periers, France. It is featured on this website and ever since we learned about it we have longed to visit. 

Today was that day. 

The memorial is very beautiful and very striking to see. It is beautifully situated near the town square with memorial flags all around, plenty of greenery, a massive church nearby and in the middle of it all are four soldiers of the 90th Infantry who were selected to represent the entire group as a thank you, from the people of Periers, for liberating their town from Nazi rule.

I have had many moving moments in my teaching profession but nothing like this has ever happened, nor will it probably ever happen again. The other teachers and I keep saying, "Once in a lifetime" about so many things but today was a "once in many lifetimes" sort of experience.

Before I let Matti talk about the experience of "meeting" her soldier--shaking the hand of the statue, looking into his face crafted in his likeness, and even hugging him as we departed--I want to brag about how magnificently poised and well-spoken she was when asked to tell the group about Virgil. For now, you'll have to go by the words in this blog. Once we are back in the states I will create and publish a video of the talk as well as some of the other moments on this trip. Keep visiting the blog and you won't miss any of it.

Professor Tom Long asked Matti if she'd like to tell the group about Virgil and, without any sort of a script, she responded with a three-and-a-half minute speech that left most everybody in the crowd in tears. Most of the soldiers being eulogized by students are only a name, most students don't know even what their soldier looked like. Matti had the chance to see his likeness very true to life, she got to chat with his brother in our preparations for this trip, and she got to read his journal from his time before being in the service.

For all practical purposes, Virgil Tangborn is a family member to both Matti and myself and today we got to meet him for the first time. It was so very touching because he's been gone for the last 69 years but it felt like we were able to get him back again for a short visit. Here is Matti's take on it all: "It's just amazing.I've seen the picture of his statue a thousand times, so much  that it's memorized in my head," she said.

"I'm not a crier and I'm not one to burst into tears, but I got there today and I was shaking, I mean full on quaking like I got punched in the stomach. The statue of Virgil was elevated a bit and his knees were bent but we are a similar height and size and he was standing right there," Matti said.

"I could imagine myself being inn his shoes--his face is not that of a stern, confident soldier, he looks terrified and scared. After talking with people about how scary it would be, to save people and leave people behind, I really felt connected to him. I just think about how in Minnesota, even if you dislike somebody you have an overwhelming urge to help them. I can't imagine coming from the small town of Nary and having to leave people behind. From reading his journals, he's scared to have to be a soldier and have to potentially kill somebody, only to inadvertently have to choose who to save and who to let live."

When asked about her impromptu, but professionally delivered speech, she said, "Once I started talking about who he was as a person, and what a nice guy he was, I saw the fact that I knew little things about him greatly impacted everybody watching and listening. I watched a lot of people break into tears before I did and it was so nice to be able to say a few words about him as a person. He transformed for me and everybody from a blue and yellow statue to being a real person. He was the nerdy band kid from northern Minnesota who loved to read and wanted a future but had to suddenly go off t to war and die. I'm grateful for being able to show the group that he was not just a face of metal, but a real person."

Matti placed flowers at the plaque commemorating the memorial, thought about what it must have been like for Virgil's brother Wendell to be there many years before, gave him a hug and said thank you. "I just don't even know how to feel about it all just yet," she said. 

The rest of the day

This was a very cool day and our visit with Virgil was definitely a highlight of the entire trip. That said, there are things we saw and did today other than that deserving mention. Here they are in a rather rapid succession:

Abbaye dArdenne--This was a the site of a massacre of Canadian forces by the 12th SS Panzer (Hitler Youth) Division. During the effort to take the town of Caen, the 9th Brigade of the 3rd Canadian Division tried to capture the airfield at Carpiquet. They were successful but then a German counteroffensive drove them all the way back to the Abbey where the Germans summarily executed all the Canadian soldiers, shooting them in the back of the head. The Abbey was beautiful and a great place for plenty of photos that will be shared later one. It's such a very sad story of a war-time atrocity but it's refreshing to see the memory of those Canadian soldiers so well preserved and maintained.

Operation Cobra and Bocage--Battles often have eventful endpoints but this place was all about the start. The start of Operation Cobra did not go as planned, but by the end was the beginning of a string of successes for the Allied march to Paris.The Bocage was all around us and we walked down several paths with these large stands of trees, shubbery and other foliage. The Bocage was very difficult to attack and advance through. German troops could station ambushes and then circle back around. All in all, the bocage was a part of the Normandy Invasion our leaders did not plan for and it bogged down the liberation of Normandy. 

Cemeteries--Not to bunch them both together, but there were two very different cemeteries we went to and each one had a uniquely different look and feel. The first was La Cambe German War Cemetery, a cemetery where thousands of German soldiers are buried. This place left a lot of us really feeling conflicted---on one hand, these guys were soldiers doing the duty they were assigned to do. On the other hand, some of these might have done very awful things during the occupation. It crossed many teacher and student minds that it's possible our soldiers put these guys here, or vice-versa, our soldier was killed by one of these guys. The English Cemetery, right in the middle of Bayeux, is very beautiful and looks much more like what you expect when you see a cemetery. Tears were shed at the English cemetery and it was a touching memorial to those soldiers from across the English Channel who endured much throughout the Battle of Britain. It was also a good primer for our big day on Tuesday when all the students will be delivering eulogies of their soldiers.

Our day ended touring the phenomenal Battle of Normandy Memorial Museum and then dining in Bayeux on plenty of delicacies. Matti gives a briefing tomorrow on the role of logistics and the support roles in the Normandy campaign. I'll be sure to record it and share that as well when we return. Tuesday is eulogy day so I plan on stocking up on kleenex early. If today is any indication, Tuesday is going to require an entire box.  

Ron and Mattii with Virgil Tangborn (in the Medic helmet) at the 90th Infantry Memorial in the town of Periers
The plaque at the base of the memorial listing the names of the soldiers portrayed.
The quote at the top of this blog, located right next to the 90th Infantry Memorial in Periers.
Memorial at Abbaye d'Ardenne, site of the massacre of Canadian forces by the 12th SS Panzer (Hitler Youth) Division
Part of the sign outside the "Museum of the Battle of Normandy" located near our hotel in Bayeux. It's a very beautiful museum but photography is restricted inside so this as close as you'll get unless you come here (and we recommend it!).

 A solid night of sleep was refreshing and so was a most delicious hotel breakfast with plenty of delicious breads, pastries, coffee and meats.

We shoved off promptly at 8 a.m. and headed to an area of Normandy that was occupied by our soldier Virgil Tangborn. It is the town of Ste-Mere-Eglise and site of the 82nd Airborne landings and the first town to be liberated in France. Something very striking in the town was a cathedral featuring a paratrooper's parachute dangling from a church spire complete with a mannequin paratrooper beneath. This paratrooper is in the honor of the 505th Parachute Infantry Regiment and represents Sergeant John Steele whose parachute caught on the church steeple. He hung there for several hours and watched Company F get slaughtered by German soldiers. He was captured briefly but released when the 505th Airborne captured the town and staved off a German counterattack from all four directions. This enabled the paratroopers to hold the town for several days keeping German forces from reaching Utah Beach, allowing the United States forces to fortify their stronghold.

The success of this battle allowed our soldier Virgil Tangborn to advance from his own landing on Utah Beach and advance inland. He died very close to the town of Sainte-Mere-Eglise and that was where he was first buried before being moved to the American Cemetery in Normandy. Next we visited the Musee Airborne which is home to numerous artifacts of the paratroopers. It also has a Douglas C-47 transport plane and a Waco CG-4A glider.

Afterwards, we drive a few miles southwest of town to the tiny hamlet known as La Fiere, home to the La Fiere Bridge. Matti had a wave of emotion rush over here because, as she and I chatted, it's very likely that Virgil Tangborn crossed this bridge a day or two before his death, perhaps even that very day. The bridge crosses over the Merderet River and was first secured the morning of June 6 by a company of paratroopers who held it against fierce German resistance. The commanding officer was 1st Lt. John Dolan who, when asked about the possibility of a retreat, "If we've got to die, I don't know a better spot than this." The job of the U.S. forces was to secure the bridge and western end of the causeway from Utah Beach but it took until June 9 to complete that job.

Our next stop was a big one....Utah Beach. It's where our soldier first entered France and its where thousands of soldiers from the 4th Infantry Division landed on June 6th, D-Day. The Utah Beach Museum is right there on the beach and besides having a fantastic introductory movie, they also have Christian LeVaufre who is the son of Henri LeVaufre, a friend of our soldier's brother and a writer who lived through the liberation of Normandy as a child, in the town of Periers. Henri was instrumental in the construction of the memorial to the 90th Infantry which is housed in Periers and on our list of stops perhaps on Sunday. Christian gave us a special tour of the museum including a "inside the roped off area" tour of the Martin B-26G Marauder Bomber they have on display.

Utah Beach was a very poignant place to visit and it was amazing to see that expanse of beach and envision what went on there, and was still going on there, 69 years ago. Just the sheer distance from the sea to the edge of the beach is amazing, to think about running that while under fire is something else. It's hard to explain still how it felt to be there and to look at it all knowing that it looks very similar now to what it did back then. Matti and I both packaged up some beach sand to take home with us as a souvenir. I plan on giving mine to my kids as an invitation to venture to Normandy someday so they can see all this with their own eyes and learn the same lessons about sacrifice, freedom and responsibility. There's more to say about Utah Beach but we'll both let our thoughts percolate before saying more. Nothing crazy, but actually walking across that sand (or in Matti's case, running across it and climbing up the hill where the German defenses would have been) does something to you that requires time to process. Powerful experiences that's for sure.

Our touring portion of the day ended at Pointe du Hoc where the 2nd Ranger Battalion climbed the 100 foot cliffs to take out the German artillery battery. One of the most impressive parts of this, besides the spectacular sea view, was the massive bomb craters that still exist. Allied bombers passed over this point frequently and their "footprints" are still there, some of them 20 to 30 feet deep and 100 feet across.

Dinner was a cultural experience at a very French restaurant. Our friend Seamus (student from Oklahoma) speaks French and has served as our official interpreter. He helped order and chatted up our French bus driver (originally from Morocco) who we all invited to eat with us. Matti and I were in a group of nine that went to the Au Trou Normand Restaurant where you quite literally sit in a booth situated within a massive wine barrel. Matti and several other students showed off their Spanish speaking skills while Seamus showed off his French speaking skills. The food was delicious just like it has been everywhere. Matti and I are enjoying every bit of it!

Look carefully at the left side of the base of the church steeple...if you don't know what to look for read the blog!
Stained glass window inside the church commemorates the paratroopers and the importance of the liberation
Matti and Mr. H. both gathered up a small sample of sand at Utah Beach
Matti shows a big rainy smile before we depart Utah Beach. It was a place of mixed emotions but very fulfilling.
Mr. H. is glad he can mug behind the barricade rather than take shelter behind it or watch his boat rip apart on it
At the Utah Beach Museum with Christian Levaufre, Mr. H. and Matti Martin
Matti was pretty happy that her Utah Beach Museum ticket featured Rosie the much so that she mugged the same way (Mr. H. also felt it was no coincidence that his was WWII newspapers)
Matti's soldier (Virgil Tangborn) is part of the 90th Infantry and this is a special memorial to that group at Utah Beach where they landed in 1944
On the left of the map is La Fiere, on the right is Point du Hoc...everywhere we went today is right here for you map lovers out there.

Despite the best efforts to stay awake and enjoy the French countryside on the two-hour ride from Paris to Normandy, most of us slept on the gently swaying bus with the cozy chairs simply out of necessity. 

Our first stop was at the town of Benouville to the Cafe Gondree (Pegasus Bridge Cafe) where we enjoyed our first meal in France--fresh French bread with french cheese and ham. To call it simply a 'ham sandwich' would not do it justice.

As the parenthetical nickname suggests, the cafe is alongside the Pegasus Bridge which spans the Caen Canal on the eastern flank of the invasion area. This was the location of a famous glider landing by British troops the night of the invasion. The British 6th Airborne Division, commanded by Major John Howard, landed their gliders within yards of the bridge, disembarked and defeated a German machine gun nest within three minutes. With support from paratroopers, the British troops fought off German counterattacks for 12 hours until relief arrived. Their efforts prevented a German attack on nearby Sword Beach where thousands of British soldiers landed the morning of D-Day. 

The current bridge over the Caen Canal is actually a replica of the original bridge that is on display adjacent to Le Musee du Pegasus Bridge (The Museum of Pegasus Bridge). The original bridge is on display, complete with bullet holes from the operation. It was a very interesting museum and a great place to start this fantastic tour of D-Day sites. The bravery and sacrifice that took place here, right at the earliest hours of the invasion, really set the tone. 

Our next stop was the Museum of the Atlantic Wall--Grand Bunker (Le Grand Bunker Musee du Mur de l'Atlantique) in the town of Ouistreham along what was called Sword Beach on D-Day. The museum is a former bunker that served as the central command post for all the German artillery batteries along the mouth of the Orne River. There was an actual landing craft there as well as a German 88mm gun that wrecked havoc on the Allies. 

The museum had numerous displays with a ton of artifacts from both the Allied and German forces. This was no small bunker--it is five stories tall with multiple rooms on each floor. One of the displays outside the bunker showed scenes from the movie "Saving Private Ryan" and talked about how Steven Spielberg modeled that first bunker the forces stormed after the Grand Bunker. For those keeping track, the movie starts on Omaha Beach and the Grand Bunker is on Sword Beach. 

That was it for touring for the day but it wasn't the final lesson of the day. After checking into our hotel rooms, we went along with a group of students and teachers for a fabulous French dinner at Le Drakkar Restaurant in the town of Bayeux. There are a ton of restaurants and shops in the town but we selected this one because it looked to offer a delicious menu that included plenty of seafood choices. 

Escargot, clams, oysters, duck, chicken, beef, salmon and a host of side dishes tickled our palates. Forks were traded all around the table as most of our group tried at least one food item for the first time. Our group also chowed on plenty of bread that just kept on coming. The town of Bayeux has a music festival every June 21 and our walk back to the hotel was filled with the sounds of numerous bands that lined the streets. My favorite one was the band of middle-aged women playing Red Hot Chili Peppers songs and doing a pretty good job of it!

Sleep came quickly at the end of this longest day of the year--a day that lasted around 36 hours. This is going to be one magnificent trip if today was any indication! 

Matti tries to stay alert while eating lunch with the Pegasus Bridge in the background.
A painting over the entrance to the Pegasus Bridge Museum showing the real battle that is also depicted in the Hollywood movie "The Longest Day"
A painting depicting the glider landing near the Pegasus Bridge (for details read the blog!)
Standing outside the Museum of the Atlantic Wall while Abby delivers her briefing on the Naval Bombardment.
Dinner at Le Drakkar was magnifique! If you are ever in Bayeux it is well worth a stop for dinner.
Our first order of business for the day was an interesting lecture from our intrepid leader Professor C. Thomas Long of George Washington University titled, "Intelligence, Operation Overlord, and the Normandy Campaign." It was surreal to be watching a lecture  while at the same time being told, "as you will soon see." That made it feel more like a pre-trip briefing which, in actuality, is exactly what it was for us.
On the way to the airport we made a stop to the Smithsonian's Air & Space Museum in Dulles which is basically a massive airport hangar filled with historic and significant aircraft like the Space Shuttle, Concorde, Enola Gay and  Blackbird. 

We were pleasantly surprised to find a group of WWII Honor Flight Veterans from Kansas. The students and teachers shook the hands of dozens of men who, 70 years earlier, were fighting in World War II. 

One of the guys I shook hands with asked us about our Albert Small Normandy Institute shirts and I told him everything that we were doing and was astonished when he said, "I was over there on Omaha Beach." Seeing that as an invitation to keep talking I asked him if he could share more with us. Apparently, he was a radio operator who was hoping to be able to avoid a lot of combat. After he safely landed on Omaha Beach and made it up to a secure location he was told that they were to dig a foxhole and he'd be put there with a machine gun. 

After helping secure Normandy and the Cherbourg Peninsula he moved toward Germany and was even part of the soldiers who helped liberate Buchenwald Concentration camp. Several of us took a photograph with him before having to say thank you again and good bye. 
Our group headed to Dulles Airport full of anticipation and excitement. "Sleep on the plane if you want to be well rested," was the advice we were given. A few were successful in that venture but most of us grabbed little or no sleep. 

The flight went very smoothly across the Atlantic and we flew right across the Cherbourg Peninsula which was the first big objective of the Allies once they gained a foothold on the beaches and adjacent towns of Normandy. 
Matti is not a big fan of the landing portion of a flight and she was a little disappointed when the pilot needed two approaches before he put us on the ground. As our plane made its final approach to Charles De Gaulle Airport, about 300 feet above the runway he suddenly pulled up and banked away from the airport. He rose again to 5,000 feet before swinging around again and safely landing. "There was some ambiguity with the landing procedures," the pilot came on and told us. 

"Ambiguity" is not a word you want a pilot or a surgeon to say during the most delicate part of the procedure! Matti was very relieved to be on the ground and even the most experienced fliers on that plane said they've never done anything like that before and hope to never do that again. 

The good news is that we are in France, we are tired but we are safe and sound! Today's blog is over even though, for many of us, it's going to feel like one long day. That's appropriate, however. It's June 21, the longest day of the year and D-Day is often referred to as "the longest day."

Au revoir for now!

About to hop the pond!
Almost there!
See that scared look on Matti's face? She's petrified about the "ambiguity" we were going through when I snapped this photo from across the aisles.
Charles De Gaulle Airport
On Wednesday we visited the National Archives II up in College Park, Maryland where the bulk of the holdings are for the 20th century. It is a beautiful facility that is five-stories tall in a residential area carefully constructed to never rise above the tree line. The building is the second largest federal building in the United States (second only to the Pentagon) and quite an impressive facility. They issued researcher cards to all of us and gave us the grand tour. 
One of the most interesting rooms we researched in at the Archives was the map room where the staff pulled numerous maps for us to review. There were also numerous photographs to review as Matti is examining in the PHOTO BELOW. White cotton gloves were a necessity to preserve these historic images. 
When we reviewed the documents portion of the Archives the staff were very helpful. They pulled documents ahead of time for us (PHOTO ABOVE) so that we could maximize the hour we had in the documents room. For our soldier, Virgil Tangborn, we didn't find any specifics about him but we were able to learn more about the 90th that we didn't know before. The good (and bad) news is that Matti and I did so much solid research beforehand that we didn't learn much here (good because it reaffirmed our solid research skills but bad because we were hoping to find more). The document below shows a close-up of the movements his 359th division made on the day he died. 
We invite you to click on the above map and bring yourself into a specific part of the Normandy region. This is the area where our soldier Virgil Tangborn spent the final days of his life, where he earned the Silver Star for his valor and where he was buried. Look for the town of Amfreville (just west of Ste. Mere Eglise) which, according to the records, is where Virgil Tangborn died while helping rescue a truck driver during a German barrage. In the photo to the left,, you see the plot map for a temporary cemetery in Ste. Mere Eglise where Virgil Tangborn was buried before being moved to the American Cemetery near Omaha Beach. 
The National Archives II at College Park were very interesting and we were hoping to conduct more research while we were there but the time was very tight and the information very robust. If you are looking to learn more about a specific soldier, plan a visit to these Archives but contact them ahead of time or review the holdings at 

The rest of the night on Wednesday was reserved for final preparations and celebrations in our final night in D.C.. On Thursday we have a morning lecture, then a tour of the Dulles Air and Space Museum, before boarding the plane. With luck, the next blog will come from the Dulles Airport as we await boarding for Paris and a safe landing at Charles  DeGaulle Airport. 
[Students of the Normandy Institute] your endeavor earns our highest praise. There's nothing more important for me as Ambassador to France to pay respect to you for what you do for passing the torch onto these younger generations

On behalf of my country, I want to tell you how grateful we are to each and every one of you for being part of this vital, critical, endeavor and how honored I am to welcome you this morning to the embassy."

-- François Delattre
French Ambassador to the United States of America

(pictured above with Matti and Mr. H. in the French embassy)
Sorry for the poor quality, these are pictures of pictures on Mr. H.'s phone. We will post them prettier in a few weeks. Ron forgot to mention that there were three high-ranking officers being bestowed with ribbons at the ceremony. Two of those three soldiers include: Paul Pensabat and Alain Weber.
Matti and Mr. H. are both diplomatic types but they received a first-hand lesson at what it looks like to be a world-class diplomat thanks to a morning hanging out with the French Ambassador to the United States. His name is 
François Delattre and he's a very nice guy, not to mention a great host for a great time. 

Here's what Ambassador Delattre had to say during special June 18th festivities in celebration of the 73rd Anniversary of Charles deGualle's speech to the people of France calling for resistance against the conquering force of the Nazis:

"Remember that in the spring of 1940, France had been invaded and occupied by the enemy. The French armed forces fought very courageously, losing some 120,000 soldiers, but also shooting down some 750 enemy aircraft, in only forty days of fierce combat. 
Those were days of extreme darkness and despair.
However, in the midst of disaster, General Charles de Gaulle, who did not accept defeat, flew to London with hopes of later reconquering the country. On June 18, 1940, from the studios of Britain’s national radio, the BBC, he appealed to the people of France to refuse to lay down their arms, to resist and to fight the invader."

The Ambassador then did a great job of joining the French Resistance with Operation Overlord: 
"With an astonishing premonition of what would take place four years later, General de Gaulle rekindled hope in the French people’s hearts when he proclaimed “France does not stand alone. She is not isolated. Behind her, lies a vast empire and she can align with the British Empire which commands the seas and is continuing the struggle. Like England, she can draw on the immense industrial resources of the United States.

In the cold mist of that gray morning, Operation Overlord brought the liberators to the soil of France where they broke through the wall of fire set off by the enemy.

They joined forces with the French Resistance – the Underground organization of half a million men and women – who had secretly assisted their D-Day Landings.

The people of France will never forget what the Sons of America sacrificed to restore France’s liberty."

Read more about our visit on the Ambassador's website 

The Naval Operations in the D-Day Landings at Operation Neptune        
Without the United States Navy there would have never been a successful invasion of Normandy. Just getting all those soldiers, weapons, trucks, supplies and more across the English Channel is a job that requires a few boats...okay, it requires a fleet of ships. Fortunately, the United States had exactly that and we learned from Dr. Sarandis Papadopoulos, who is also the Secretariat Historian for the Department of the U.S. Navy.

"Earn this"        
If you've seen "Saving Private Ryan" you probably remember when this line is delivered. After all that's been done and sacrificed, those who have gone before us need to know that what they gave will be used wisely. That's the message of the movie and it's something Matti and Mr. H. strive for throughout the trip. 

To Mr. H., this movie hit deeper than ever before. Matti had never seen it so it was all a new experience for her. To think that our soldier Virgil Tangborn went through those experiences really impacted us deeper than we both anticipated.
Mr. H. and Matti plan on "earning this" as we continue on our journey and dedicate ourselves to honor all who make this posssible. "We honor the sacrifice of our ancestors, the generosity of Albert Small, the flexibility of our families and everybody who made this Institute possible both coordinators, teachers and students--who else would we honor?" Mr. H. said. 

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