On his phone was a message from Wendell Tangborn, the brother of Virgil Tangborn who is the fallen Minnesota soldier being memorialized by Matti and Mr. H. during this Albert H. Small Normandy Institute. Mr. Tangborn said, "Please convey my thanks to Mr. Small when you meet him for sponsoring this institute. It means much to me to know my brother is not forgotten--even after the 70 years since he died."
The message was a poignant beginning to an evening that would serve as the official introduction and overview to the Institute. Matti and Mr. H, along with the other 14 students and teachers, were given the VIP treatment on the rooftop balcony of a building in the heart of D.C.. The host of the evening was Albert H. Small along with several others critical to the operation and success of the Institute.
Matti and Mr. H. took the first opportunity they could to share Wendell Tangborn's message to Mr. Small, as well as their own thanks. "It was so wonderful to meet Mr. Small in person and thank him for making all of this possible. Honoring the sacrifice of individuals who were part of one of the biggest events in history, a true turning point in history, is so important," Matti said.
The night began with an over presented by Robert Perry (a GWU Trustee, president of the National Trust for the Humanities and member of the National History Day Board of Trustees). Mr. Perry has worked with Mr. Small for many years and knew of the dream to send young people to Normandy dream long ago. "A vision without execution is an illusion," he said, officially welcoming our class of 2013.
Mr. Perry also shared one of his favorite quotes from Gordon England, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Defense: "Throughout history, brave men in decisive battles like Thermopylae, Gettysburg and Midway have changed the course of civilization. The same can be said of the men who fought here on D-Day sixty four years ago. They too, were a part of something huge and historic. Victory or defeat at Normandy would determine the future, not just for France or Europe, but for all of humanity. This operation proved to be the largest operation in human history, and none of it would have been possible without the United States Navy."
The group was also blessed to have Mortimer (Morti) Caplin speak about his experience on the beaches of Normandy on D-Day as a beach master--which basically meant that he was responsible for safely directing the landings to the proper locations and handling other logistics of the landing, all while having his back to the machine gun fire and waving semaphore flags to direct landing craft. "The bodies were all over with severed arms and legs floating everywhere, it looked like a wax museum," Caplin said. After his service, Caplin went on to serve in the White House as a commissioner in both the Kennedy and Johnson Administrations.
Matti and Mr. H. made sure to thank Mr. Caplin for his service and speaking to our group. They also took a photograph with him that you can see in the final trip overview once Mr. H. pulls photos off his camera memory card (all photos published here are iphone/ipad based so there will be much better ones later on). Read more about Mr. Caplin here: www.dcbar.org/for_lawyers/resources/legends_in_the_law/caplin.cfm
The gang is all here...
The Albert Small Normandy Institute Class of 2013 includes 15 teachers and 15 students from all across the United States. Some of the states represented include Minnesota, Illinois, Connecticut, Maryland, Kentucky, California, Iowa, Idaho, Georgia and even the territory of Puerto Rico.
Each of the 15 teacher-student pairs are now checked in and ready to go. The group is excited and all a buzz, still going through introductory conversations with each other. "We all know that this is something extraordinary but it still is hard to believe that it's actually happening," Mr. H. said. "The teachers keep talking about how great this is going to be for the students and also how fast the next 12 days are going to go for everybody," he added.
So far so good at the GWU dorms on the Mount Vernon campus. Lunch most days is on campus but those who arrived early took a walking field trip to check out the local flavors. Blacksalt Fish Market and Restaurant is a fantastic restaurant that makes an awesome crab cake sandwich. Nearby Palisades Pizzeria & Clam Bar is also a great place for a slice of pizza. In other good news, there is a Starbucks within walking distance. "With the population of the community growing by 15 teachers that Starbucks is sure to feel our presence," Mr. H. said.