With her journal tucked in her arm, LeAnne Ding knelt quietly where U.S. Navy WWII veteran Ed Chappell beached his Landing Craft Tank six times on Omaha Beach on D-Day 1944. Seventy-one years later, the Chapel Hill eighth-grader reflected on historical events that included this brave man she had met a year earlier.
Except for the soothing slapping of waves on a peaceful beach, silence reigned as words of reverence, honor and pride were recorded in the journals of 31 North Carolina students on a Belgian exchange trip in March. They will always remember.
When they reached the look-out point of Omaha Beach and gazed over the unremitting rows of white crosses and Stars of David at the American Cemetery, these eighth- and ninth-grade students gave thanks to Chappell and Mark Sumner, another WWII veteran who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, as well as to all veterans whose bravery brought us freedom.
Eighth-grade student Zoe Volmer reflects:
Normandy was a tidal wave of emotions. I’ve never felt that conflicted emotionally in my life. Going to Omaha Beach, the cemetery and the D-Day museum in one day, was almost too much. But just almost. Normandy was where I found out the most about myself. When I walked onto Omaha Beach, that’s where it started. As I was walking on the beach, I realized that life was too short. You have one life, and as far as you know, it could end tomorrow. The sacrifices that those men laid out on those beaches is unbelievable. I couldn’t look at the water without thinking of the red ocean and hundreds of thousands of men, boats and tanks. The devastation didn’t seem real until I set foot on those beaches. And the feelings were confirmed when we were in the cemetery. Seeing the length of the rows of graves really hit me.
On May 2, Ed Chappell died just hours after the Chapel Hill-Carrboro students who had taken him back to Normandy for the 70th Commemoration Ceremony last June visited him at the Durham Veterans Hospital. Chappell’s legacy will live on in the stories recorded by these teens in a future “NC to Normandy” documentary. Through the words and actions of our young people, it is evident they do honor those who sacrifice for our liberty.
Robin McMahon is a French teacher at Smith Middle School in Chapel Hill.