More Roaring Fork Valley students to see Normandy in 2019
Special to the Post Independent
Earlier this month, the Wall Street Journal suggested on its editorial page that, “perhaps American philanthropists could send young Americans to Normandy to see the D-Day beaches and American cemeteries.”
The idea was a proposed remedy to the perceived ignorance of U.S. youth about civics and history.
Apparently, the Journal was unaware that, for the last two years, local high school students have done exactly that, thanks to a local philanthropist. It’s one thing to learn about D-Day through a textbook; it’s quite another to visit Omaha Beach, where soldiers spilled out of the landing crafts onto the sand in June 1944, or to walk the cemeteries where thousands on both sides of the conflict were buried.
“You can read that more than 425,000 soldiers were killed in the Battle of Normandy, but seeing the ground where they rest … is a much more powerful experience,” wrote student Sarah Helm of Glenwood Springs High School, who visited Normandy in June 2018.
Basalt High School’s Christopher Tomaskovic marveled at how “we could explore the bunkers and artillery emplacements. It was different to see the Germans’ perspective while the Allies were invading the beaches.”
These personal experiences were provided by Aspen Glen resident Paul Bushong. For two years, the 90-year-old veteran of the Korean War has sent groups of nine to 12 Roaring Fork Valley teens to Normandy for a guided tour of the area. Another group will take the same trip in June 2019. (For information or to apply, call the Aspen Community Foundation at 970-925-9300.)
“Normandy may be the most significant historic event in the last 100 years,” Bushong says. “If it weren’t for Normandy, we might have lost the war, and we might all be speaking German.”
Several years ago, Bushong enlisted the Aspen Community Foundation and the National World War II Museum in New Orleans to help him offer the trip. The students spend a total of 12 days, first in New Orleans and then in France, immersing themselves in the people, the weaponry, the strategy and the aftermath of the largest amphibious invasion in history. Guides from the New Orleans museum accompany the group from start to finish.
Bushong and the Community Foundation ask that each family contribute $1,000 toward the overall cost of the trip, but the students are asked only to spread the word to their peers and the community about their experience. Only sophomores and juniors are eligible, in order that they have time to share their stories. Bushong fears that, as the decades go by, cultural awareness of the war and the freedoms preserved by the Allied victory will be lost.
“I really want them to spread the news, if you will, about Normandy,” he says.
As an example, several Glenwood High students shared stories and slides from Normandy at a Dec. 7 Rotary meeting in Glenwood. Participants in the 2019 trip will be asked to do the same, but there is no shortage of material.
In a thank-you note to Bushong, GSHS student Mariana Hoyos explained how, on the students’ last day in France, they were each given a white rose to lay on a headstone at the American Cemetery, where some 9,400 soldiers were buried.
“I chose to lay mine on Finley M. Blair’s headstone for two reasons. One, he was from Colorado, and my best friend’s name is Finlay. The rest of the day the whole group was fairly quiet. I’d like to think we were all thinking about those who laid their lives on the line for their country.”
Bob Ward handles public relations for the Aspen Community Foundation.