NC to Normandy Students Receive American Legion Award
More than a year ago, a group of current and former French students at Smith Middle School (SMS), along with teachers Robin McMahon and Tony Carter, began fundraising in earnest for their trip to Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of D-Day. The trip wasn’t “just” a journey to one of the greatest sites of world history from the 20th century; it was a gift and service to two World War II veterans who fought at Normandy. Because of the energy, dedication and months of fundraising, Jacques Michienzi and George Chall were able to travel back to Omaha Beach with young translators from CHCCS. The students call themselves the Envoys of Honor and created the motto "Where Honor and Service Meet History".
On Tuesday, September 10, the NC to Normandy “family,” as they now refer to themselves, assembled at the local American Legion building for a time of sharing and celebration with more than 75 veterans from across the generations. Unbeknownst to the students, the American Legion Auxiliary had nominated them for the national American Legion Auxiliary Good Deed Award, which they received at the presentation.
The award letter states, “The committee created the award to recognize girls and boys like you, who demonstrate a kind, caring act of selflessness. We use these opportunities of these awards to be able to show your deed(s) as an example for your friends, classmates and family to do selfless acts in their everyday lives.”
Five of the six CHCCS students attended the event, as well as their teacher-organizers, McMahon and Tony Carter of SMS. Both veterans, Chall and Michienzi, were present, in addition to Victoria Chall, wife of George, and John Haynes, a renowned World War II presenter and friend of Michienzi, who accompanied the group to Normandy. Most of them shared a few words (or more!) with the appreciative and engaged audience of Legion members and their family and friends.
Student Cathy Charles described a day in France when the group was eating lunch at a restaurant, and a family with young children stopped to speak to the veterans. “They got to know John and Jacques, and they gave them a pencil that said, ‘Let’s Never Forget,’ without knowing what it meant. It really touched me because these kids were very young and they took the time to say thank you. The family still keeps in touch with John.”
Student Matthew Griesedieck reported that George spoke with a German man, who was also attending the commemoration. Afterwards, Griesedieck asked George, “How do you feel about Germans now?”
Griesedieck recalled walking out on Normandy Beach with Chall. “He was so reflective. There was some sadness.” But as they left the beach, Chall told him that he was no longer sad. “He was happy the beach is no longer a war zone,” Griesedieck said.
At the American Legion event, Chall was clearly very moved as he took the microphone and spoke to the large crowd. “I can’t begin to tell you how profoundly enriched I was by this experience. I will never forget the joy and meaning you all brought to me,” he said directly to the students. “Not only as a family, but as a public-service oriented group.”
Chall continued, “I feel much heartened about the future of our nation by virtue of the wonderful young people who joined with us for this important pilgrimage to Normandy. That’s what it was, especially for me. I met so many people who stopped in their tracks as they realized we are living history. They wanted us to know how important we were, and it was a very emotional thing, after 75 years, thinking and talking about the sacrifices made. It’s very uplifting, knowing we have young people who are very much aware of those sacrifices.”
The work of the Envoys of Honor has not ended with their recent presentation and award. Carter shared his pride and appreciation for the students who have become like family. “The students are initiating what to do next and how we can serve more local veterans in different ways in the community. It is very encouraging to know this is more to them than the opportunity to go to France, they want to honor our veterans.”
To learn more about the extraordinary trip to Normandy, please visit NC to Normandy, as well as their Facebook page NC to Normandy.