The 9th Junior ROTC Battalion from Ansbach Middle High School returned earlier this month from Normandy, where they participated in the 70th anniversary of D-Day commemorations.
In preparation for the trip, the battalion invited Paul Parent to speak with the students. Parent is a 92-year-old World War II veteran living in Ansbach. On D-Day he landed on Juno Beach while serving with the Canadian army. With his dual citizenship, he later joined the American Army in 1950.
During the trip, each cadet wore military ID tags to honor his or her veteran of choice. Some of the cadets learned they had family members who served in World War II and landed in Normandy on D-Day, and chose to honor them.
Cadet/Command Sgt. Maj. Kaitlynn Carson learned she had two family members who served on D-Day.
"My great-grandfather was the first person that came to my mind," Carson said as she stood on Omaha Beach. "He was in the second wave of ships to land on D-Day. I felt that walking on Omaha Beach was a bond that we shared."
Ansbach American Legion Post 1982 sponsored the trip, which allowed the battalion to fundraise outside the school. Without their support, the battalion would not have been able to make this trip. To help make the visit possible, the battalion hosted a World War II bingo game, where cadets wore 1940s uniforms and dresses while they waited on participants, and held two bake sales and a raffle.
During their trip, the cadets participated in several commemoration events, including a ceremony at the Brittany American Cemetery and Memorial in Saint-James on June 5. On June 6, the battalion participated in a musical review and parade at Sainte-Mère-Église, the first town liberated in France. Cadets also visited Mont Saint Michel Abbey, the Normandy American Cemetery, Omaha Beach, the Overlord Museum and Pointe Du Hoc.
Cadets said they were honored to meet British and American World War II veterans.
"I was excited because I never attended such an important event," said Cadet/1st Sgt. Dmitryi Henry. "It was memorable. It was a great honor to meet with veterans and thank them for what they were a part of."
They also spoke with other JROTC cadets and high school students from the United States who were participating in the commemoration.
"Meeting the veterans and seeing the locations really helped with understanding what happened," said Cadet/Master Sgt. Ross Starrit. "The French's gratitude showed what the sacrifice meant to them."
"I always heard numbers in history class, but when I saw the graves, I realized each was a real person with a story and a family," said Cadet/Staff Sgt. Rudiger Roberts.
Cadet/2nd Lt. Lane Starritt said he enjoyed being recognized by the mayor of Le Quiou, the town in Brittany where the battalion stayed.
"My favorite moment was when the mayor of Le Quiou recognized the battalion and rang church bells as we marched," he said. "The experience was very enlightening and showed how the French were still grateful for the actions of the Allies during World War II."
The cadets were featured in the local papers, and Mayor Arnaud Carré greeted the group before they left for Sainte-Mère-Église.
"In Quiou there are always many things happening, but today I am particularly honored and impressed to have the American flag in our town hall," said Carré.
After the singing of "La Marseillaise," the bells resonated throughout the town in honor the battalion.
"I was so proud of the cadets, they represented USAG Ansbach and the United States of America extremely well," said Retired Maj. Madonna L. Roberts, the senior Army instructor for 9th JROTC Bn. "I received many compliments from American, British and French citizens about the cadets and how they wore their uniforms and conducted themselves. It was also very touching watching them interact with the World War II veterans."
The battalion wishes to thank USAG Ansbach, Ansbach American Legion Post 1982, and the parents of the cadets, especially Mrs. Starritt and Mrs. Edsall who supported every fundraising event.