While visiting the National World War II Museum, students of the 2013 Normandy Academy class climb inside a Sherman tank. (Photo courtesy of the National World War II Museum)

Students follow the footsteps of World War II heroes

The National World War II Museum in New Orleans is offering high school and college students a unique opportunity to develop leadership skills based on the leaders of World War II. The 10-day study abroad program, called Normandy Academy, starts at the museum and culminates with a visit to France.

Highlights of the program, run in conjunction with Nicholls State University in Thibodaux, La., include:

  • A behind-the-scenes tour of the World War II museum. Students will go inside a Sherman tank and take up the crew positions inside.
  • A tour of a little church in a French town called Angoville-au-Plain. During the war, two American medics used the church to treat soldiers from both sides, as long as they left their weapons outside.
  • A tour of Pointe du Hoc, "one of the most popular destinations students talk about when they come back," according to Nathan Huegen, the museum’s assistant director for education.
  • A presentation by Legionnaire Tom Blakey, a veteran of the 82nd Airborne Division, who jumped on D-Day. At the museum, students will hear Blakey describe the three-day battle for a key bridge. Later, in France, they will visit the area. "They can imagine his words telling them about the flooded area, and they can look down the road as Tom Blakey did, seeing Germans approach through the scope on his rifle," Huegen said. "It really becomes a powerful experience for them because they have connected with someone who was there."

Students, in groups of three, will be required to present their research on a project. This year, students will analyze a specific leadership decision that took place in Operation Overlord 70 years ago, such as the strategy of destroying certain bridges and the taking of other bridges.

Since it costs thousands of dollars for the program itself and the airfare, Huegen recommends that prospective students seek out sponsors in their local communities.

"Some of the best students we’ve received are deserving students that the local community has banded together and found a way to sponsor the students’ trips," he said. "These students have come back and given presentations for the local libraries, schools, community centers on how it has impacted them and helped them grow as scholars, students and citizens."

Students who participate in Normandy Academy are eligible to receive three credit hours after a rigorous online course administered by the museum and the history department of Nicholls State. For more information, call (877) 813-3329, extension 514 or visit www.ww2museumtours.org.

The timeline:

March 31: Applications and the initial deposit are due.

Mid-April: Classes start online. Every few days, teachers will mentor and hold discussions online, and the students will begin their projects.

June 21: Students arrive in New Orleans for the museum tour, hear presentations by World War II veterans and more.

June 23: The group departs for Normandy and other places of interest.