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Local Student’s Essay Earns Him Trip To Visit Normandy

Aired 5/30/11 on KPBS Midday Edition.

As part of our Memorial Day program, we talk to Francis T. Parker High School junior Carson Scott and history teacher Cherie Redelings about their upcoming trip to Normandy, France. Scott earned a trip to Washington, D.C. and Normandy after writing an essay for the "Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom" program. We discuss the essay Scott wrote, and the California servicemember he chose to profile for the project.

Francis T. Parker High School Junior Carson Scott earned a trip to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial as part of the "Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom" program.  The cemetery contains the graves of 9,387 U.S. servicemembers who lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.
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Above: Francis T. Parker High School Junior Carson Scott earned a trip to visit the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial as part of the "Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom" program. The cemetery contains the graves of 9,387 U.S. servicemembers who lost their lives in the D-Day landings and ensuing operations.

As part of our Memorial Day program, we talk to Francis T. Parker High School junior Carson Scott and history teacher Cherie Redelings about their upcoming trip to Normandy, France. Scott earned a trip to Washington, D.C. and Normandy after writing an essay for the "Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom" program. We discuss the essay Scott wrote, and the California servicemember he chose to profile for the project.

Guests

Cherie Redelings, a history teacher at Francis T. Parker High School

Carson Scott, junior from Francis T. Parker High School who was selected to take part in the "Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom" program

Read Transcript

This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. Ceremonies honoring those who died in America's wars are of course taking mace around San Diego this memorial day. And it can seem especially moving when younger Americans take part in honoring men and women who've give their lives to secure the nation's freedom. In that same spirit, an 11th grader from San Diego is about to embark on a just wery of remembrance this summer that will take him to the beaches of norm Andy. I'd like to welcome Carson Scott, a junior from Francis parker high school who was selected to take part in the Normandy sacrifice for freedom program. Carson, welcome to Midday Edition.

SCOTT: Hi, thank you for having me.

CAVANAUGH: And also with us is Sherry Redlings, a history teacher at Francis Parker High School. Hi, Sherry.

REDLINGS: Hi.

CAVANAUGH: Now, our listeners are invited to join this conversation. Do you think students are learning enough about the history of America's wars? How are your children honoring memorial day? Give us a call with your comments. Our number here, 1-888-895-5727. That's 1-888-895-KPBS. Carson Scott, as I said, you're an 11th grader, a junior in high school. Can you remember how you first learned about the Dday invasion in Normandy?

SCOTT: Well, when I was younger, my grand father was actually a World War II veteran, used to tell me a lot of stories from his personal experience in the war. And he was the one who first shared with me the story of D-Day. He was very humble about his own experiences. But when he talked of what the soldiers did in Europe and especially in the invasion of Normandy, he spoke of them with great praise, and he talked about their courage. And of course I was a lot younger, so the version of it wasn't the full version, but he told me of a great army of ships coming together and actually invading fortressed Europe.

CAVANAUGH: Now, did you -- do your grandfather actually take apart in the D-Day invasion?

SCOTT: No, he was actually in the Pacific theatre of the war. He sevened on guattal canal.

CAVANAUGH: But he's the one that basically told you the story of the war. Now is it -- it's my understanding that you developed a particular fascination about World War II; is that right?

SCOTT: Yes. I think it comes a lot from my father who was also -- he was in the Marine Corps, but he also taught United States history as a professor, 20th century American history, specifically. So he kind of instilled in me a love for history. And in particular, World War II history, and I read a lot about it when I was younger, and that interest has continued to today.

CAVANAUGH: Carson, tell us a little bit about this program you're participating in. And how you were selected to go on this trip to norm andy.

SCOTT: Well, it's called the Albert H. Small Normandy institute sacrifice for freedom. And it's kind of in conjunction with national history day, which is a program that hosts a competition for student projects that I've participated in for several years now. And they put out this kind of selection process where every school could send one student and one teacher applicant to apply for this program. And I was first chosen through an essay contest within the school to be the school's applicant. And then Ms. Redlings and I sent our application into the national institute and were selected out of a pool of national applicants.

CAVANAUGH: And sherry redlings, let me bring you into the conversation. You are going with Carson along on this trip.

REDLINGS: That's right.

CAVANAUGH: To both Washington DC, and then over to France. What's the purpose of this program?

REDLINGS: Well, one of the interests of national history day, and especially of the Albert H. Small institute is acquainting students and teachers with primary source material about the invasion. The generation that actually participated in the invasion won't be with us forever. And so the documents they produced are really important. We'll be not only hearing lectures from professors at George Washington University, and then the U.S. naval institute, but we'll be visiting the national archives and pureeing over letters and diaries. And then more official communiques from generalizen hour, and some of the other service people involved. And then of course when we actually visit Normandy, we'll be seeing museums, we'll be seeing the actual beaches, the town of we have thor ham, Sainte-Mère-Église, many of the actual sites where the invasion took place.

CAVANAUGH: We have a caller on the line. We are taking your comments at 1-888-895-5727. Charlotte is calling from Point Loma. Good morning, Charlotte, and welcome to These Days.

NEW SPEAKER: Good morning, hey, as a high school teacher and someone who has visited the D-Day beaches twice, I just wanted to encourage the young man, if he gets the chance to not only visit the American cemetery but also the German cemetery. It's very close, and unfortunately there's no public transportation in the area so you'll have to ask your tour guide or whoever is driving you to get you to that cemetery. But the -- the contrast between them is really fascinating if you're doing any type of reports or anything afterwards to be able to see the kind of heroic American cemetery, and then the very more dark or somber German one. It would just be a fantastic experience.

CAVANAUGH: Charlotte, thank you. Yeah, thank you for that tip to someone who's already been there and visited that whole area, these really sacred sites where so many people gave so much. Carson, I know that you've selected a particular veteran who died on the beaches of Normandy, who's buried in the American cemetery in France. Tell us about who you're selected.

SCOTT: Well, my fallen soldier who I've chosen to select, his name is captain frank M. Fitch junior. And he's originally from cedar rapids, Iowa, but after select he decided to move out here with his father who was a widower and live with him in Los Angeles where he eventually joined the service. And he was part of the invasion of Omaha beach, which was one of the major invasion sites especially for the American troops. And he was supposed to land at a landing point called Easy Red on Omaha beach with the first division 18th regiment. And he was a company commander of L. Company. But sadly, only a few hours after landing, he was killed on the beach. And I've read several firsthand accounts from soldiers in his company who have documented that the -- it was tough fighting from the beginning that their company commander, frank M. Fitch, was killed right away, which was I big hit to the company because it causes a lot of confusion when --

CAVANAUGH: Sure, when your leader's gone. Yes. Absolutely. Sherry, you're also doing some research I believe about a San Diego soldier; is that right?

REDLINGS: Yes, that's right. In using the web just to get more information about San Diego's involvement in the invasion, I found the name of a fallen soldier from my Alma Mater, San Diego state. His name is Herman Edelson. And he was known as the guy who sold cokes at the San Diego state basketball games. He graduated in 1941. And he was part of the paratroopers.

CAVANAUGH: I see. And he also lost his life?

REDLINGS: He also lost his life on June sixth, that first morning.

CAVANAUGH: I can't help but wonder, Carson, how many -- first of all, have you seen the movie saving private Ryan with that unforgettable opening scene about the D-Day invasion?

SCOTT: Yes, I have. And I've also seen -- I recently watched as part of the program the movie the longest day as well. And it also depicts the landing at D-Day. And it's pretty incredible what you see in those kind of films, and I can imagine that the real thing was perhaps even more terrifying than they make it out to be in the movies from the accounts I've read. Just these guys landing on a beach. Most of them are -- at least a good portion of them have never been in combat before. And they're terrified they're going into withering sniper fire, artillery fire from Germans who are dug in up in the cliffs. But they somehow found a way to keep moving.

CAVANAUGH: Sherry, I wonder how many of your students -- how popular culture has shaped their understanding of World War II.

REDLINGS: Well, it's interesting. A lot of -- there's been a lot of information about the holocaust. So I would say that the average high school student knows a lot about the holocaust. Perhaps there hasn't been as much publicity about some of the other actions. There has been since the letters from Iwo Jima, the recent movie, students know about the Pacific. But maybe not a lot about the other endeavors in Europe.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What do your friends, Carson, think about the history of World War II? Is it fascinating to other members of your generation?

SCOTT: Some people are interested. Others not so much. I mean, a lot of my friends who do history day with me also -- are also very interested and also applied for the program as well. But the vast majority of my friends when I talk to them about the trip, they're more interested in the fact that I'm going to France for free than what I'm actually studying. But there are a lot of kids who do take interest and do participate in the study and the remembrance of this kind of history.

CAVANAUGH: How many of these teacher student combos actually won this award across the nation?

REDLINGS: There were 15 teacher student pairs who were awarded -- out of over a hundred team applicants.

CAVANAUGH: That's really an honor then. How did you help, if you did, Carson prepare his essay?

REDLINGS: I actually didn't.

CAVANAUGH: Ah, ha. I knew of Carson's interest in World War II, and I just said write an essay about the significance of Normandy. And it was a very short essay. And Carson a essay managed in the very few worlds allowed not only to convey the importance of the invasion militarily but the importance in the American world view about the war.

CAVANAUGH: Can you talk to me a little bit more about that, Carson?

SCOTT: Sure. What I tried to convey in the essay and what I really believe about D-Day was that it was kind of an event that spoke to the American character, this grandiose naval invasion, this big deal, and it just -- it was the defining moment, I believe, at least on the American side of the war. It wasn't the battle with the most casualties, or the most important militarily. The United States actually already had a foot hold on the European continent in Italy when D-Day happened. But really for morale it kind of showed that we could win the war, and that we could do it in this grand fashion, and that it was -- it was really an American thing to do this.

CAVANAUGH: What are you hoping to get out of this visit?

SCOTT: I'm really hoping to connect more personally with the event, I think, through my research with the soldier I will lay a reef on his grave in the cemetery, and I'll visit the beaches where he walked, and where so many others walked or ran up the beach head into fire. And I think I'll kind of connect more with the bravery and the courage that these men had when they sacrificed their lives for our freedom. And so I'm kind of hoping to make this more personal for me.

CAVANAUGH: And as a history teacher, what do you think you'll be bringing back from this really extraordinary experience of 15 student teacher couples throughout the entire United States is quite an honor? What will you be bringing back with you?

REDLINGS: Well, the definable part of it will be documents, visual images, and primary sources that really aren't readily available unless you go to France. But perhaps a little more undefinable is I always hope to communicate to my students the attitude of people at the time that we're studying. And that's a very difficult thing to do. Students nowadays, who are 17, 18 year-olds back then, back in the 1940s would have been enlisting. They would have been giving their lives. They might only have six months left to live. And their families were giving their kids. And that's a pretty different mind set. So I'm hoping to communicate some of that too.

CAVANAUGH: Is part of this experience, this trip over to Normandy, is part of it the idea that you'll do some sort of project on it or bring back something to your fellow classmates, Carson?

SCOTT: Yes, the group is gonna be preparing after the trip, I believe, a website that includes kind of our findings, both about our fallen soldiers and our experiences on the trip as kind of a cumulative project of what we've learned throughout the entire process.

CAVANAUGH: Well, I can tell that you're both -- you are not only knowledgeable but in Ernest about this. This is a very serious thing for you. And the honor of going and bringing along the memory of a California soldier with you is very important to you. But on a lighter -- somewhat lighter note, what are you excited about in this trip? Is just the plane trip or what?

SCOTT: So many things. I mean, to go to Washington DC, I also have a really strong interest in politic, and that's kind of the center of that if this country. And to go to France, I just finished a AP French language course this year, and I'll be able to use the French that I've been working so hard to learn and communicate with the French people. I love the French culture. So that aspect of it too, and then of course just the history of the place, both in World War II and even further back than that. It's just gonna be incredible for me to experience it firsthand.

CAVANAUGH: And what are you excited about, sherry?

REDLINGS: Well, I'm a world history teacher. And I can't wait to see the bayew tapestry. I've seen it in textbooks for 25 years, and now I'm gonna see it in purpose. That is so incredible.

CAVANAUGH: Oh, that is fabulous. I've been speaking with Carson Scott, a junior from Francis parker high school, and his history teacher, Sherry Redlings, both heading to Normandy this summer as part of the national history day project, and I want thank you both so much.

REDLINGS: Thank you.

SCOTT: Thank you.

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