Honoring D-Day's Fallen
By Barbara Melendez
TAMPA, Fla. (May 20, 2010) – University of South Florida political science students studying abroad took part in a history lesson at the American Cemetery in Normandy, France this past weekend that will resonate through Memorial Day and their lifetimes. With a multinational crowd of approximately 200 people and the solemn strains of Taps from a bugler’s horn in the background, two students – one from the U.S. Army and the other from the U.S. Navy – formed a uniformed color guard to lower two American flags.
The ceremony was held in remembrance of the World War II D-Day invasion when thousands of paratroopers leapt from above and thousands of soldiers from the sea waded ashore under heavy enemy fire at Omaha Beach. More than 2,000 Americans lost their lives after landing in the foggy darkness to begin the liberation of Europe.
“Many of those soldiers and sailors are buried at the American Cemetery in Normandy. Most of them were the same age as our USF students,” said political science professor Janna Merrick, whose class just returned from studying in England and France. “There are two flagpoles at the Normandy Cemetery. In March, I mailed two flags to the cemetery. Both flags were flown on May 14. One flag belongs to USF and the other was provided by one of the students, Bryan Hamilton, and belongs to him.” She added that it was a “powerful learning experience for our USF students.”
Hamilton, a captain in the U.S. Army described the experience as a proud moment in his life and said, “I would do it again in a heartbeat.”
Navy ROTC Cadet Douglas Pistorius also took part after a day of touring the Normandy region and visiting many sites among them the beaches that figured in the invasion.
“The ceremony meant a great deal to me,” he said. “It gave me a chance to reflect on the day as a whole and all the sites I had seen and made me really humbled to be in a place of men and women of honor. It really made me feel proud to be wearing the uniform I do as I was thanked by numerous people for the job my forefathers did and for my service.”
Merrick did not make the side trip to Normandy, but Rene Sanchez, student program coordinator in the Department of International Affairs accompanied the class through London and Paris and continued to Normandy with a smaller group of seven students.
“It was a tremendously moving experience to be able to honor their sacrifice in this way,” said Sanchez. “One woman made a point of coming up to our students and thanking them with, ‘All I can say is God bless you Americans. You saved us. Thank you.’ To which one of our students replied with a smile. ‘You saved us in 1776; we were just returning the favor.’ I think there were some true trans-national, trans-cultural, person-to-person connections made during those visits. Our two students also got a chance to meet some retired French military who were eager to shake their hands and be photographed with them.”
USF’s flag from the ceremony has an accompanying certificate that reads: “This flag was flown over the Normandy American Cemetery in honor of the thousands of University of South Florida Students Studying Abroad, and in so doing, promoting global understanding one student, one university, and one country at a time.”
The students were part of Merrick’s course on urbanization and comparative politics. In the days prior they heard a lecture on counter terrorism by the City of London’s Police Director and visited historic sites in and around London. They then headed to Paris for another whirlwind tour that included a lecture at the American University of Paris and stops at the Eiffel Tower, the Arc de Triomphe and Notre Dame.
The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of only 25 public research universities nationwide with very high research activity that is designated as community engaged by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded $380.4 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2008/2009. The university offers 232 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The USF System has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 47,000 students on institutions/campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.