Celebrating American Heroes: The Normandy Academy





September 11, 2017


The $4,000 scholarship allowed Christine to spend two weeks exploring historic sites in New Orleans and France this summer! 

Through the Academy, students are challenged to consider and learn from the impactful choices WWII officers and soldiers faced during the historic D-Day invasions. Students learn in both New Orleans - where Andrew Higgins designed and manufactured Higgins boats, arguably the most important facet in Allied victory on D-Day - and Normandy, France, where those boats landed and helped the Allies surge to triumph in World War II. A college-credit option is administered by Nicholls State University.

Christine maintains a 4.4 GPA while playing on the POLAHS varsity Soccer team and a club team (as captain of both)! She also volunteers at her local hospital shadowing orthopedic surgeons, at the Cabrillo Marine Aquarium, and at POLAHS creating artistic projects. She plans on attending college to major in Chemistry or Biology. Christine’s rigorous POLAHS History classes prepared her for the Academy and the University class. 






I wanted to send you an email to let you know how my trip went. I hope that you received my letters and postcard that I sent you. 


New Orleans

The first three days of the trip were in New Orleans at the National World War II Museum. We spent our time walking and exploring the museum and learning so much about the war. It was amazing how much information they had about the war in one place! We even got to go behind the scenes and see some of the actual artifacts from the war. I got to hold a pin that was found in Hitler's desk - one that he probably held himself! I also got more information about WWII in the exhibits and movies that we watched. I heard the stories of the war from veterans that volunteer at the museum. We even explored yearbooks from the war to see the impact that it had. 


This trip was the first time I had been to New Orleans and out of the country. New Orleans was an interesting city and I could see the French influence. I really liked the French Quarter because of the amazing food and unique people. 









Then, we landed in Paris and had a small tour of the Eiffel Tower and the Arc de Triomphe. It was surreal to be there in person!! The people in Paris drive crazily; I saw two accidents happen just driving through! I am happy that our group was in a huge bus - everyone made sure to stay clear of us. 



We went to Bayeux and checked into our hotel, where we would stay for the rest of the trip. France had so much history - everywhere! The streets were made of cobblestone and all the buildings were made a few hundred years ago. I saw many buildings and artifacts that were older than the United States itself! Also, walking through the small French towns, I could see their gratitude to the Allied nations - even to this day. Various restaurant windows had grateful messages like, "Welcome to our Liberators," or a simple, "Thank you!" 


I loved exploring the old houses and museums that we went to. We went to one house where German commanders lived during the war. It was built in the early 1800's. This was the site where the first German commander was killed by Allied paratroopers - a crucial part in the war. I got to see, and stand next to, huge bunkers with guns that the Germans used to protect their beaches. I learned that they could fire for miles!! We also went to Pegasus Bridge, Le Grand Bunker, and a 360 degree theater. 










D-Day Beaches

Our group went to the beaches that were crucial on D-Day. It was surreal to be at a place where so many people lost their lives fighting for our country. I liked walking on Utah and Omaha beach because that is where I knew that the American soldiers landed and headed further into France. I also saw many different museums with artifacts from the war. I really liked seeing those because most of the items behind the glass were artifacts that I got to hold back in New Orleans. We explored Sainte Mere Eglise, the Airborne Museum, the Veteran memorial, a mansion that housed German generals, Utah beach, and the Utah Beach Museum. For me, seeing such iconic places like Sainte Mere Eglise and Utah beach were surreal. I had been studying all of the major events of the war that happened there, and it was amazing to see it in person.


The history of France was amazing to see, and one of my favorite parts. We took a day to take a tour of Bayeux from a local tour guide who was born and raised there. He informed us that Bayeux was so well preserved because very little fighting went on here. In fact, the Allies took Bayeux over without any German soldiers around because they had retreated. Therefore, the city was made into multiple hospitals during the war. The streets were made of stone and the buildings were all hundreds of years old. The cathedral that was in the center of the city had paintings from the eleventh century! I also got to see the Bayeux tapestry that was an embroidered cloth that was about 210 feet long. It took about eleven years to make! It told a story about the king of the Nomads who went into battle with a neighboring village. 






College Class

As part of the college class that I took, we studied a lot about Pointe du Hoc and the Rangers that were assigned to scale a cliff. These Rangers were highly trained but had a high casualty rate. Nonetheless, they were sent to climb a steep cliff with German artillery at the top. When I got there, immediately I noticed the huge holes in the ground. Some were the size of a bus! Later, I was informed that the Allied forces heavily bombed the area to help the Rangers to scale the cliff with less pressure from the Germans. We also went into the bunkers that the Germans lived in waiting for the Allied troops to come. 



Collette: The French Resistance Fighter

One of my favorite parts of my trip was a woman named Collette who was born in 1929. She was a French Resistance fighter during the war... when she was only a teenager! The war ended when she was sixteen and she had been part of the resistance for years before. Her family would help the cause by having Collette track German license plates, collect extra food stamps for illegal French Resistance fighters, and even make wreaths for the fighters' graves. This was punishable by death at the time! Collette said that she made these wreaths in order to commemorate the fallen soldiers and to distract the German soldiers from the war. Her family would also hide guns in their ceiling and leaflets in their piano. Unfortunately, Collette's five other brothers and father died in the war. Only her mother and she were left after WWII. Despite this, Collette was the happiest person that I have ever met. She was so optimistic and friendly. I am so lucky to have met a woman like her! She has inspired me to live my life to the fullest and gave me some memorable quotes. When we thanked her for sharing her story, she humbly said, "Oh no, thank you! Without you, I would be speaking German right now." She also said something very powerful: "You have had to be very unhappy to know when you are truly happy." 




American Cemetery

On the last day of the trip, our tour group went to the American Cemetery. Although I had already experienced some degree of realization about how devastating this war was, nothing prepared me for the impact that this cemetery had. Walking onto the grounds, I immediately saw thousands of crosses overlooking the ocean. Later, I learned that 9,000 soldiers were buried here! Their graves were marked with a cross or a Jewish star. They all faced westward, towards America. We were given time to walk around and place a rose on a grave. I placed my rose on Everett J. Gray's grave. He was from California and a paratrooper in the 101st division. I chose him because he was from the place that I am from and was a paratrooper, one of the most dangerous and dedicated positions in the Army. We also had a ceremony for the soldiers at the memorial site. There was a statue that represented the youth of the American troops. The average age of the Americans that died and served in the war was only 24 years old. This is the location where everything that I saw, learned about, and felt on this experience came together. 







There were about twenty-five other students in program with me. They came from many different parts of the country. It was neat to meet people with so many different accents and backgrounds. I now have friends in Louisiana, Nebraska, Texas, Massachusetts, Colorado, Washington DC, and Illinois! I became so close with the people on this trip because of the amazing experience we all shared. In our free time, some of my friends and I would walk around Bayeux exploring the sites, tasting the desserts, and walking around the beautiful city. I feel so lucky to have met these brilliant people that share the same adventurous spirit that I have. Of course I will keep in touch! I look forward to reconnecting with the people from this trip in the future. 





I am so amazed that I got the opportunity to experience this trip. I still cannot believe that I actually went! I learned so much about World War II, France, the importance of leadership, and myself on this trip. I am so grateful to you [my trip sponsor] and my teachers who helped make this trip a reality to me. I cannot express enough how thankful I am that you gave me this amazing opportunity. This trip has truly changed my life and my perspective on it. I have a new, deeper appreciation for our strong country. I did not expect that this trip would have this big of an impact on my outlook of life. I am forever grateful for the irreplaceable memories that I gained from my trek to New Orleans and Normandy, France. 




Christine Messner