While preparing for a trip to Normandy, France one of our NETC Tour Directors spoke with his grandfather about his experience landing on the beaches of Normandy during World War II. The combination of hearing his account and visiting the site impacted him in a deeply meaningful way. From his experience, NETC created the LEAP! activity – Soldiers’ Stories.
Soldiers’ Stories is a Tour Director led LEAP! activity that allows students to relive experiences, via testimonials, from the battles at Normandy while at the actual location where the fighting took place.
During the activity, students are given different real-life testimonies of people who were there on that fateful day. Speaking in the first-person and remaining “in character” throughout, they outline their personal experiences to the rest of the group. Students might step into the shoes of a paratrooper on his first jump, an Army Ranger who scaled the cliff at Pointe du Hoc, a soldier in the first wave to land on Omaha beach or even a German soldier whose job it was to fire at the arriving masses. They answer questions from the Tour Director about their experience on that day. What was their mindset before leaving the landing boat? How did they feel when they heard the German gunfire? How did they feel when they finally reached the beach? What was the emotional impact of the day?
Being in the exact place where this momentous event happened and visiting the graves of the fallen soldiers automatically profoundly impacts the students. Stepping into the shoes of people who were actually there and recounting their tales of heroism ensures this activity adds even more to the visit by giving students a unique perspective on the Normandy landings and simulating the experience in a way that a book never could.
The goal of all LEAP! activities is to elevate the travel experience to something more than simply tourism. Soldiers’ Stories takes the magnificent location of Normandy and creates an experience that will have an everlasting affect on students, bringing what they’ve learned to life in a new way.