Howard Community College professor Fred Campbell is about to take his third group of students to the site of the Allied invasion of Europe during World War II, with the hope that, like students before them, the group with return with a perspective of Normandy they rarely get in American history classes.
"Most Americans, and it's understandably so, look at World War II through the lens of America's participation. When we go over there … they see this in an international light, and it gives them a broader idea about the impact of this war," said Campbell, who heads the college's World War II study-abroad program.
The course he teaches analyzes the events leading up to World War II and explores such topics as the Holocaust, victims of the war and the conflict's noncombatants. The course culminates with a nine-day trip to Europe that includes touring Normandy, the section of northern France where Allied forces landed in 1944 to liberate the country from Germany. The invasion was a turning point of the war.
The group's tour will include museum and cemetery visits, and a trip to an artificial harbor built to supply the Allied forces..
The course, which begins next month, is among 12 study-abroad programs offered by HCC, and for Christele Cain, HCC's international education director, who grew up in France, it hits close to home.
"Being in France, the way we learn World War II is slightly different from here," Cain said. "Before high school, you're already looking at movies of piles of corpses."
Campbell, a history professor at HCC for the past nine years, became involved with the school's study-abroad program four years ago and has taken students to Ireland, Scotland and Turkey.
After developing the World War II program two years ago, he said, fellow professor Mary Ann Massoglia gave him the book "Battalion Attention: Bridges to Freedom," a personal account of the war that was written by her father, Martin F. Massoglia.
"He had served in the 238th Combat Engineer Battalion in World War II and was involved in the Normandy landing," said Campbell. "I found out that the 238th has annual gatherings, and I thought it may be interesting for my students to meet some of these gentlemen before our trip. On March 6, one of the veterans will visit our college and speak of his experiences to our student body."
Campbell added that the veteran, who lives in North Carolina, might accompany the class to Normandy.
Some of the students who have gone on previous trips had relatives who served in the war, and they say that visiting Normandy offers a broader perspective of accounts they've heard.
Former HCC student Michael Athen, who went on the Normandy trip two years ago and now attends Salisbury University, said he grew up hearing about World War II. He said his grandfather served in the war stateside and that his uncle was captured during the Battle of the Bulge.
Still, he said, Normandy "was different than what I imagined it to be. Everybody has a feeling that there are bunkers along the beaches of Normandy. What they don't realize is that within every [barbed-wire] entanglement, which is probably every half-mile of the beaches of Normandy, there are several bunkers."
Imagine being on a beach that has 15 of these entanglements, and more than 100 German soldiers firing at the beach, Athen said. "Everybody knew it was chaotic, but … you couldn't imagine what these soldiers faced storming the beaches."
A marketing and management major who hopes to pursue a career in health care for the elderly, Athen said the visit to Normandy gave him deeper insight into earlier generations. He said the group was touring a small town in France, and while standing outside a church, the mayor of the town approached the group and thanked them.
"The mayor didn't speak any English, but our tour guide translated for us," said Athen. "He told us later that that town had lost more people to American friendly fire, but they thought so much of the Americans, and every time they made improvements to the church they made a dedication to the Americans who fought the war. Here they were in the middle of a war zone, and they're so grateful for the liberation by the Americans. I would have still been angry [about] losing family members to friendly fire."
Said Campbell, "We have a perception about French and American relations in the modern world, that the French don't like us sometimes, and there is a level of antagonism. It couldn't be further from the truth in Normandy. You see more American and British flags flying in this area, and the war is still particularly a presence there."