By Harry Laver
Southeastern Louisiana University, Department of History
This past June, I had the pleasure of guiding a group of students and friends of Southeastern Louisiana University on an “Operation Overlord” study abroad program, in conjunction with Stephen Ambrose Historical Tours. As in previous years, this summer’s program was an outstanding educational and cultural experience for the students, many of whom had never traveled outside the United States.
Upon arrival in England, we set out on a tour of London with one of the city’s best Blue Badge guides as our host. The Imperial War Museum, with its displays on the World Wars and powerful exhibit on the Holocaust, was our next stop, followed by a visit to Churchill’s War Rooms, where shadows of cigar smoke still seem to linger.
Eisenhower’s headquarters at Southwick House in Portsmouth provided a powerful reminder of Overlord’s immensity and the tremendous responsibility Ike carried in the hours leading up to D-Day. After a night-time Channel crossing, a warm French sun welcomed us to Normandy for a day of visits to Pegasus Bridge, the Mulberry Harbor remnants at Arromanche, Longues-sur-Mer and its still impressive gun battery, and the somber La Cambe German cemetery.
The next morning Private John Steele, or at least his likeness, greeted us from the church steeple in Sainte-Mère-Église. The dunes of Utah Beach, the cratered cliffs of Pointe du Hoc, and the formidable bluffs of Omaha Beach were each impressive in their own way, but as with every visit to Normandy, the most moving experience was walking the American Cemetery and contemplating the tremendous loss represented by each lone white cross.
Studying abroad allows students to experience history firsthand and develop a deeper understanding of those who came before, the challenges they faced, and the sacrifices they made. Additionally, by engaging with peoples of different cultures, students discover that around the world people are not all that different from us. All these are wonderful lessons that you can’t learn by staying home. I’m ready to go again next year!