Today marks 73 years since D-Day, a pivotal moment in World War II history when the Allies (the United States, Great Britain and Canada) stormed the German-held Normandy beaches in France to free western Europe from the Nazis.
Jeff Donor, a seventh grade World History teacher at Sneed Middle School, and Anna Hasenkamp, a seventh grade World History teacher at Williams Middle School discussed the significance of World War II’s D-Day.
“It shows how much we can achieve as Americans with support from our allies,” Hasenkamp said. “General Dwight Eisenhower, in charge of the operation, said there was no other way but victory.”
According to the two teachers, key people in D-Day were Great Britain’s Winston Churchill, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Soviet Premier Joseph Stalin and German Chancellor Adolph Hitler.
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Hasenkamp said plans for D-Day started in 1943 between Franklin D. Roosevelt, Churchill and Stalin.
“FDR and the Americans brought the muscle and support,” Donor said. “Great Britain had the intelligence.”
Great Britain was one of the few areas in western Europe that Hitler was unable to conquer.
“The English Channels near Great Britain was where the troops gathered and prepared for invasion of Normandy,” Hasenkamp said.
The two said what also helped with the Normandy invasion was Great Britain’s high volumes of espionage, especially Operation Fortitude.
Operation Fortitude was Great Britain’s way of tricking Germans to believe that they were not going to invade Normandy by sea. They had fake encoded messages and recordings to make it seem as if troops were marching.
The two said they have to engage the students when it comes to D-Day.
“Our curriculum standards for seventh grade World History basically has one sentence that basically says ‘D-Day happened,’” Hasenkamp said.
They said the textbook has information on D-Day, but not much of it.
Billy Andrews, an eighth grade South Carolina History teacher at Sneed, said his students often have interviewed those involved in World War II to get their perspective of D-Day and World War II. His students look at books and videos about it and give him a response about it.
The same goes for Hasenkamp and Donor.
All three said it is difficult to bring a speaker in, because there are few D-Day veterans in the area or their memory of the event is fading.
“It’s up to us to put more information behind it," Donor said. "The kids can connect with it more when we provide extra information.”
Haskenkamp said she does not use video footage when she talks about D-Day, but she shows her students photos. She likes to show images of the preparation for D-Day, during D-Day and the aftermath of it. The National World War II Museum has images of preparation for D-Day such as stacks of supplies like guns, stacks of weapons, airplanes ready to take off and the boats used for the attack.
Donor said he likes to use images as well when he teaches his students. He said one of his favorite images is one of soldiers looking from a Normandy beach, and there is a huge gray shadow in the distance. That shadow is actually a cliff that the Allied soldiers had to climb.
“Images like that show the resolve of the soldiers fighting as they go through machine gun fire, land mines and other weapons,” Donor said. “All of them had one goal: ‘If we don’t win this battle, this war will drag on.’”
The teachers say students are generally interested in World War II, and they believe it is because of movies such as "Saving Private Ryan" and prior knowledge from grandfathers and uncles who were involved in it. They said sometimes parents of the kids bring in artifacts about World War II, like propaganda posters and army helmets from the war.
“Events like this are great, because we talk about the soldiers who faced barbed wire, machine guns and they overcame their fear to get the job done,” Donor said. “That’s powerful to the kids.”