Editor's note: Eighteen College of the Ozarks students accompanied six WWII Veterans to battle sites in France, Belgium, Luxembourg, and Germany June 2-16. The Veterans who went on the trip served in either the battles of D-Day, the Air Campaign, or the Battle of the Bulge. This trip was part of the College's Patriotic Education Travel Program, whose mission is to educate younger generations about the sacrifices of American soldiers so that their stories will never be forgotten.
College of the Ozarks students Shirley Rash, Cailin Casey, and Trevor Hicks with Veteran Ned Knapp at La Roumiere Hill
Some of our Veteran heroes (from left): Lou Rabesa, Ned Knapp, Andy Anderson, J. Bryan Sperry, Bill Kamsler, and John Primerano
When I first learned I had been selected for this life-changing opportunity, it took some time for the scope of that great blessing to resonate with me. I kept thinking of the veterans of WWII within my own family who had passed away before I was born, and whose stories had become our legends. I prayed that I would make them proud as I represented my generation by showing appreciation for those who fought to change the course of the world.
When I returned home, my eyes had a brand new focus. Now when I think of those familiar, iconic images of American freedom-- the crack in the liberty bell, the flame of the statue of liberty and the stars and stripes of our flag, they represent to me the good that overcame the evil. They represent our foundational values and the people that fought for them. Those individuals stood firm, unyielding like the statue of liberty, torch aflame, having rescued the storm-tossed victims of fascist oppression, and now welcoming those to the land of the free. The fabric of our nation was sewn in times of oppression and revolution against tyranny. I am blessed to live in a country with the moral fiber to protect my God-given freedoms, and I am blessed to have met and accompanied six American veterans of WWII, back to historic battle sites in Europe in which all gave some and some gave all.
My veteran was Mr. Ned Knapp, a quiet, soft-spoken man from Little Rock, Arkansas who has sweet smile and a big heart. He served in the 75th Division, and was chosen by everyone in his unit to lead an attack up La Roumiere Hill at the German border, with the enemy firing down. He was sent up the hill by the General and ordered to walk up the hill until he was fired at, then hit the ground and help would be sent for him. Knapp wasn't a huge fan of that plan, but an order was an order and he did as he was told. In just
|two attempts up this hill that rises at an incredible slope, Knapp was the first to reach the top, and La Roumiere Hill was won for the Allies. Standing there once again for the first time in 67 years, he told us the story of how his company took that hill. It was such an honor to get to know Mr. Knapp, to be one of his assigned students, and to have the rare opportunity to hear his first-hand account while on our journey in Europe.|
When I returned from the trip, I sat down to type up the daily journal I had kept documenting the experience, to turn into the college. I spread the treasures I brought back out before me-- sands from the beaches of Normandy, brochures, my notebook filled with the stories the veterans had shared with me, and my video camera full of captured moments I'd never dreamed possible. I stared down at these, remembering all those moments that gave me an enhanced sense of patriotism, and realizing just how inspired I had become. I knew that a journal just wouldn't cut it, and I spent the summer writing a book.
The book, Twice as Brave, features a collection of stories based on the experiences of six American Veterans of World War II. Each story is told from beginning to end, but with the experiences of others in between to illustrate that all did their part and each part was paramount to the success of the Allies and the preservation of life and liberty across the globe. Here is an excerpt.
Veteran Bill Kamsler places flowers at a fellow soldier's grave.
One of the many foxholes in the Ardennes Forest
“One of the first things I noticed about the Ardennes Forest was the thick covering of pine needles on the forest floor. They cushioned my feet and put a spring in my step. Subsequently, I momentarily pictured this floor buried beneath a couple feet of snow. I watched the gold sunlight spill through the green rushes of pine needles the trees held high. The light illuminated the green of the moss that blanketed rocks and roots and made those inches of fallen needles glow yellow. Only 67 years ago, my eyes would have seen only gleaming white and the spilled red. The gray sky surely would not have lent light to give joy to the eye.
Standing in the Ardennes, if you look out just as far as your eye can see, your eye no longer focuses on individual trees; you see something of a wall of tree bark. Thousands of trees stand tall and uniform, straight and unyielding, as proud and resolute as the GI's within that forest not long ago. Looking into the distance, the trees all seem to become one.
Apart from the veterans and my friends, the forest was quiet and tranquil, and if forests had personalities, I would say the Ardennes was peaceful and silent in spite and defiance of a much louder time. At first glance, a foxhole is a famous hole in the ground. A tourist can stand in them for photos and comb them over for shrapnel and other war relics. Sixty-seven years ago, a foxhole was a soldier's closest thing to home, their bed, and their couch in the sitting room. It was the place they left and hoped to forget, or the place they died and will never be forgotten. With all of this in our hearts, my fellow students and I moved gently about this hallowed ground, preserving memories.”
Since my return, I have dedicated much of my time to preserving the memories of these six veterans of WWII, ordinary men who
|did extraordinary things. Like those trees in the Ardennes forest, they are stoic giants who stood tall and unyielding in the face of tyranny. I plan to write much more about these and other veterans of WWII, and will continue to share their legacy for years to come.|
By Cailin Casey, student at College of the Ozarks
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