Until recently, Caley Williamson didn't know much about World War II or the Normandy Invasion (also known as D-Day) that was one of the turning points in the war. That changed after Caley, who attends Cosby High School in Cocke County, had a talk with her family.
"I learned I had numerous relatives who had participated in the war, including an uncle at D-Day," Caley said. "As I discovered, I had many connections to the topic hidden just under the surface."
Now Caley will have an opportunity to learn much more about that topic: She was one of 15 students recently selected through an international application process to participate in a National History Day (NHD) program called the 2014 Albert H. Small Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Student and Teacher Institute.
Students and teachers from their schools attend the institute to immerse themselves in the history of the Normandy Invasion and remember the soldiers who gave their lives. One of Caley's teachers, Hillery Griffin, will be participating in the program with her.
This year marks the 70th anniversary of D-Day. On the anniversary of this crucial turning point in World War II, students and their teachers will walk together in the footsteps of history on the beaches of Normandy. From the lessons learned through the institute, students will make presentations that bring to life the significance of the Normandy campaign and participate in a day of remembrance. Each student will give a eulogy to an individual soldier, sailor or marine from their city, county or state who died during the invasion.
Dr. Cathy Gorn, executive director of NHD, discussed the impact this program has on participants: "The students and teachers who have worked with NHD can attest to the powerful impression this program has on them. It not only teaches them about the past, but helps place current and future events into context. This program brings to life the importance of quality history education and shows reverence and respect to those who gave their lives for their country. These students will emerge from this program with a greater understanding of the events and people who shaped their lives and the world as they know it today."
"I am so proud of Caley and Ms. Griffin," said State Representative Jeremy Faison, who also represents Cocke County. "This is certainly an extraordinary achievement not only for Cocke County, but the entire state of Tennessee. I take pride in representing a district with students and teachers who have such a great appreciation for our nation's history."
"This is a great opportunity for students to understand the sacrifices made by our brave soldiers at Normandy," said State Senator Steve Southerland, who represents Cocke County in the Tennessee General Assembly. "Caley and Ms. Griffin should be commended and I hope to see many more of these opportunities available to our local students in the future."
Caley has participated in Tennessee History Day, which is affiliated with National History Day, for the last three years. The Tennessee Secretary of State's office is a sponsor of Tennessee History Day. The Tennessee Historical Society coordinates Tennessee History Day.
"I congratulate Caley and her teacher, Ms. Griffin, for being selected for this program," Secretary of State Tre Hargett said. "Their selection is a tremendous honor for Caley and all of Tennessee. I know they will make the most of this fantastic educational opportunity while also honoring some of our country's most deserving veterans."
Prior to attending the institute, students are required to complete selected readings, review interviews with World War II veterans, engage in online discussions with the other participants and research a local silent hero who is laid to rest in the American Cemetery at Normandy.
Caley and Griffin will travel in June to Washington, D.C., where they will meet with the selected participants from other states for five days of lectures and memorial visits. After their time in D.C., students and teachers will travel with NHD staff to Normandy.
Students will present their selected service member's eulogy and discuss that person's role in the invasion during a remembrance ceremony at the end of the institute.