Some Northern Virginia High School students got World War II history lessons Monday from firsthand sources — D-Day veterans who are on their way to France for 75th-anniversary events.
“When you were fighting, were you scared?” one of the students asked.
“Oh, you certainty are,” 94-year-old Clifford Stump replied, in near unison with 91-year-old Gordon D. Monson, who said, “You’re damn right.”
“Anyone that says you aren’t [scared] is not being truthful,” Stump told those who’d gathered for the send-off at Dulles International Airport. The exchange occurred over a lunch of pepperoni pizza provided by the USO in an event brought together by the 82nd Airborne Association.
“June 6th, is of course, the landing, but these gentleman landed on June 5th,” said retired Command Sgt. Maj. William Bauer of the 82nd Airborne Association. “On the evening of the 5th, they parachuted and glided in behind enemy lines to try and prevent [enemy] reinforcements from going toward the English Channel.”
Students from Loudoun Valley High, Herndon High School, the Seaton School, Stone Bridge High School and Bishop O’Connell High School listened intently as each of the veterans spoke.
Harry Miller, 90, of D.C., described enlisting at 15 years old, inspired by admiration of solders from previous wars (“All my life, I wanted to be a soldier”), love of the flag (“I’m a patriotic son of a gun”) and family circumstances (“poorer than dirt”), with his mother having died when he was 3 and his father having died when he was 12 or 13.
“Oh my goodness! You were my age in that picture and had already been in the military two years? That is insane,” 17-year-old Skye Ferris, of Bishop O’Connell High School, told Miller when he showed her a grinning sepia-toned image of himself as a teenager in uniform. “You had so much courage!”
“Courage?” Miller replied. “After going through the Depression, anything was better than the Depression.”
A sophomore from Seaton High School in Manassas, Virginia, also was impressed by Miller’s early enlistment.
“That was definitely kind of a wake-up for me to realize there were older people out there, but there were also people younger than I am now who were joining and going over and fighting and protecting our freedom,” said Liam Kellogg, 16. “It’s inspiring. Just to have the chance to be able to come here and hear their stories and thank them for their service — it’s an amazing opportunity to have, and I’m very grateful for it.”
United Airlines hosted the gathering in a small banquet room next to Gate D-3, where the veterans would board their flight.
“We are so honored … to have them fly with us to go celebrate the 75th anniversary of Normandy and the Battle of the Bulge. We thank them for all their contributions,” said Omar Idris, United Airlines’ hub managing director at Dulles. “It’s a true pleasure.”