James River students visit Normandy on D-Day

Brianna Morrel (left), MacKenzie Seebo, and Gracie Harlow pose with World War II veteran Loren Kissick from Washington state.


By Aila Boyd

Every year Donna Cox, the social studies department chair at James River High School, takes a group of students who are particularly interested in history on an international trip. For this year’s trip, she took 16 students to Normandy for the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
“It opened their eyes to the good and the bad,” Cox said of the trip. “A lot of bad things happened during World War II, but some good things came out of it.”
Cox, who had previously visited the Normandy American Cemetery, said that the experience of being on the “hallowed ground” for the 75th anniversary of D-Day was “truly breathtaking.”
The students, she said, were fascinated by the D-Day anniversary ceremonies and were even able to meet some of the survivors of that fateful day. Most of them, up until that point, had never connected with a World War II veteran in person before.
One of the survivors of D-Day that they got the chance to talk with was Loren Kissick of Washington state. Cox said that Kissick couldn’t believe how many people turned out for the 75th anniversary because he “didn’t feel like he had done anything extraordinary.” The students, she said, found him to be very funny and approachable.
While at the D-Day events, the students were tasked with locating the graves of all of the “Bedford Boys.” A community night at the Buchanan Theatre is currently in the works in which the students who went on the trip will honor the family members of the “Bedford Boys.”
Before traveling to Normandy, the group spent time in Amsterdam where they toured the Anne Frank House. Cox said that their time there “set the stage” for what the experience would be like at the D-Day events. While at the Anne Frank House, they went on a guided tour of the house that demonstrated the fear that individuals like Frank felt during World War II. Cox said that it was particularly striking how cramped the space was that Frank and her family hid in.
The group later traveled across the English Channel to London.
All but one of the students that went on this year’s trip had never been out of the country before. That’s typically the case, Cox explained, adding that the trips she takes students on are normally the first time that many of them have been outside of the continental United States. The one student who had traveled internationally before had done so on mission trips.
The trips in general allow the students the opportunity to experience different cultures and exposes them to the greater world outside of Botetourt County, Cox said.
She noted that all of the students that go on the trips are “good history students” and that they have an appeitite for learning outside of the classroom.
Next year, Cox plans to take students to China. The year after that, she said she’s planning on letting three boys who have “found their travel bug” pick the destination for 2021.
Cox stressed that the trips that she takes students on aren’t connected to James River High School or sanctioned by it.

Mallory Rowe (left) and Rachel Epperly are pictured at the Normandy American Cemetery.

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