By Geoff Forbes
Our mainland US contingent is back from the Normandy International Camporee, which commemorated the 75th anniversary of D-Day. There were thousands of Scouts, mostly from Scouts BSA's Transatlantic Council, and French Scouts. I believe our small Minnesota contingent was the only one representing the US mainland. We met Jim Turley, BSA National Chair, and Tom Jansen, Scout Executive of the Transatlantic Council. There was a relatively small gathering of Eagles (a meet and greet), and we were all honored to meet a gentleman who was one of the few living survivors of the D-Day invasion of 1944. There was an Eagle court of honor on Omaha Beach for a large group of new Eagle Scouts, and the three Scouts from our contingent all received Star there. Two of them were also tapped out there by the storied Black Eagle Lodge, and will undergo the Ordeal at the Totanhan Nakaha/Northern Lights Fall Conclave in September. Lots of happy tears.
The Scouts met Dr. Robert Schloesser, a Vietnam Veteran and Distinguished Eagle Scout.
The next day there was a memorial observance at the American cemetery, we are more than 9,000 Americans are buried, including for women. Our Scouts laid a wreath there (see photos). We drove back to Paris and our flight was canceled, so we had to spend another night there. As a result, we were there when the Cathedral of Notre Dame burned. Thankfully, we had toured Notre Dame a few days earlier.
We had with us Jessie Sperry, representing Scouts Canada (she also came with us to the Iceland International Jamboree in 2016). We have had a brother-sister relationship with her unit for 5 years now. We take turns visiting each other: one year our Scouts visit them in Thunder Bay, and the next year they come and visit us in Minnesota. The event has grown every year, and several packs and troops from each country participate now.
Another interesting thing is that we had 3 members of our Council International Committee there. Darwin Stahlback and I were co-contingent leaders, and Bob Elliott was on staff.
See More Photos and Another Perspective on This Story at Bryan's Blog on Scouting
“With all the war damage done at the different sites, how quiet and peaceful it is today. Climbing through flowers and grass growing in the remains of bomb craters seems crazy.”
Jed Stahlback, Age 11
I was pretty surprised that there were still war survivors from D-Day, in fact, I actually got to shake hands with and take a picture with one of the last survivors still around! It was crazy, seeing how many people came for this historical anniversary. We got to see the amazing Omaha Beach. I cant believe how cold it was with the ocean winds--just imagine how hard it was to fight in that weather!
Chris Forbes, Age 11
"When I was in Normandy, France, and I looked over all the graves with my brother, I couldn't believe the diversity in the graves. There were Stars of David and crosses. Thousands of people from all over America fought on the beaches of Normandy and were buried there."
Andrew Forbes, Age 13
"When we toured the Normandy region, we were told that France had been occupied by Nazi Germany for four years when Allied forces came to liberate them on D-Day in 1944. It was sobering to think of a western democracy being invaded and occupied by a dictatorial regime for that long. We were very happy to experience the kindness and the gratitude of the locals there. It's clear that the people of that part of France love Americans. They have not forgotten the sacrifices that were made."
Geoff Forbes, co-contingent leader
“While standing at the different beaches, what a Herculean task the soldiers had to overcome and the sacrifices made to take back France for the Allies."
Darwin Stahlback, contingent leader
"The thing that surprised me the most, was how 'at home' I felt while I was hundreds of miles away from home. Sure, there were cultural and language differences, but when I stepped outside in the morning, it felt more like I was stepping out of my door. Not a door that is a quarter of the way across the world. I at times forgot that I was in Europe, because of that feeling."
Dan Peterson, Asst. Scoutmaster
"What an awesome opportunity it was to be a part of the 75th D-Day Ceremonies on Omaha beach in Normandy. As I walked around the American Cemetery with a single tulip in my hand, it unexpectedly hit me how many heros had lost their lives to this war. I knelt at a grave to place the tulip, said a prayer, and gave this hero my best Scouter salute. As I walked away, I felt that I left a piece of myself right there and that I took with me a heartfelt moment that I will remember forever."
Jessie Sperry, Adult Leader, Scouts Canada