On the evening of June 5, the nine Samsung American Legion Scholarship recipients walked one by one to a podium in front of the fountain at the National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., with a candle in hand as tourists stood by to listen. The scholars each read the names of 20 fallen American servicemembers who gave their lives during Operation Overlord (D-Day, June 6-Aug. 30, 1944) and are buried at Normandy American Cemetery in France.
“This was so amazing because as we reflect upon people who have served our country and people who have done so much for us, I feel like it’s really easy to just place them as names,” said Rebecka Denney of Duchesne, Utah, who will be attending Brigham Young University in Provo, Utah. “But going up and having this opportunity to read the names at this celebration has made me feel that they are not just names on a piece of paper, they are actual people. And realizing the sacrifice that they made so that I can be here to read the names just meant so much to me. It’s so astounding.”
The remembrance ceremony was conducted by the Friends of the National World War II Memorial. From 5:30 p.m. until midnight, volunteers read the names of the nearly 9,000 servicemembers buried at the Normandy American Cemetery.
The reading of the names “was a very surreal experience. Just to get up there and read off the names of people who have given so much for this country,” said Jared Goetz of Coulee City, Wash., who will be attending Washington State University. “To read a name from the greatest generation, to bring honor to someone’s family, and to give them recognition for what they did was beyond a humbling experience.”
Prior to visiting the National World War II Memorial, the scholars visited the Lincoln Memorial, Korean War Veterans Memorial, Vietnam Veterans Memorial and Arlington National Cemetery.
Last weekend, the grandfather of James Alwin celebrated his graduation and future of attending the University of North Dakota to continue his passion for flying. “As he was leaving he started to tear up as he was saying how proud he was of me,” said Alwin of Oconto, Wis. “When I called to tell him that I received the (Samsung American Legion Scholarship) in his honor for him serving (in the Korean War) he said he never even dreamed that his service would carry on for so many generations and what effect it could have on people. His service has truly given me a respect for what my actions can have on future generations.”
Max Bowman visited D.C. when he was in grade school, but through history class in high school he better understands “the context behind these memorials. And after receiving the scholarship, I think a lot more about how my (late) grandfather was intertwined in history as well. I think it’s a fantastic opportunity to connect with our nation’s history,” said Bowman of Barrington, Ill.
Since arriving in D.C., the scholars have been reminded that while the Samsung American Legion Scholarship recognizes their high academics and community service, it’s a tribute and honor to their family who has served. And Denney understands that.
“This scholarship doesn’t just recognize me, but also recognizes the service of my grandad, Art Taylor, who served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War,” she said. “My whole life my granddad has been a model of patriotism to America and I look up to him for that. I could not be more grateful for the sacrifices he has made, along with all the other veterans and active members of the armed forces.”