A story about two participants in our inaugural trip.
E.J. and Adam's
Private E.J. Hamill was 19 on June 6, 1944, when he stormed
Omaha Beach, successfully helping to establish a beachhead. His
mission was to reach the inland town of St. Lo, 25 miles from
Omaha Beach. As it turned out, it took Hamill and the 29th
Division 44 days of excruciating battle. A decorated and wounded
combat veteran, Hamill is all too familiar with the hardship and
suffering endured in battle. Of the 160 men that started out the
day with him, he was 1 of only 6 who survived. Hamill has many
incredible stories about his time during WWII, but now he has a
His new mission is to continue the legacy of those who gave us
the freedom we enjoy today. He is accomplishing this with the
help of the 29th Division Association and Normandy Allies, an
international group whose mission is to teach students that
freedom is not free and help them understand what the WWII
generation had to sacrifice. The dedication of this group is
exemplified in their motto "Never Forget." This past
July 3-21, Hamill returned to Omaha Beach with a group of
students from the U.S. and France.
Adam Izell, Hamill's grandson, was 16 when he first walked on
Omaha Beach. And in the years since the end of WWII, Hamill has
returned often to France, but his last trip was perhaps the most
rewarding for him because he was able to escort his grandson to
the beaches he stormed and the towns he helped liberate from Nazi
This is what Normandy Allies is all about; living history.
Hamill explains, "We wanted to impress our children that
freedom isn't free and to also let them see first hand the
sacrifices it took. We were able to take them to where we lost so
many friends and fellow soldiers and to show them the differences
between low tide and high tide." This information you can't
fully appreciate until you see the cliffs and long beaches.
Izell, a junior at Soddy-Daisy (Tennessee) High, was selected
by Normandy Allies to go on this inaugural trip, not because of
his grandfather, but because he has a genuine interest in
learning about his grandfather. Izell's own initiative propelled
him to pursue this trip. Normandy Allies takes a select few
students from across the country, based on certain criteria and
an essay they had to write about Normandy. Ten French students
are also selected each year.
While Hamill was delighted to return to France with his
grandson, he's quick to point out that "it was his (Adam's)
desire, and he was enthused by what he saw." Hamill went on
to explain that his grandson was most moved by the number of
crosses in the cemetery and the flag presentation to the
superintendent of the cemetery while "Taps" was played.
"Before the presentation, Adam had to explain the meaning of
the American flag and the significance of the cemetery at
Normandy," said Hamill.
Once selected to make the journey, the students made several
stops in the U.S. first, one of which was Bedford, VA, and then
they toured DC, London and France. They were accompanied by three
D-Day veterans, Hamill (Chattanooga, TN), Russell Picket (Soddy
Daisy, TN) and Clayton Branham (Columbia, SC). Also on the trip
were two history teachers from Texas and two present day military
officers. The focus was on learning, and students received
instruction during the trip. They also visited several museums in
the U.S., England and France. The trip started in Bedford
because, as Hamill explains, "during the first wave, 35
soldiers were from this small town. Of these 35, 21 were killed. Because of this
sacrifice, Bedford has been chosen as the site of a new WWII
monument. Students were excited to get a sneak preview of this 12
million dollar (no government money) WWII memorial that is being
built there. They then made their way to the Holocaust Museum,
the Smithsonian and the National Archives before flying to
In France, they walked the same paths that the soldiers
walked, and for Izell, he got to see the very spot where his
grandfather, fresh out of boot camp, came ashore, and the cliffs
he had to ascend on June 6, 1944.
Izell told his grandfather that he found the cruelty of humans
and the suffering of the ordinary men who became soldiers, hard
Hamill's journey with his grandson was an accomplishment for
him. "I felt as though I had completed a circle by bringing
another generation of my family to these beaches," said
Hamill mentioned that he was impressed with the behavior and
cooperation of the students on the trip. And he hopes that these
young people will now never forget the sacrifices made by the
soldiers on D-Day, and that they will carry on the spirit of
Hamill, a native of Hixson, Tennessee came back to Chattanooga
after serving, and now resides in Red Bank, Tennessee.
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