COLUMBIA CITY —Columbia City High School’s Liam Hesting was recently accepted into the prestigious “Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom, Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute,” by the Indiana Historical Society.

Along with his teacher, Kristin Rentschler, Hesting will embark on a year-long course of study that concludes with a journey to Normandy, France, to honor a World War II silent hero who died during or after the Normandy invasion.

Courses, materials and international travel are paid for by the generosity of Albert H. Small.

Hesting and Rentschler join 14 other student/teacher teams from the U.S. on the educational journey. Teams select one silent hero from their hometown or state who is memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery.

Rentschler and Hesting then conduct in-depth historical research on the life of this silent hero. Through primary sources, such as war records, draft cards or interviews with descendants, they will learn about conducting historical research while telling the tale of this silent hero.

In June 2018, teams will travel to Washington, D.C., to finish their research with help from historians and college professors. They will tour the World War II Memorial, conduct research at the National Archives and prepare for an expedition to the beaches of D-Day.

The final leg of their journey is to Normandy, France, where they will tour Omaha and Utah Beaches, walking in the footsteps of history. After visiting museums, sites of historic battles and churches that were used as field hospitals, the journey concludes at the Normandy American Cemetery. There, Hesting will deliver a graveside eulogy for the silent hero he spent months researching.

“This program helps a new generation of Americans understand the sacrifice for freedom made during Operation Overlord,” said National History Day Executive Director Cathy Gorn. “Nothing relates the significance of the sacrifices made in Normandy better than a personal connection. Students become well acquainted with their silent heroes, often referring to them as a friend or family member. The eulogies they deliver are often tear-filled, powerful and incredibly moving. I am confident Liam will walk away with a powerful understanding of the sacrifices so many silent heroes made in World War II.”

The Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute is coordinated by National History Day and is funded by a donation from Small, a veteran himself.

Hesting, under the guidance of Rentschler, will create a memorial profile on NHDSilentHeroes.org. These pages live on as a digital memorial to the brave men and women who made the ultimate sacrifice. The project is a good fit for Hesting, who has experience researching and developing a website for National History Day in Indiana, sponsored by IHS. In 2017, Hesting and three of his classmates advanced to the national contest for National History Day where their website was awarded “Outstanding State Entry.”

In addition to creating the online profile, Hesting and Rentschler will be charged with presenting the story of their silent hero to local schools, community groups and veterans’ organizations.

“These digital records of the life and actions of a silent hero will live on long after these teams return,” said Gorn. “They serve as a digital monument to the sacrifices made by these heroic individuals.”

To date, the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute has told the stories of more than 100 silent heroes. Each of the heroes lives on in the digital memorials created by past participants and remains a powerful memorial to the sacrifice of Americans in WWII.

National History Day is a nonprofit education organization headquartered in Maryland. Established in 1974, NHD promotes an appreciation for historical research among middle and high school students through multiple annual programs. More than half a million students participate in the annual National History Day Contest.

These research-based projects are entered into contests at the local and affiliate levels, where the top entries are invited to the National Contest at the University of Maryland at College Park. NHD provides professional development opportunities and curriculum materials for educators of all levels. NHD is sponsored in part by HISTORY, Jostens, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Park Service, Southwest Airlines, the Joe Weider Foundation and the WEM 2000 Foundation of the Dorsey & Whitney Foundation. For more information, visit nhd.org.

National History Day in Indiana is a year-long program dedicated to enhancing history education in Indiana’s elementary and secondary schools.

Students in grades four through 12 explore a historical subject and then use their research to create documentaries, exhibits, papers, performances and websites. The Indiana Historical Society has organized Indiana’s participation in the NHD program for more than a decade, with more than 5,000 Indiana students taking part annually. For more information on NHDI and other IHS programs, call (317) 232-1882 or visit indianahistory.org.

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