MONTVILLE, NJ - On June 6, 1944, many brave U.S. soldiers decided to conduct one of the most dangerous operations in American history. It was during World War II and most of Europe was under totalitarian rule by Adolf Hitler and the Third Reich. The mission of these soldiers, with all their European allies, was to invade the French beaches of Normandy and gain a foothold in Europe for the invasion and begin the road to liberation. In the end of that fateful day, at least 10,000 Allied soldiers were killed or wounded. This day became known as D-Day.
Americans have never forgotten the brave sacrifices of these soldiers. On June 7, at the Montville Township High School, students and teachers decided to pay their own homage to the survivors of D-Day for the 75th anniversary.
“This D-Day challenge teaches teamwork and to be helpful of other people,” said James McManus, who is a teacher of American and European history at the high school. The D-Day Challenge is the first of its kind for these high schoolers.
McManus further explained, “The course simulates the problems that were faced by the soldiers without being shot at of course.”
The D-Day obstacle course was organized by both teachers and students. Faculty and students of the woodshop classes helped construct an improvised Higgins boat (which transported soldiers), wooden hedgehogs (barricades that covered the Normandy beaches), and a climbing wall.
“We asked them if they wanted to help and they automatically say, ‘Yeah, sure! What do you want me to do,’” said McManus.
Montville High students had once participated in another course back in December, known as the WWI escape room, dedicated to another significant time period of American history. But now across the backfields of the high school and near the public library’s parking lot, students gathered to pay homage to a different day in American history.
“It’s really awesome to experience this with classmates and see how much work has gone into this,” said junior Brandon Kohler. “My grandfather was in World War II. He was an army medic in Europe. Being an American, I’m proud that we did that invasion and it was a very big turning point in the war. I’m ready to do this and hope my team does well.”
During the day, about 80 students came to the D-Day Challenge, dividing up into teams of half-a-dozen or so. Their tasks involved running over the grass field on a hot June day. Courses were set up, involving students to carry heavy loads (plastic tubes filled with water to simulate weapons and bombs carried by soldiers), defusing fake bombs, walking on plank boards as a team, climbing a wall and crawling under ropes.
“This course is fun and interesting,” said sophomore Marcos Carrington, who ran in the obstacle course. “It’s a nice way to preserve D-Day and learn what the soldiers endured.”
Carrington’s teammate, sophomore Joseph Cinque, felt the same way.
“Here, you learn to be aware of everything, while having some first-person perspective of what the soldiers went through,” said Cinque. “And it’s fun. I would like the wall that we climb to be higher though. Overall, the D-Day challenge is a fun activity and keeps you active after school today.”
The D-Day Challenge continued until the late afternoon. Dozens of teams went through the obstacle course, which was physically enough to make everyone drench in sweat. Tables with shades were sent up with water bottles being served. Some tables were also decorated with historical photographs and memorabilia of the historical day. Teachers and staff were proud to see many students come out and participate in the event.
“The D-Day Challenge is a product of putting together creative teachers focused on thinking outside of the box to help all students learn at a high level,” said David Tubbs, Supervisor of Humanities for K-12th grade. “The exercise involved students in the planning, actual building of the course with special thanks to the students in the woodshop, and participants pushed themselves physically while managing their way through each phase of the simulation.”
“We hope this event will help today’s teens more fully appreciate the struggle and sacrifice made long before most of us in the community were born. Reading, listening and studying about our national heroes is important. Spending a few moments in a simulated situation making split second decisions teaches on a level the best textbook or lecture will never reach. Students who participated in the D-Day Challenge now have a personal link and memory. Hopefully, this connection will encourage the next generation to seek more understanding as they develop into lifelong learners,” Tubbs said.
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