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C of O Students Accompany WWII Vets To Europe


It’s been called the “Greatest Generation": those men and women who lived through the second World War, and who went on to form the backbone of America’s character. Now, six veterans from that war are returning to the same soil where they fought 65 years ago, and a handful of local college kids will be going with them. KSMU’s Jennifer Moore has details.

Operation Market Garden, fought over the skies of the Netherlands and Germany, was the largest airborne battle in history. It occurred 65 years ago this month. The battle involved thousands of aircraft and armored vehicles, and hundreds of thousands of soldiers.

Six of those soldiers are going back. Their faces are now wrinkled, and their stamina is nowhere close to what it was in 1944.

But they’ll have 12 students from College of the Ozarks to accompany them, two students assigned to assist each veteran.

One of those students is a senior at C of O: Luke Barnett. He applied as soon as he heard about the program.His grandfather fought in World War Two in the Pacific theater, but passed away when Barnett was still a child. He says he’s researched Operation Market Garden, and that he’s looking forward to being in the Netherlands with men who actually fought there.

“I love history,” he says. He grew up hearing stories about his grandfather and great-uncles in the war.

“Just to be able to maybe relate some of those stories to an actual place, and the feelings that these veterans went through while they were there…it just amazes me,” he says.

College of the Ozarks partners with the non-profit group “The Greatest Generations Foundation” to pair up the students and the veterans. The six veterans will come from various places across the country.

This is the second time the school has embarked on such a project. The first involved a trip this Spring to Normandy, France, for the 65th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

One student who went on that trip was Stephanie Ebling. She was teamed up with a veteran by the name of William Simpkins.

“He was a sergeant in the army, and he definitely landed on the beaches on D-Day off of a Higgins Boat, very much like the movie Saving Private Ryan opens up. Actually we watched that movie together on D-Day. And he told me, ‘Actually, I can say with all honesty, that’s exactly how it was,’” she said.

She said although it was neat to be there for the big anniversary celebration and see several heads of state—including President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy—the most powerful day for her was actually a much quieter one. That was the day when she stood beside Mr. Simpkins on the beach at Normandy, where he landed 65 years ago.

She said she was in awe of him and the other men, particularly because they were so humble and that they had overcome a lot. She said she was very impressed with the fact that Simpkins didn’t think what he did by serving in the war was a big deal.

Ebling says for a brief moment, she stood by quietly as the veteran cried. She said she’ll never forget what he told her that day.

“His statement, precisely, was, ‘You all made it worthwhile. To see you all and to be here with you today and see who you’re becoming made it worthwhile,’” she recalls.

The twelve students accompanying the World War Two veterans to The Netherlands depart on September 15th.

For KSMU News, I’m Jennifer Moore.