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Junior ROTC students at Ramstein High School in Germany, shown here with teacher Master Sgt. Thomas Speller, learn about the invasion of Normandy as part of their studies.
Junior ROTC students at Ramstein High School in Germany, shown here with teacher Master Sgt. Thomas Speller, learn about the invasion of Normandy as part of their studies. (Marni McEntee / S&S)

RAMSTEIN AIR BASE, Germany — Sixty years after the largest U.S. and Allied military invasion in history, the lessons of Normandy endure for American students.

In Col. Leon Stamm’s Junior ROTC class at Ramstein High School, students study the invasion as part of an aviation history segment. But they also look at it as a reminder of how the campaign relates to their own place as U.S. citizens.

“I tell them, ‘We would not be in this building now if it were not for that invasion,’ ” said Stamm, a senior aerospace science instructor.

“We try to keep the heritage that is so prevalent in Europe alive in these kids by teaching about it.”

Indeed, students in Europe are in an enviable place: Many families make pleasure trips to Normandy to learn about the battles that occurred there in 1944. In addition to ROTC classes, the Normandy invasion is taught in U.S. history courses and often is an extracurricular tour destination.

Junior Alex Burgess, 17, already had visited the famous beaches before studying them in Stamm’s class. He said one thing he learned was that an enormous land-sea-air invasion similar to that would likely not occur again.

“We have so much more technology now,” he said. “We’ve got better air power and special forces. I don’t think we’d ever have the ability to launch an invasion like that.”

Air power was a major part of the Allies’ strategy at Normandy. In addition to thousands of Navy ships and landing crafts, some 822 planes from the Army Air Corps — the predecessor of the Air Force — were launched that first night on June 6. Ultimately, 13,000 aircraft took part in the campaign.

Rome Wynder, an 18-year-old junior, said he could compare the invasion of Normandy to the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

“Both used special forces and strategic bombing. In Iraq there was more armor support than there was at Normandy. But overall, the outcome had a great effect on the direction of the war,” he said.

Students also are able to compare warfare in terms of medical technology, Wynder and Burgess said. At Normandy, there were around 10,000 casualties — Americans, Canadians and Britons killed, wounded or missing. In the Iraq conflict, they said, new body armor and better helmets have cut down on the percentage of casualties.

History teacher Barbara Gonzales said her class always reviews Normandy as part of its World War II segment. What students tend to remember most, she said, are movies such as “Patton” and “Saving Private Ryan.”

“So they already have a little understanding of the North Africa campaign. And I tell them the first 30 minutes of ‘Saving Private Ryan’ is a pretty accurate account of how the Normandy invasion began,” Gonzales said.

In some classes, teachers are able to turn a trip to Normandy into a double-boon for their students. French teacher Lori Izzo took her French Club to the beaches in March, along with visiting several other historical sites in the area. They got to speak the language and learn the region’s role in history as well.

Nick Kowalski, 18, was on the French Club trip.

“It really made history come alive for me,” said Kowalski, a senior.

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