Thursday, June 23, 2016

France, here he comes!

I just Facetimed Josh to say goodbye. After a week of living in the dorms on the University of Maryland campus, he is getting on a plane this afternoon and heading to France. We have literally been talking about the possibility of this trip since October. I can't believe that the day has finally arrived!

I don't remember how much I have written about the specifics of his trip. One of the main purposes of the trip is something called a Silent Hero project. Every kid who was chosen to go on the trip was assigned a soldier from their state who died during D-Day in Normandy and is buried at the American cemetery there, and that have spent the past six months researching them. The purpose is to honor the forgotten. We remember the generals and the well known heroes and those who came home, but so many people went there and sacrificed their lives and were never really talked about again.

Josh was assigned a man named Ray O. Coffey. He was a soldier from Idaho who died 17 days after D-Day on the beach in Normandy. In fact, today is the 72nd anniversary of his death. The purpose of the project was to learn everything they can about his life, find photos, letters, put together a life history, and then Josh will stand at his grave above Omaha beach in Normandy and give a eulogy to honor his life.

The good news is that someone who was forgotten is going to be honored at his gravesite in a few days. The bad news is that he truly was forgotten and they had a very hard time finding information about him. Josh and his teacher have spent months scouring ancestory records, high school yearbooks from the 1930's, trying to contact family members, digging through military records, and they have come up with very little. They even told the story on Boise public radio in hopes that someone would come forward who had more information. No luck. They were hopeful that while they were at the national archives in Washington DC this week they would be able to uncover more information, but after hours of searching, even that failed.

When Ray died in France, the Red Cross contacted his family in Idaho and they didn't want his body back. He is buried in France because his family didn't want to bring him back to Idaho and bury him next to his parents. He was in his late 30's when he died and was never married and had no kids, and both of his parents were already dead, so he left very little behind and there are few who remember him. His name is not on our state war memorials and he has truly been forgotten over time.

But Josh has enough information about his family, what he was doing in the war, the battalion he was in and the circumstances of his death that he wrote a beautiful eulogy that he will read at his grave when they arrive in France. After all these years, someone is going to stand at his grave and give him the thanks he deserves. Josh is dissapointed that after all this research he has still never even seen a picture of Ray Coffey, but I keep reminding him that that is even more of a reason to make sure he is remembered. He gave his life for our freedom and no one remembered his name. So this week when Josh stands at his grave, he will finally get his recognition. And I like to think that somewhere, Ray is aware of that. I hope he's looking down and knows that he's being remembered.

I wanted to share the Facebook message Josh wrote this morning.

I'm incredibly proud of Josh for taking this journey. It wasn't just a free trip to France. It's been six months of hard work and research to honor a man who deserves to be thanked for his service. When I talked to Josh this morning I could tell that he's completely emotionally and physically exhausted. He's been going nonstop for two weeks and he has another week to go. He's nervous about taking his first international flight and I'm nervous to let him go, but this experience has been life changing for him and I'm incredibly grateful he was given the opportunity. 

So keep him in your thoughts today while he travels. And me, because I'm a nervous wreck, lol. I love that kid. 

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