Shelburne Boy Scouts share fond memories of Normandy

The scouts read the names of veterans at the American National Cemetery in Normandy, France. Photo by Wayne Shuptrine
The scouts read the names of veterans at the American National Cemetery in Normandy, France. Photo by Wayne Shuptrine

By Brian Mick, Assistant Scoutmaster Shelburne Boy Scout Troop 602

Members of Shelburne’s Troop 602 stepped off the plane April 20 and squinted in the bright morning glare – after an overnight flight from cloudy Vermont, bright sunshine was the last thing we expected to see. We had arrived at Charles de Gaulle airport, beginning a week-long trip touring historical and memorial sites in England and France. After getting our baggage and clearing customs, we congratulated ourselves: we had all successfully flown across the Atlantic Ocean, many of us for the first time.

We travelled by train through the Chunnel to London, and then by train and taxi to our scout camp for the first half of the week, the Downe Scout Activity Centre. We spent three days there and visited the Tower of London, the London Eye, and the U.S. Embassy. We had a campfire with a local troop from England and made lifelong friends in a matter of hours. The scouts learned how to travel on public transportation and use all available resources in the face of adversity (late trains, broken buses) to get where we needed to go.

We took the Eurostar back to Paris and – not without difficulty – rented four vans to drive our crew to Honfleur, France, the sister city of Burlington, Vt.; Samuel de Champlain sailed from this port to the New World many times 400 years ago. We visited the local middle school and were greeted enthusiastically by the students. Whispers of “Ils sont les Americans” (“They are the Americans”) could be heard from the students packing the hallways to see us. Our scouts overcame the language barrier and used whatever means necessary – English, French, and gestures – to communicate and become friends with the French students. By the end of the baseball game we played, our scouts and the students were completely intermingled.

The 70th Anniversary Camporee was based out of a campground near Omaha Beach, where the U.S. first and 29th Infantry Divisions came ashore on June 6, 1944. The scouts attended an ecumenical service at the Bayeux Cathedral where the recently cast “Liberty Bell” was unveiled. Troop 602 visited Saint-Mere-Eglise where the 82nd Airborne landed and also visited Utah beach, another American landing site.

The next morning, we made our way to the American Cemetery at Normandy to mark the anniversary. Troop 602 held a small, poignant ceremony near the grave of a fallen Vermonter. The ten scouts read the names of 310 veterans collected over the past year, including all of the veterans from Shelburne since World War II. We left our small event for the official closing ceremony, where the Troop’s bugler had the honor to close with “Taps.”

Troop 602 spent a year fundraising for this trip. The funds paid for all the food, lodging, and much of the travel expenses for all the scouts. This trip would not have been possible without the generous support of the town of Shelburne, local businesses, and residents. We are grateful for your contribution to scouting and to a trip that will forever remain in the memory of the scouts. Thank you.