The moment Jed Stahlback arrived on the beaches of Normandy, the 11-year-old Star Scout was struck by how peaceful everything seemed.
“Climbing through flowers and grass growing in the remains of bomb craters seems crazy,” Jed says.
As they stared in silence at a sea of American graves, brothers Andrew and Chris Forbes marveled at the diversity they saw.
“There were Stars of David and crosses,” Andrew says. “Thousands of people from all over America fought on the beaches of Normandy and were buried there.”
This chance to witness a place so vital to world history is exactly what brought Jed, Andrew, Chris and thousands of other Scouts to France for the Normandy Camporee 2019.
The Normandy Camporee offered everything cool about a council camporee: campfire, cracker barrel and plenty of activities where Scouts can interact with members of other units. But this one had the added hook of being at Normandy.
You can read about World War II in history class or watch an hourlong special on the History Channel. But these Scouts and Scouters were able to experience it using all five of their senses.
“I cant believe how cold it was with the ocean winds,” Chris says. “Just imagine how hard it was to fight in that weather.”
The Normandy Camporee
Organizers estimated that more than 3,500 Scouts participated in this year’s Normandy Camporee.
That number mostly included members of the Transatlantic Council, a Boy Scouts of America council based in Brussels that serves American families living in Europe, Africa, the Middle East and Mid-Asia. The council delivers Scouting to 6,100 youth and 2,750 volunteers in 200 Scouting units.
The Normandy Camporee, held from April 12 to 14, marked the ninth time the Transatlantic Council has hosted the event. They hold it every three years, but this year’s edition took on extra significance because it fell on the 75th anniversary of D-Day. On June 6, 1944, the Allied troops stormed the beaches of Normandy and changed the tide of the war.
In addition to their fellow Scouts from the Transatlantic Council, a few Scouts from the U.S. mainland made the trip, including Jed, Andrew and Chris — all from Minnesota.
Members of Scoutisme Français, Scouts Canada and the U.K. Scout Association attended, too.
A moment of silence
The mood turned reverential as everyone participated in a wreath-laying ceremony at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
It was an important reminder that 9,388 U.S. service members, including four women, are buried there.
“What a herculean task the soldiers had to overcome and the sacrifices made to take back France for the Allies,” says Darwin Stahlback, who co-led the Minnesota contingent with Geoff Forbes.
Geoff Forbes says everyone he met welcomed BSA members warmly.
“We were very happy to experience the kindness and the gratitude of the locals there,” he says. “It’s clear that the people of that part of France love Americans. They have not forgotten the sacrifices that were made.”
Assistant Scoutmaster Dan Peterson agreed.
“Sure, there were cultural and language differences, but when I stepped outside in the morning, it felt more like I was stepping out of my door,” he says.
The three Scouts from Minnesota received their Star rank badges during the event. Something tells me they won’t ever forget that court of honor ceremony.
Same goes for the young men who participated in a special Eagle Scout court of honor on Omaha Beach.
But the highlight, for many of the Scouts, was the chance to meet one of the few remaining survivors of the D-Day invasion.
“I actually got to shake hands with and take a picture with one of the last survivors still around,” Chris Forbes says.
A great Good Turn
Let’s also hear it for the group of 18 Scouters representing the BSA’s Baltimore Area Council.
These volunteers traveled, at their own expense, to the Normandy Camporee. While there, they helped set up the temporary Scout shop, checked in Scouts and Scouters, and placed more than 100 wreaths at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial.
Thanks to Matt Lamas and all of these outstanding volunteers for your Scouting service.
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