June 6, 1944, will be forever associated with one of the most significant military events in history.
The BSA’s Normandy Camporee was designed to not only respect and remember those who participated in the day that changed the course of history, but also to honor the peace and freedom in which we live our lives today.
It’s vital to recognize the more than 150,000 allied troops who participated in D-Day — and the 4,415 (according to the National D-Day Memorial Foundation) who gave their lives — and it’s just as important to do everything we can to maintain peace going forward.
“The ending of World War II resulted in peace for all nations involved,” says Dick Meijaard, Normandy Camporee chair for the 2022 event held earlier this year. “And peace must be kept and maintained.”
The Normandy Camporee, along with other projects over the years, has earned the Transatlantic Council (TAC) a recognition by the French Republic as one of the official custodians of Omaha Beach.
It’s a significant honor.
“We are basically one of the caretakers of Normandy,” says TAC vice president Mike Walton. “We care for and help the communities in Normandy to promote, build and sustain the area.”
Messengers of Peace
The Normandy Camporee is a volunteer-driven event that started in 1994 and regularly includes around 3,000 Scouts. Most of the attendees are members of the TAC, but the most recent event also featured more than 700 French Scouts.
Like the 2019 event, the 2022 camporee offered camping, games and other traditional Scout activities. But mostly, the camporee is designed to build relationships and respect among Scouts from all over the world — the TAC itself has members from 50 different countries.
One of the highlights is an early morning campfire on Omaha Beach, designed to stir images of the invasion that started around 6:30 a.m. local time.
“It was really an international campfire,” says TAC Scout Executive Tom Jansen. “French Scouts recited their law and oath and sang their songs. British and American Scouts shared their Scouting songs.”
There are lots of opportunities for Scouts to spend time with each other, learn about their different cultures and cherish what it means to live in peace. Many of the organized ceremonies and activities are conducted in both English and French.
“Our message is to facilitate dialogue and interaction from Scouts all over the world in the spirit of Messengers of Peace,” says Jansen.
Custodians of Omaha Beach
Throughout the camporee, Scouts pay their respects to those who made the ultimate sacrifice by visiting a series of memorials. There are services at the Bayeux War Cemetery and at the Normandy American Cemetery and Memorial in Colleville-sur-Mer. Scouts attended a service for the French at the Kieffer Commandos Monument in Ouistreham. And this year’s camporee included a ceremony at the German cemetery in La Cambe that included both representatives from the German and American embassies.
Back in 2014, as preparations commenced for the Normandy Camporee that would commemorate the 70th anniversary of D-Day, then TAC Scout Executive Vince Cozzone worked closely with French officials to plan the event.
The French government had a different event planned for veterans, but it was scheduled to be held during a time when most French youth would be taking their exams for school. So the Normandy Camporee, held on a more convenient date, became the official youth-focused D-Day commemoration for that year. It also became one of the custodians of Omaha Beach for the foreseeable future.
“For a nation to ask for and receive assistance from an American-based nonprofit leadership, citizenship, and character-development organization speaks extremely highly of the French people and their confidence in what TAC has done in the past and what we pledge to do in the future to keep their confidence,” says Walton.
For his sustained efforts to advance the cause of protecting the legacy of the Normandy beaches and battlefields, Cozzone received the French Legion of Honour Award, one of the French government’s highest awards.
In spite of all the activities, there is, believe it or not, some free time at the Normandy Camporee.
Many Scouts choose to visit nearby museums and historical sites. There’s an official Normandy Camporee app that provided regular updates on activities, places to go, and information on which museums and stores were offering discounts.
This time is also valuable for just hanging out, talking and getting to know Scouts from other areas of the world. Patches are traded, songs are sung, stories are told and new friendships are born.
It’s during this time that Scouts can grow to truly appreciate what it means to have peace.
“Typical for the Normandy camporee is that many Scouts and units visit us more than once,” says Meijaard. “It is definitely not a seen-it-done-it event. There is so much to see and do that it will take multiple visits to be able to satisfy your interest.”
The next Normandy Camporee is scheduled for 2024 and will recognize the 80th anniversary of D-Day. Check back regularly at the official website for updates.