Students back from France

Published 12:00 am Monday, August 2, 1999

As he stood on a hill rising above ocean beaches where thousands of Americans lost their lives, Ted Knudtson stared at countless markers that marked countless graves.

Monday, August 02, 1999

As he stood on a hill rising above ocean beaches where thousands of Americans lost their lives, Ted Knudtson stared at countless markers that marked countless graves. There’s definite sorrow, but it’s not a haunting experience, he said of the American Cemetery near the Normandy beaches in France.

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He’s read a number of historical accounts of the Allied invasion during World War II. Knudtson has seen the films.

What happened there 55 years ago is well known, but Knudtson, at first, said only one word about how he felt visiting the site where so many died in defense of freedom.


As he thought about his response, the Albert Lea High School senior continued, &uot;You see it in the movies and read about it, but you feel it more when you are there. You don’t realize that it’s this big.&uot;

&uot;I had no idea what to expect,&uot; added junior Jenny Elseth. &uot;It (the cemetery) just goes on forever when you look at it. I remember walking down the hill and looking out at the Normandy beaches, you can still see wreckage in the water.&uot;

She added, &uot;You see how it actually is, instead of just hearing and reading about it.&uot;

Trip to France

Elseth and Knudtson are two of eight Albert Lea High School students who recently returned from a three-week trip to France, June 14 through July 6.

They talked Thursday about some of what they learned and felt during the trip.

&uot;Everyone asked what I liked the most,&uot; Knudtson said. &uot;But it’s hard to pick just one spot. We saw so much.&uot;

While they said Normandy will leave a lasting impression, it was only one of their first stops during a two-week tour of the heart of France; they spent the third week staying with host families near Paris.

&uot;Every single thing we did is forever memorized from rock climbing, to the hills, to the swimming pools&uot; Elseth explained.

&uot;Just talking about this makes me want to go back,&uot; she said.

Both said the trip was a cultural and historical learning experience, one in which stereotypes were erased and replaced by an appreciation of another country.

Among some of the highlights were ancient Roman runes near Arles, France, a Roman theater and the Pomt Du Gaidt, a large stone structure near Arles.

&uot;We also went to a town that was completely burned by the Germans,&uot; said Mindy Christian, high school French teacher

Those burned remains of Oradoursurglance stand as a reminder of what happened more than 50 years ago.

&uot;It was burned because a German soldier was killed,&uot; Christian explained. &uot;To prove a point to the resistance, they rounded up all of the people in the town. The women and children were killed in a church and the men were burned alive in a barn. &uot;It happened in one day,&uot; she added. &uot;The town was completely destroyed. You couldn’t imagine that this could have been done. Very few survived.&uot;

But the students saw more than just the remnants of past wrongs.

Calling the trip &uot;an incredible opportunity to go somewhere,&uot; Elseth said if she had to pick trip favorites, the French Riviera, Monaco, Paris and staying with her host family stand out.

&uot;I take any opportunity I can to go somewhere,&uot; she said. &uot;I just want to go and see everything that is out there.&uot;

She said studying French for two years made the trip more enjoyable because she could communicate with the people while she was there.

&uot;They speak very fast,&uot; she said. &uot;You catch some of the phrases, but it’s hard to understand them.&uot;

&uot;But when you talk directly to someone, you can understand what they said,&uot; added Knudtson, who also said he would like to visit France again. Elseth’s host family, the Debasquests, even invited her family to their country home in southwest France.