Coggins, Stender attend Normandy Institute

Erin Stender, at left, and Erin Coggins from Sparkman High School stand on Omaha Beach, France during the National History Day Albert H. Small Normandy Scholars' Institute. (CONTRIBUTED)
Erin Stender, at left, and Erin Coggins from Sparkman High School stand on Omaha Beach, France during the National History Day Albert H. Small Normandy Scholars’ Institute. (CONTRIBUTED)

 

Following her eulogy, Erin Stender, at left, pauses with Erin Coggins at the grave of Capt. Malcolm A. Smith, originally from Birmingham and buried during World War II in an American cemetery in Normandy, France. (CONTRIBUTED)
Following her eulogy, Erin Stender, at left, pauses with Erin Coggins at the grave of Capt. Malcolm A. Smith, originally from Birmingham and buried during World War II in an American cemetery in Normandy, France. (CONTRIBUTED)

HARVEST – Sparkman High School teacher Erin Coggins and student Erin Stender were chosen to attend the National History Day Albert H. Small Normandy Scholars’ Institute in France.

Coggins and Stender are the first team from Alabama to participate in this two-week extensive study of World War II. National History Day at the University of Maryland sponsors the institute. Albert Small pays all expenses.

After learning about the institute at a Stanford University workshop, Coggins applied and nominated Stender, editor of Sparkman’s “Crimson Crier.” Approved last December, the two researched a ‘silent hero’ who had fought, read D-Day materials and discussed topics online.

On June 20-25, Coggins and Stender joined 15 teams in Washington D.C. for sessions with historians and sightseeing at national memorials. Arriving in Paris on June 26, they traveled to Utah Beach, Omaha Beach, Gold Beach, Point du Hoc, St. Lo, St. Mere Eglise, along with German, British and American cemeteries.

“At each stop, students gave briefings on D-Day subjects. Erin gave her briefing at Point du Hoc on bomber escorts since our ‘Silent Hero,’ Capt. Malcolm A. Smith of Birmingham, was a bomber escort,” Coggins said.

They walked the beaches in silent respect. At Omaha, the group met a man who has collected D-Day items off the beach for 20 years to open his own museum in Normandy. Stender presented him with the group’s coveted red jacket.

Coggins and Stender were surprised at sunbathers on “sacred ground” of Utah and Omaha beaches. Then, she realized lives sacrificed on those beaches led to French freedom.

Stender delivered a eulogy at Capt. Smith’s gravesite. “On May 21, 1944, he was shot down over Vibraye. Witnesses say he ditched the village to crash in a pasture, saving lives,” Stender said.

“Erin and I met Capt. Smith’s niece, June Mack and (read) many letters and diaries of her Uncle Mac. June is a communications professor at the University of Alabama at Birmingham,” Coggins said.

Stender is creating a website dedicated to Smith. Coggins and Stender are available for presentations.

For more information, visit nhd.org.

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