Planes. Trains. And Automobiles. Oh My!

Planes. Trains. And Automobiles. Oh My!

We woke up for the last full day in Europe eager for adventure. We have had opportunities to visit remarkable landmarks and revisit the history of our forefathers. Today, we embarked on our next leg of this amazing trip! We left our hotel in Caen, France, at 8 a.m. and traveled via our charter bus toward Pegasus Bridge. The Pegasus Bridge was the first objective of the Allied landings in Normandy. On June 6, 1944, the 6th Airborne Division used glider-borne troops to overtake this bridge on the Caen Canal. Even though the original bridge that now resides in the memorial was replaced by newer construction in 1994, it was still surreal to stand on a bridge that British troops fought so hard to overtake.

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Caden standing in front of The Pegasus Bridge. (Photo by Natalie Rasnick)

Although we have had our share of blessings on this trip, today’s tour of sight seeing was one that we will never forget. Besides traveling in the countryside around the northern part of France and having the opportunity to see the beautiful, God-given European valleys, we were able to stop at some of the most unbelievable historic sights the country has to offer. A prime example of this includes a German dome known as La Coupole, a secret base that was at the heart of the German operation in France. Although it was an actual underground town constructed by the German army with a purpose of launching V2 rockets on London, today it is an amazing museum that shows the scientific advancements in the weaponry and navigation instruments used during WWII.  It is an exceptional sight where the destiny of Europe could have played out differently had the United States not been successful, along with the Allies, in defeating the enemy.

While in La Coupole, our interactions with the French also provided a memorable experience. Knowing only a few French words and phrases made the language barrier difficult to break. One woman working at the food court at La Coupole expressed an interest in our American accents. After we paid her for our treats, she then proceeded to pick up a napkin, and asked in the sweetest way what we called it. When we told her how to pronounce the word, she then carefully and slowly pronounced, “Nap…….kin?” The camaraderie between the Americans and French is still very real and alive in today’s culture, even though it may be shown in the smallest of ways.

 

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Elizabeth, Sierra, and Caden outside the German dome. (Photo by Katie Jones)

The drive through the French countryside was breathtaking. It was nice to see the natural beauty of the country with none of the rush of city life. Any time we did pass through the cities of France, they were small and very tranquil. After two days on the charter bus, we had the opportunity to get on the high-speed Eurostar train, leaving from the French town Calais and heading back towards the hustle and bustle of London, England. While on the hour-long train ride, we received a small dinner to carry us over to the end of the day.  Then to top off the day, we got to experience the high energy Thriller Live, which was a musical review of Michael Jackson’s top hits.  Although the day was long, it was a day well spent!

Tomorrow we will end our travels in London and France with hopes of coming back again someday. There is so much more to explore and experience here. We have mixed feelings, ready to be home but sad to leave the site of new discoveries.

We are truly grateful for the opportunity to visit the sites portrayed in our play, Railway to Heaven. Now, having seen and walked where our troops fought, we can give an even better portrayal of the story of Pfc. Roy Hopper. To the many soldiers who so willingly gave up their lives for our freedom, we say thank you.

By Elizabeth Stuart, Caden Peterson, and Sierra Johnson

 

 

 

Following in the Footsteps of Private First Class Roy Hopper

 

Today we followed in the footsteps of Private First Class Roy Hopper and journeyed through Normandy. The play Railway to Heaven is based on the life of this true American hero. As we visited Utah Beach, the site of one of the many major battles that occurred on D-Day, June 6, 1944, I could only imagine how the American troops must have felt. I wonder how different this beach must have appeared to members of the 4th Infantry and 70th Tank Battalion trudging up the sands of the beach with their combat boots and 100-pound backpacks – helmets donned,  guns in hand, advancing

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French and American flags fly over Utah Beach. Photo Credit: Isaac Weaver

straight into German artillery and machine gun fire. With my tennis shoes, khaki shorts, and t-shirt on, it was hard enough for me to climb up the steep banks of the beach front. A surreal, eerie, yet calming feeling swept over me as I listened to the waves crashing upon the sand. This is where it all happened, the fight for our freedom where 3,447 men lost their lives in a battle that lasted nearly three months. Here they were, scratching and crawling, fighting for their lives as they struggled to defeat the common enemy in Adolf Hitler and the Nazi regime. Knowing their sacrifice paved the way to Allied victory brought such profound feelings of relief and peace of a magnitude I could never have expected to find on a simple beach. Words cannot describe how blessed I am to have been a part of this experience, to relive this amazing part in our country, and the world’s, history. By Josiah Mullins

 

After Utah beach, we loaded back into the shuttle and Stephan drove us to our next destination, St. Mere-Eglise. The ride over took about an hour, giving us plenty of time to reflect on the sands and shore of Utah. As we neared our destination, we were given a brief overview of the history behind the town. This briefing came in handy as many of us knew little-to-none about the town or its significance in the war. As it turns out, St. Mere-Eglise was one of the first towns to be liberated by Allied forces. Paratroopers of the 505th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne flew in on the night of July 5th, directly into enemy fire. There were no illuminated runways or targets to be found, though. Instead, their drop zone was alight with the glow of a blazing building, as the house opposite of the church had caught fire in the night.  Chaos reigned, as German soldiers, civilian fire fighters, and Allied soldiers converged in the streets. Gunfire erupted immediately, lasting well through the night until 5 a.m. the next morning when the paratroopers secured the town. The battle was won with 45 civilian casualties. Remnants of the German forces, who had held the town for 4 ½ years, were gathered up to be taken prisoner, as the townspeople greeted their liberators with hugs and kisses. In a clip playing in one of the exhibits in the museum, one Veteran recalled that although unable to understand what the people of the town were saying, he and his fellow soldiers wept with them all the same.  We also came across Eisenhower’s speech addressing the “Sailors, Soldiers, and Airmen of the Allied Expeditionary forces,” which we feature an actual recording of in Railway. As we read about it, many of us were surprised to learn this address was delivered to the D-Day forces as they prepared to take off. This speech, which we’d all learned by heart over the course of 25 performances, suddenly took on new life and meaning with all we’d seen so far that morning. By Isaac Weaver

For our third stop today we went to Pointe de Hoc. As we first walked toward the ocean there were giant craters in the ground beside us. These were all made from the bombs that had landed. Also here were the 100-foot cliffs that some of our valiant troops climbed to fight for the world’s freedom. As we walked, we came across an underground concrete bunker that was still in great shape. Lt. Col. James Earl Rudder’s 2nd Ranger Battalion was the first to head toward the cliffs. They finally made it to the top, losing 15 men during the treacherous and dangerous climb. Their mission was to conquer the concrete bunker and confiscate all of the German ammunition and artillery stored there. When they reached the bunker, all they saw were telephone poles. The Lt. Colonel told half his battalion to stay and establish a command center, while the other half went to finish the mission. After finding them in an apple orchard south of where they landed, they destroyed them, completing their objective. By Kynzee Miller

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The cliffs of Pointe de Hoc. Photo Credit: Isaac Weaver

The last place we visited today on our journey through Normandy, France, was the American Cemetery and Memorial. A sign posted at the front asked all visitors to remain quiet to show respect for the somber nature of the memorial. A sudden hush fell over our normally rambunctious group. There were 9,387 white graves bearing either crosses or Stars of David, marking the resting places of the brave men, and three American women, who served. A few graves marked where unknown troops were buried. They bore the inscription, “Here rests in honored glory a comrade in arms known but to God.” One thing that has been on my heart through everything we have seen today is the fact that many of these brave men were just barely men at all. Many were young boys, the same age as the boys I go to school with. Walking the sea of graves, I imagined my friends and schoolmates. I could almost picture them biting their lips and lifting their chins and going off to war, fighting for not only their own country’s liberty, but for others’ freedom as well. By Devan Spady

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Crosses mark the graves at the American Cemetery and Memorial in Normandy. Photo Credit: Isaac Weaver

Bonjour, France!

Bonjour, France!

We woke up bright and early this morning on the ferry, docked in France, and immediately began our adventures for the day! We explored the gothic town of Saint Malo. This quaint city, we learned, was designed in a way that inhabitants could protect themselves from pirates and any other assailants. It has neighboring island fortresses far from the coast that provided a safeguard from enemies. We got the chance to experience the town’s beautiful cathedral and adorable, locally owned shops, all housed in the medieval structures. The view from the heights of the city’s walls was breathtaking, and we watched for a moment as some young students were learning to sail. It was evident that boating has a heavy influence on their culture.

Jason Sorrell had an interesting experience at Saint Malo, when he caught the scent of a lilac bush. He connected with it because his grandmother always had lilac bushes. He was reminded of her, even all the way in our new travel location of France.

Again we boarded our charter bus with our helpful driver, Stephan! He skillfully navigated us all the way to the historically magnificent Mont Saint Michel, which translates to Saint Michael’s Mountain. As the story goes, the idea of a monastery to be placed in the rocky terrain of Northern France was placed in the mind of Bishop Aubert of Avranches by the archangel Michael. The old tale says that Michael appeared to the Bishop in 708 and told him to build a church. Aubert ignored his decree until finally, the heavenly being burned a hole into his stubborn skull. Regardless of the truth of that story, the monastery was erected in 709.

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Jason, Katie, Caroline, and Lucas outside Saint Malo on the first day in France. (Photo by Katie Jones.)

During the Hundred Years’ War, it was converted into a military fortress and remained untouched by the inhabitants’ enemies. It later transitioned from a monastery to a prison. It maintained its security, thanks to the help of the tide, which comes in to a depth of nearly 50 feet. The structure also is surrounded by quicksand, which halted any enemy if the water did not. It was named a World Heritage site in 1979. We were wowed by the thought of how many historical figures have graced the grounds of Mont Saint Michel, not to mention the three million tourists that make the trip every single year!

Aside from the glorious architecture and intriguing history, we have thoroughly enjoyed the atmosphere of Europe. The people, food, and places we have experienced have been kind, tasty, and elegant. Hopefully this won’t be our last visit to the beautiful country of France.

Goodbye from Hard Work U., or as the French say, au revoir de Un Dur Travail Université.

By Caroline Jackson, Lucas Straw, Katie Jones, and Jason Sorrell

From the bus to the boat, we’re seeing it all!

From the bus to the boat, we’re seeing it all!

We  woke up this morning (Thursday, May 19) in London, packed our bags, and headed out for a walking tour of this bustling city. Our first stop was the residence of Queen Elizabeth, Buckingham Palace. After visiting the Palace we took a brisk walk through St. James Park, where the ducks and squirrels were very friendly. While at St. James Park, we spotted the Diana Princess of Wales Memorial Walk.

Next we went to the former entrance of Buckingham Palace, where guards are posted 24/7. We were able to watch the changing from night guard to gate guard. This included a showing of the horses that stand out front of Buckingham Palace each day. The iconic guards, dressed in bright red, were an interesting sight to see.

Then we proceeded to walk to Big Ben, the second largest four-facing clock tower. This is also where Parliament is located and where officials make all government decisions. Across the road is stunning Westminster Abby. Built in the 1500s, it holds the remains of many famous people including Henry V and Sir Isaac Newton.

We then walked to the London Eye beside the Thames River. There we ate traditional British food – fish and chips, or fried fish and french fries. With bellies full of British delicacies, we walked on to the National Theatre, where we were given the opportunity to have a backstage tour.

The National Theatre was founded in 1960 and was finished in the 1970s. The founder was Lawrence Olivier. This theater is comprised of three stages, varying in shape, size, and technological aspects. The theaters can hold up to seven shows on any given day. The shows vary from Shakespearean to futuristic. As theatre majors, we realized this theatre is in fact the epitome of artistic and professional theatre. Here the theatre world is alive and thriving.

After concluding our visit to the National Theatre, we boarded our bus and headed to the British Imperial War Museum. There were so many fascinating displays, ranging from World War I to current conflicts, including Isis and Ebola humanitarian efforts. Also included was a stirring exhibit on WWII, and The Holocaust and its horrors. Full of pictures, film clips, and interviews, this experience was particularly moving for the Jones Theatre Company. We were able to fully take in the events surrounding those depicted in Railway to Heaven.

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Josh, Jason, and Caden pose in front of Westminster Abbey.
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Students enjoy ice cream by the Thames River. Photo credit: Natalie Rasnick
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The entire group from College of the Ozarks poses in front of The Imperial War Museum.
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We were all thrilled as we boarded our ferry to France. Photo credit: Natalie Rasnick

Following our departure from the museum, we boarded a ferry at Portsmouth and settled into our tiny, closet-like rooms. As we write this, the waves of the English Channel carry us to France.

By Josh Whisler, Melissa Davis, Triston Newman, Nathaniel Finck

Do You Hear the People Sing?

This morning we got off to an early start, waking up at 6 am. We headed to Blenheim Palace, where Winston Churchill was born and raised. We toured the palace and saw many artifacts from his life, including where he proposed to his wife of 56 years, Clementine. We were amazed by the serenity and beauty of the Palace and surrounding grounds.

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Caleb Clere, Miranda Palmer, and Madeline Clem enjoyed their visit today to Blenheim Palace. (Photo by Katie Jones.)
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Madeline Clem, Miranda Palmer and Caleb Clere toured the grounds of the Palace. (Photo by Katie Jones.)

After we left Blenheim Palace, we stopped for a quick lunch at a service station (gas station) before leaving for Oxford. The first thing we saw in Oxford was St. Mary Magdalen Church, which has existed for 1,000 years. We also witnessed the site where three Anglican bishops were burned at the stake for heresy by the Catholic Church.

While in Oxford, we visited the Shakespeare’s Dead Exhibit, inside the Bodleian Library, seeing the original manuscripts of “Romeo & Juliet” and “Hamlet.” We also saw the original copy of the Magna Carta, the grandfather of many vitally important documents.

After a three-course dinner, we saw an amazing performance of Les Misérables at the Queen’s Theatre in the West End! At every scene change, there were tears. We even dug deep into history through the performance, learning about a piece of French history. Two of the leads in the play were understudies that night, but they were actually some of our favorites. This was inspiring to everyone and emphasized that all roles in a production are important. Everyone also was inspired by the talent and the message of the story, a theme of redemption. We all need the Grace that is free in Jesus Christ.

We experienced so much history today, and yet knew we didn’t even scratch the surface. Overall, it was a wonderful day, even with the rain. We can’t wait to see what the rest of the week holds.

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The entire group had the experience of a lifetime, viewing the production of Les Miserables at Queen’s Theatre in the West End. (Photo by Miranda Palmer.)

 

 

By Madeline Clem, Caleb Clere, and Miranda Palmer

 

And We’re Off…

This past fall, the cast of Railway to Heaven performed at The Keeter Center at College of the Ozarks 22 times (you can read about the play at: http://www.cofo.edu/Page/About-C-of-O/News-and-Events/Railway-to-Heaven.1610.html). As thanks for the dedication, time, and hard work of everyone involved, President Davis made the generous decision to send our cast and crew (a group of 21 students and 6 sponsors) to Europe to learn and investigate more about the history of World War II!  You can watch the amazing news unfold in the video below.

Video Credit: Dr. Marci Linson, Vice President for Patriotic Activities and Dean of Admissions at College of the Ozarks

After a grueling fifteen hours of travel, we finally touched down in London Heathrow Airport, eyes sleepy and hearts happy.  We started off with a bang by visiting the British Museum, which we quickly realized we could spend days in and still not see everything!  One of the things we did get to see was the Rosetta Stone, seen below.  Another favorite of the group was the Easter Island Head.

Much to all of our relief, we headed to the hotel to check in and relax for a few minutes before dinner.  It was interesting and immediately apparent the differences in our cultures.  We were served a three course meal in the hotel’s Carvery, where we were exposed to some of the delicacies of England.  To wind up our day, the group took a walking tour to see Trafalgar Square, the front of the British National Gallery, and Piccadilly Circus.  At Trafalgar Square, we got to see Big Ben strike 9 o’ clock.

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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones
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Photo Credit: Katie Jones

Before ending our tour, we walked past St. Martin’s-in-the-Field Church in Leicester Square and went souvenir shopping.  At the end of a long day of European escapades, we’re collapsing into our beds, ready for new adventures tomorrow.  You’ll hear more from other students in the week to come.  Goodnight!

Emily Rector, Madeline Cherrito, and Jonathan Kirkland