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Schools Joining D-Day Celebration

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Next week, the eyes of the world will turn to the beaches of Normandy and the celebration of the 50th anniversary of D-Day, the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of German-occupied France that set in motion the defeat of Adolf Hitler's army in World War II.

To bring home the impact of history's largest military invasion to students, some schools are reaching out to D-Day veterans; preparing to hear Gen. H. Norman Schwarzkopf's thoughts on leadership; and packing their music groups off to Europe to join in a summer of commemorative events there.

And teachers came calling on the U.S. Defense Department for help in their classrooms. The department's 50th Anniversary of World War II Commemoration Committee in recent months was hit with more than 1,500 orders for its "starter'' teaching kit on World War II. The demand outstripped the committee's supply, and hundreds of orders are backlogged, according to Maj. Phyllis Phipps-Barnes, the director of education.

Sharing History

Frank Yusko, a social-studies teacher in Spotswood, N.J., has been telling the story of World War II for years. Mr. Yusko learned his World War II history from family members--23 cousins fought in the war, his father served in North Africa and Italy, and his mother was a hostess for the United Service Organizations--and he has tried to give members of the Spotswood High School history club the same opportunity.

More than 50 people who lived through World War II have talked to the club, including Holocaust survivors, an aide to Gen. Douglas MacArthur, Japanese-Americans who were interned in the United States during the war, and a former German soldier.

As part of an oral-history project, the club videotaped its interviews with many of the guests. Some of the interviews were used in a public-television series on World War II that appeared last year.

The students "can read about the war, but it's not the same as meeting the people,'' Mr. Yusko said. "It takes it from an intellectual level to a gut level.''

On June 6, the 30 or so members of the history club will be in front of a television set, watching the D-Day anniversary celebration in Normandy and waiting to see if President Clinton makes them a part of the history of the day.

Mr. Clinton recently read about the Spotswood club, and White House officials have told Mr. Yusko to expect to hear his name when the President delivers his speech on the Normandy beach.

Lesson in Leadership

Students at Glen Crest Middle School in Glen Ellyn, Ill., meanwhile, will tune in their TV sets to get a lesson in leadership from General Schwarzkopf, the commander of the Desert Storm operation against Iraqi forces in 1991. In a taped appearance, the general will describe the military feat of the Normandy invasion and evaluate the role of Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower on "The 50th Anniversary of D-Day,'' an Achievement Television Network program for students. The network is available to about 20,000 schools with satellite hookups.

Students at Western Wayne Middle School in Lake Ariel, Pa., will hear tales of D-Day heroism from several of the 10,000 U.S. paratroopers who dropped from C-47 planes into Normandy.

The timing of the anniversary so late in the school year will likely keep many teachers from marking the occasion with their classes.

At Westtown School in Westtown, Pa., final exams have put a crimp in any plans that Ned Farman, a history teacher, had for using the event as a teaching tool. "I wish I could say we're doing something special, but we're not,'' said Mr. Farman, a member of the National History Standards Project.

In-Person Salute

Some lucky students, however, will find themselves standing on the Normandy beach as part of the "Allied Musical Salute to the Liberation of France,'' which was organized by the French government and Music Celebrations International, a professional event and music organizer.

Throughout the summer, more than 50 choirs and musical groups from the United States will perform in France and in cathedrals and concert halls throughout Europe. The groups were invited to tour by Music Celebrations, which consulted music teachers and professors in each state.

The Cecilian Singers of Overland High School, a choir in Aurora, Colo., were among the school groups invited to perform. Choir members have spent the past year interviewing D-Day veterans and the families of those who fought.

The more than 30 members of the group will leave for Europe this week and expect to give at least six performances.

They will deliver one special performance at the cemetery at Omaha Beach in Normandy: An Aurora woman whose husband was killed in the invasion has asked that the group sing at his grave.

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