This summer, Von Steuben High Schoool student Marc Lopez will travel to Normandy, France to honor a WWII silent hero who died during or after the D-Day invasion. He will be accompanied by his teacher, Meghan Thomas, as part of their participation in the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student and Teacher Institute, which is an initiative coordinated by National History Day® to teach a new generation about the sacrifices and challenges faced during World War II.

The trip to France will be the culmination of a yearlong course of study where Marc and his teacher identify and research a Chicago area veteran who is memorialized at the Normandy American Cemetery. They will uncover the life story of Andrew Deamantopulos, a graduate of Schurz High School who died during the Normandy landings.

This June, Marc will stand on the beaches of Normandy, walking in the footsteps of his silent hero and giving him a graveside eulogy. Below is what he and his teacher had to say about preparing for this experience.

From Ms. Meghan Thomas, History Teacher at Von Steuben High School:

Earlier this year, I was contacted by Lisa Oppenheim from the Chicago Metro History Education Center and encouraged to apply to a program through National History Day. Since I have such high regard both for Lisa and History Fair, I decided to find a worthy student and apply.

Marc instantly came to mind because he is a history lover like myself, and because his work in my A.P. US History class is exemplary. Marc was interested, so we applied and waited. We got our acceptance in December 2016.

The Institute is much more work than we originally anticipated, but it’s been really wonderful so far! Each week, we have assigned readings and postings. Marc and I meet to talk about WWII and discuss what we’ll write. It’s nice to get our thoughts straight before we do our more public postings – he on a student discussion board and me with the other teachers.

In June, we’ll fly to Washington D.C. for a four day seminar with 14 other students and teachers from around the country. We will receive assistance from the National Archives, historians and college professors as we complete our research. We will also take group tours of the World War II Memorial and attend a dinner hosted by the White House Historical Association. Then we’ll go to Normandy! We’ll visit many WWII sites including museums, churches used as field hospitals, the Normandy American Cemetery, and lastly Normandy Beach. But I think now I’m most excited to hear about all of the men that the students are researching and listen to their eulogies.

From Marc Lopez, 2017 Normandy Scholar:

I have a passion for history. It’s a subject I wish to pursue in college, and something that never ceases to bore me. Also, I never say no to an adventure. These are the two major reasons why I decided to apply for the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute.  

The program involved history, my favorite subject, and Europe, a place I have never been. While applying, I kept repeating a phrase: “nothing ventured nothing gained”. There was no way to lose if I applied. When I did submit my application, I didn’t think much of it. For me, the chances of getting in seemed nearly impossible. That’s why I was amazed when Ms. Thomas told me that we’d been accepted. My head was all over the place. I was going to Europe and studying World War II. It was a win-win situation.

When we were accepted, the program assigned us a project: research a fallen soldier from our home state. At first, I wanted to pick a soldier who was a minority, because I am a minority. However, I quickly realized that finding information on minority soldiers was difficult. I wanted to find a soldier I could relate to, someone I could connect to in order for me to honor them. Hours were spent looking through names in a database. When we found names that were interesting, we used ancestry.com to find more information. That is when Andrew (Andy), my silent hero, became a person with a story and not a name in a database.

I decided to research Andy because he was a Chicagoan, like me. I am proud to be from Chicago, and I bet Andy was too. We found his picture in an old yearbook, he was a CPS student at Schurz High School. This research has made me a detective. I have to solve the mystery. I have to figure out Andy’s life before the war and during the war. The more records I find of Andy, the more fascinating he becomes.

We still have a lot to do in preparing for the big trip, but this experience is helping me to grow in ways that I never imagined. It is also humbling and a great honor to play a part in documenting history as well as recognizing the sacrifices our silent heroes have made to protect our country.

Sharing Their Experience with Others

Throughout the program, Marc and Ms. Thomas will also create and manage a memorial web page about their silent hero. This page will serve as a digital archive of the information they compile and of their experience. When they return, they will use this web page in presentations to their school, as well as to other local organizations and veterans groups.