Archive for Thursday, April 25, 2002

Class prepares D-Day on a table

April 25, 2002

As Steve Coker talked about the D-Day invasion of Normandy, the topic jumped to the 101st Airborne's assault role in the historic assault.

"I thought they would have headed straight for Berlin," the De Soto High School sophomore said. "I didn't know they helped prepare for the invasion."

Coker's knowledge and enthusiasm is shared with his classmates in Brad Qualls' De Soto High School alternative social studies class: senior Chris Dabbs, junior Will Armstrong, senior Ron Rodriguez, junior Harley Mostaffa and junior Stephen Young. This semester, the class studied the June 6, 1944, Allied invasion of German-occupied France.

As part of that effort, the students constructed a model of the Normandy invasion. The table-top creation depicts three landing craft releasing their holds of American, British and Allied soldiers. Troops wade to the beach, some hiding behind obstacles in the water already red with the blood of their fallen comrades. Others try to organize on shore, while the first wave scales the cliffs toward the Germans ensconced in bunkers or reinforced trenches.

The model is a composite of the five Normandy beaches Juno, Gold, Sword, Utah and Omaha attacked June 6, 1944, Qualls said. Its construction was a trial-and-error learning experience for the class.

After a first unsuccessful attempt to fabricate the model's land elements out of clay, the students switched to paper mache, Qualls said. Dry wall mud was added to create effects. The ocean was created by coating sheets of plastic food wrap with layers of polymer fluid to convincingly suggest depth.

The classwork went further than building the model, as the information as indicated on display on a board behind the model.

"When we started, Mr. Qualls asked us to list five things we knew about Normandy," Coker said. "I didn't even know what country Normandy was in."

The students based every element of the model from research gathered through the Internet or books. Qualls said the work made his students quite knowledgeable.

"I'd put them up against anybody in the regular history classes," the teacher said. "There might be a few students who know more about World War II, but I don't think anyone knows more than them about the Normandy invasion.

It was through the research that Coker picked up his knowledge of the 101st Airborne's role in the invasion. Now, he would like to learn more about other aspects of the battle and the war.

The students will give a presentation on their project to the district school board. The model is to be displayed at the District Administration Building. Qualls hoped it could also be placed at the De Soto VFW Post.

The model has taught the students respect for the courage of the Normandy veterans.

"The way I look at it is, what would I be thinking if I was this guy right here with guys getting blown up all around me?" Armstrong said. "It doesn't matter what direction you go, bullets are flying everywhere. The only thing to do is go straight ahead. To me, that takes a lot of guts."

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