By Briahnna Brown
The Albert H. Small Normandy Institute, which honors the World War II soldiers who died in the 1944 D-Day Campaign, officially has a new home at the George Washington University.
During an intimate gathering on the third floor of GW’s Phillips Hall earlier this month, university leadership and associates of Mr. Small came together to unveil a suite that will house the administrative aspects of the Normandy Institute.
At last year’s annual Albert H. Small Symposium, which was also the year that marked the 75th anniversary of the Normandy Campaign, university and Normandy Institute leaders celebrated the Normandy Institute at GW. The university currently houses the Albert H. Small Center for National Capital Area Studies and the Albert H. Small Washingtoniana Collection.
The Albert H. Small Normandy Institute, which was established in 2011, annually sends 15 high school students and their teachers from across the country to Normandy, France. Student-teacher teams study the Normandy Campaign and D-Day, when the forces of the United States, along with Britain, France, Canada and other Allies, attacked German troops on the beaches of Normandy. The campaign was a victory for the Allies and a turning point for the war.
The student-teacher teams complete a research project on a fallen hero from their respective hometowns buried in the Normandy American Cemetery and write the soldier’s biography. They also participate in a series of lectures on GW’s campus with history professors C. Thomas Long, Ph.D. ’05, academic director of the Normandy Institute; Katrin Schultheiss, department chair; Denver Brunsman; Eric Arnesen; and Jeffrey Richter to deepen their understanding of the Normandy Campaign. Once in France, the teams deliver eulogies at the gravesides of those soldiers.
GW President Thomas LeBlanc said during the gathering this month that he was excited about the potential for continued collaboration and ongoing stewardship of the Normandy Institute and its important work for years to come.
“I want to thank Mr. Small for his vision to create a vital program that brings history to life, encouraging and inspiring students and historians to remember and share the stories of hometown heroes who paid the ultimate price for our freedom,” Dr. LeBlanc said. “In doing so, he has added a unique dimension to the way students learn and remember history.”
“History is important, and this project tells us that.”
Donna Arbide, vice president for Development and Alumni Relations, said that it is “incredibly rewarding to see how the Normandy Institute sparks a lifelong love of history in young people.”
“We are truly grateful for Mr. Small’s partnership and his philanthropy, which enabled the creation of the Albert H. Small Normandy Institute and this new suite at GW,” she said.
The suite features the two new paintings that were unveiled at the Albert H. Small Symposium last fall. One was painted by Bradley Stevens, B.F.A. ’76 and M.F.A. ’79. It is a portrait of Mr. Small, Normandy Institute Director Robert G. Perry, B.S. ’70, and Mortimer M. Caplin, a World War II veteran and survivor of the Normandy Campaign, who died at the age of 103 last year. The second is by Peter Waddell and depicts Normandy’s Utah and Omaha beaches on D-Day.
Mr. Perry said during the event that Mr. Small’s outreach in the community is enormous as the program’s message has reached more than 1 million people. When creating the Normandy Institute, Mr. Perry said, Mr. Small was consistently working to get something done to honor D-Day and the sacrifices American soldiers made in the Normandy Campaign. He said it is important to Mr. Small to house the Normandy Institute at GW.
"It should never be forgotten, that one day, when we could've been pushed back into the ocean, into the sea, and the world would be totally different today," Mr. Perry said.