A respect for the sacrifice veterans have made. That's what historian Lloyd Petersen of Marshall took away from his trip last summer retracing the steps of World War II soldiers in the European theater.
This past June, a group of 33 adults and students from Minnesota, Iowa and South Dakota, toured Europe for 17 days, following the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," which is the story of Easy Company of the U.S. Army 101st Airborne division and its mission in WWII Europe from Operation Overlord through V-J Day. Group leaders were teachers Petersen and his daughter, Diann Terpstra, who is a teacher in Brandon, S.D.
Petersen said his daughter told him, "You and I have talked about World War II for many years since I was a little kid and it's time to see where it all took place."
Photo courtesy of Diann Terpstra
WWII “Band of Brothers” tour group members posed by a Marshall resident’s relative who was buried at the American cemetery at Omaha Beach in France — Mona Devries’s uncle Louis Gruhot. Back, from left: Lloyd Petersen, Jim Doty, Jason Cool, Joanne Dale, Roger Dale, Bob Cool, Elmer Green.
Front, from left: Diann (Petersen) Terpstra, Lorraine Green.
He said the trip was the fulfillment of "a dream I've always had."
The group ranged in age from 14 to 78 and "truly became a family on the trip," Terpstra said. "One family took three generations on the trip while others went with sons or granddaughters."
"There was a great bonding," Petersen said. "There was great respect for one another."
Petersen said the older generation shared their memories and the younger set talked about what they learned in school.
"It was a great mixture," he said. "There was constant conversation. We had a wonderful British guide on the bus and people would add to what he had to say."
In addition to Petersen and his daughter were Marshall area residents Jim Doty, Jason Cool, Bob Cool, Joanne Dale, Roger Dale, Elmer Green and Lorraine Green.
The tour group began by flying into England, where their highlights included touring a WWII battleship - the HMS Belfast - and the Imperial War Museum.
Next, they traveled to Portsmouth, where they toured the Portsmouth Naval Yard, home to many famous ships, including Admiral Lord Nelson's HMS Victory. In France, Terpstra said the group began probably the most memorable day of the tour, the beaches of Normandy.
"Many were amazed at the distance our soldiers had to cross on the beaches at D-Day," she said.
"Omaha Beach, Utah Beach are huge," Petersen said. "The soldiers had to run across that beach knowing there was all that firepower aimed at them."
The group members paid an emotional visit to the American Cemetery at Omaha Beach, where they found the graves of people they knew. One included a loved one of a family in Marshall.
Jim Doty had been in contact with Mona Devries and found out that her uncle Louis Gruhot was buried at Omaha Beach.
"It was real before, but then to see where this young man had sacrificed his life - it's hard to describe the emotions," Petersen said, adding that there were tears in his eyes as he looked at the grave and he is sure there were tears in others' eyes as well.
In Germany, the group visited Nuremberg, the site of the Nazi war crimes trial as well as Dachau Concentration Camp.
"That was one of most shocking places for the kids," Petersen said of Dachau. "You read about it, watch films, but to walk in and see the showers/gas chambers. One of the barracks was left that people lived in. It was eye-opening for everybody and especially for the kids."
Bob Cool of Marshall said the highlight of the whole experience was being able to share it with his son, Jason Cool of Fargo, N.D.
"We're both interested in World War II and the Civil War," Cool said.
Cool was gratified by the number of American flags he saw throughout the trip, signifying that the Europeans remembered what the Americans had done for them and were grateful.
"It was very nice," he said.
Visiting Normandy was "very, very emotional," Cool said.
"It was an awesome experience seeing Omaha Beach and Utah Beach and to think about what transpired," he said. "My uncle fought there. He was a paratrooper."
Petersen said actually seeing the places where history took place and listening to people's stories was exciting.
"That's why history is so fascinating," he said. "It's when you get past the textbook that history comes alive."
Terpstra is currently organizing a tour of Australia, New Zealand and Hawaii including a visit to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor. For more information, call Terpstra at 605-310-8679.