ROCKFORD, Ill. (WTVO) — A trip called “Normandy: a Bridge to History” gave two WWII veterans a chance to visit former battle locations 80 years later. On the trip were younger people getting the chance to learn from the veterans themselves.
“It was the most unreal experience of my entire life. I have no words,” said Evan Benkovich one of the four Gen-Z participants. “The way the global climate is is that there’s so much uncertainty and there are a lot of different times that history can repeat itself. I think now more than ever, it’s important to learn from history and no better way to do that than the people we have that are still alive right now.”
The veterans were both more than a hundred years old. 101-year-old Eugene “Gene” Kliendl was an Army, D-Day Medic. 100-year-old William “Bill” Hunter was in the Navy during the war. They said that they were treated like royalty in France.
“Normandy Cemetery and the French military is there, and the American flag flies high over the cemetery and they lowered the flag and folded in military fashion and gave it to one to me and one to my partner, Jean,” Hunter said.
“Yeah, I have been very fortunate to be able to go back. And all of these fellas that had never seen war kind of a little bit priceless happening. And maybe you tell them a story or two,” Kliendl said.
WWII historians guided them throughout the visit. They even met with other veterans from the war from other countries.
Many served at Benkovich’s age, He spoke about how important he feels it is to share his experiences.
“They’re all people my age and all the same age as everybody who has the biggest use of social media now and has the biggest ability to spread information, which I think would be a good way to catapult knowledge of the world or to vets and veterans in general.”