Rebecca Wicklin thought she was taking on just another school project, when she was selected for the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute.
Instead, she’s learned life lessons from World War II Army Capt. Philip Edelen and traveled to France to deliver his eulogy, after months of studying the Raleigh chaplain’s life and sacrifice on the front lines in 1944.
“We stood on Omaha Beach as the tide was coming in, and I imagined our troops in the waves,” said Rebecca, a 2017 Cary Magazine Notable Teen. “It was so powerful, seeing the places where our soldiers died.
“I was most struck by the Normandy American Cemetery. When you enter, you look out at a sea of white crosses and headstones, and it overwhelms you,” she said. “You realize they are not just a name or a number.
“Now I understand that everyone has a part to play. One person could die, but someone else will succeed because of them.”
Rebecca stood beside the grave of her Silent Hero during the June trip, to offer a public eulogy.
“I didn’t expect to be so moved,” she said. “But I’ve been studying him for so long, I know who he is and what he’s done. I knew he was watching from heaven, and I wanted him to hear the eulogy and know he’s not forgotten, that he’s important and we care.”
Now a junior at Cardinal Gibbons High School, Rebecca and her former teacher, Paul Gauthier of St. Michael the Archangel Catholic School in Cary, were among 15 student-teacher pairs selected nationwide to participate in the institute.
They are now working on a website to launch this fall, for use in presenting Edelen’s story to local schools and groups.