Local student, accompanied by her teacher, to embark on historical journey as Normandy scholar

A high school student and a teacher from Irvine will spend the months ahead extensively researching the story of a local World War II hero who perished during the allied invasion of Normandy. The unique project, coordinated by the National History Day organization, will culminate with a trip to Normandy, France to memorialize the fallen service member and others who contributed to the liberation of Europe.

Sonia Kelly of University High School and social science teacher Judy Richonne have been accepted into the prestigious Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute along with 14 other teams of students and educators. Each team successfully applied to discover and document the life story of an American killed during the D-Day campaign, relying on readings, historical research and primary sources, including war records, draft cards and interviews.

Students on a beach in Normandy, France
Sonia Kelly of University High School in Irvine and her teacher, Judy Richonne, will research a local World War II hero and travel to Normandy, France through the Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute. Pictured above, a group of students who previously took part in the institute gather on a beach in Normandy.

“I hope to give voice to a warrior who is revered by only a few — family and friends, most likely — and make sure that future generations know that those who fight are individuals who were willing to give the ultimate sacrifice,” Richonne told the OCDE Newsroom.

Richonne and Kelly will travel in June to Washington, D.C., where they will be granted access to the National Archives, as well as the expertise of historians and college professors, to complete their research. During their time in the nation’s capital, they’ll get to tour the World War II Memorial, attend a dinner sponsored by the White House Historical Association and prep for their trip overseas.

In Normandy, the two will visit the beaches of D-Day and tour noteworthy museums, battle sites and churches that were used as field hospitals. Then they’ll make their way to the Normandy American Cemetery, where 9,387 Americans have been laid to rest. Kelly will deliver a graveside eulogy for one of them.

Judy Richonne and Sonia Kelly
University High School teacher Judy Richonne, left, and student Sonia Kelly

“With research assistance from their teachers, the students become deeply connected to their selected Silent Heroes,” said National History Day Executive Director Dr. Cathy Gorn. “On that final day, when students read their eulogies, they memorialize someone they came to know, someone whose story they became responsible for telling. I am confident Sonia will walk away with a powerful understanding of the sacrifice so many Silent Heroes made in World War II.”

The goal of the institute is to teach a new generation about the sacrifices made during World War II. To further that mission, Kelly will create a memorial webpage and present the story of their Silent Hero to local schools, community groups and veterans’ organizations.

“These digital records of the life and actions of a Silent Hero live on long after these teams return,” Gorn said. “They serve as a digital monument to the sacrifices made by these heroic individuals.”

All travel expenses, courses and materials will be paid for by veteran Albert H. Small.