• O'Hara Eulogizes Silent Hero

    Gets Sense of the Sacrifice of War

    A junior who traveled to the Netherlands to honor a World War II solider has called her experience “truly life changing.”

         Elia O’Hara of Blue Hill was one of ten students from the United States to participate in the National History Day Silent Heroes project in November.  

         Each student researched “a serviceman or woman of the U.S. Armed Forces who died honorably in World War II” or soon after due to injuries received in battle, according to the Silent Heroes website.

         The subject of Elia's eulogy was First Sergeant Louis Patrick Levasseur, who was born on Nov. 26, 1918, in Van Buren, Maine, very close to the town where Elia spent the first five years of her life.

         It took her six weeks to research and write the text for the video eulogy, which is expected to go online in January at nhdsilentheroes.org. When asked what struck her most, Elia said it was the sacrifice of so many families during World War II.

         “His brother just the year prior had died in the South Pacific,” she said, and Louis Levasseur “was actually reported missing in action for about three months,” a long time for his parents to wait and hope to hear that he was alive.

         The research and writing process created a “strong connection” to Levasseur for the GSA junior, but it was only after arriving in Amsterdam that she began to realize how impactful the trip might be.

         Though she read Anne Frank’s “The Diary of a Young Girl” in eighth grade, Elia said, “nothing compares to the feeling I got when I walked to the bookcase, up the narrow stairs, and into the annex.” The experience left her and chaperone Kate Kennedy ’99, a social studies teacher at GSA, “in awe.”

         Before giving the eulogy at the Netherlands American Cemetery and Memorial in Margraten, Elia met the 91-year-old man who started taking care of Levasseur’s grave a few years ago, Josef Vaessen.

         At age 16, Vaessen was the only person in the area who spoke English, Elia said, so American soldiers naturally turned to him with questions. After he learned that a soldier with whom he was particularly close died in battle, Vaessen rode his bike 15 miles each way until he located the soldier’s grave at the makeshift cemetery. Since then, he has adopted more graves to care for, the latest being Levasseur’s.

         Vaessen “is the kindest and most giving person I have ever met,” Elia said, and having him join her and Kennedy at the reading of the eulogy “made that moment even more powerful and humbling.”

         In addition to giving eulogies, Elia and the other program participants also placed markers, “Vectors of Memory,” along a nearly 2,000-mile trail that will follow the footsteps of the Allied troops from London to Berlin when it is completed in May 2020. The Liberation Route Hiking Trail will celebrate the “freedom, harmony, and peace” that resulted from the end of the war almost 75 years earlier, said the Liberation Route Europe website.

         “Walking through the same woods along the same trail as the U.S. soldiers did was a chilling moment,” Elia said. “As I walked, I imagined the utter chaos and horrendous fighting” that took place then, and how “because of their bravery, I can walk” in this peaceful place.

         To learn more about Liberation Route Europe, click here. Scroll down for their story about the U.S. Students Vectors of Memory project. It includes a short video about the project. The video can also be viewed on YouTube here.